"I was breathing heavily as I dug through the soft surface snow to find the firm ice below. I drove in two ice screws and planted both axes above my stance before tying into them and shouting for Simon to come up. We were close to the serac barrier...I felt confident and at ease. We were a match for this route and I now knew that we would finish it. I felt a thrill at the knowledge that I was, at last, on the verge of achieving a first ascent, and a hard one at that."
In May 1985, Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, ascended the West Face of Siula Grande, a 21,000-foot peak in the Peruvian Andes. They navigated glaciers and ice fields, slept in snow holes, and struggled to avoid the deep crevasses hidden by snow. On their fourth day of climbing they reached the summit. But it was on their descent that things started to go wrong. Joe falls badly, breaking his right leg. Simon must then lower him by rope down the mountain, 300 feet at a time, a grueling and torturous task for both men. Then, when they've almost made it to the glacier below, Joe drops off an ice cliff. Dangling in mid-air 150-feet below Simon, he can't climb up or down. It's getting dark. A blizzard is kicking up. And, with no strength left in his frostbitten hands to pull Joe back up, Simon is forced to cut the rope tying them together. Joe falls into the yawning crevasse below. Simon is sure he is dead. But somehow, Joe survives. Even more amazing, he manages to find his way out of that crevasse, and then crawl and hop back down the mountain all alone to their camp.
"I was mesmerized by this beam of sunlight burning through the vaulted ceiling from the real world outside. It had me so fixated that I forgot about the uncertain floor below and let myself slide down the rest of the rope. I was going to reach that sunbeam. I knew it then with absolute certainty. ... In seconds my whole outlook changed. The weary frightened hours of night were forgotten, and the abseil which had filled me with such claustrophobic dread had been swept away. ... I could do something positive. I could crawl, and climb, and keep on doing so until I had escaped from this grave."Simpson's inner resolve and what he had to do to get back down the mountain is a remarkable story of sheer grit and determination. I can't believe he lived to tell the tale. And what a story it is! It confirmed for me what I already knew: I will NEVER attempt to climb some far off icy mountain peak. But I will continue to read about those who do from the comfort of my own couch.
Similar read: The Ledge by Jim Davidson
(This is another mountain adventure I loved.)