Monday, March 3, 2014

In the mountains, death is black and white

The finality of death and the possibility of death when mountaineering is something I have always had difficulty in coming to terms with and Touching The Void by Joe Simpson is certainly no exception. Right after the accident on the mountain when Joe severely damaged his knee, he stated, “if there’s just two of you a broken ankle could turn into a death sentence” (72). After Joe realized the extent of his injuries, he also stated, “[Simon] would leave me. He had no choice” (73). Even though he was still alive and with only one damaged knee, it seems, to a reader who has only read up to this point thus far, that the odds of his survival are slim to none and what is crazier is that Joe knows and accepts this. Although Joe is probably right, I simply cannot come to grips with the finality of this mentality and the thought that even his friend will not try to help him.
Other adventure stories we have read thus far have also demonstrated the stark and final attitude of both injured and non-injured climbers towards life threatening injuries. In one of the stories we read this semester, one of the mountaineers even went so far as to say that morality doesn’t exist beyond a certain altitude. These attitudes seem to throw a very black and white picture on the possibility of death and in essence seem to attempt to explain the lack of morality that exists in dangerous situations. Consequently, this black and white-ness of death in the mountains attitude really challenges the question, “why climb?”, for me because if you do get hurt climbing in risky situations, it is likely that the climb you just made was your last.


  1. Yeah I agree with you Colyer, if this book has done anything for me, its hammer home the fact that I don't want to climb mountains, nor am I fit to climb mountains. In fact, its very likely that I will be the one to get hurt, and since I am bigger than the average person, I doubt it would be an easy task to rescue me. Especially considering it took about 18 people to "rescue" you today, and I probably have a good 40 pounds on you.

    However, I don't think that just because there is a black and white attitude about death means that there is a lack of morality. I think it is just simply a fact in these situations, that if you get injured and there are not the resources around to rescue you, you are toast. I think that Simon in this situation showed great morality in the end. From the segments written in his point of view, it is clear he is suffering from great guilt over what happened and he doesn't know if he made the right call. Even though it saved his life, and he would do it again, he questions whether it was the right thing to do. Ironically, I think it ended up saving both of their lives, but Simon could not have known that at the time.

    And as a side note, maybe the "black and white" attitude most climbers felt about their companions dying in all the stories we have read is in hindsight. Writing about it now, sometimes years after it happened gave them that clarity of choice, but we really don't know how they felt in that actual moment. I have a hunch there was more emotion going on then what they wrote about.

  2. One reason I "climb" is to test myself, see how much I can handle. This story is the epitome of finding how much he could mentally and physically endure. I found it invigorating and made me want to climb. I see the self reliance and the connected consequences as a welcome rather than a dealbreaking challenge. In the moment I would never want to break my leg or get lost. Yet, part of me wants those things to happen so that I can push past them. Having to deal with these life and death situations is one reason why people climb.

  3. I agree with Colyer. Throughout my reading of Touching The Void, I found myself constantly wondering why Joe decided to climb. His anxiety is contagious and it is the first book that thoroughly expresses the dangers of mountaineering. Joe's pessimistic descriptions made me more aware of how deadly mountaineering can be and I wonder, now more than ever: why climb?

  4. I agreed with Scott in that this book solidified my feeling that I do not have what it takes to climb huge mountains. However it also generated a craving to read more adventure narratives. This book had me hooked instantly and I could not get enough of it.

    I was very interested in how accurate Simon Yates narrative of the story was so looked at a lot of interviews and stories regarding the two of them. What I found interesting was a quote by Yates in an interview from 2005. He said, "The month we spent together in Peru making the film was the first time I'd spent any time with him since we had been in Peru in 1985. I saw Joe fairly regularly when we both lived in Sheffield. But when I left for Cumbria I only saw him at weddings or parties." He was also quoted as stating, "Climbing partners are like work colleagues. Some work colleagues go on to become friends, some become acquaintances and some people you work with - well, you rather wish you didn't." Both Simpson and Yates credit their lack of contact to simply growing apart, not any negative feelings. However, I wonder if the events of 1985 created such a divide that, while they both say they would do the same thing again, they cannot truly deal with the events that took place.