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Touching the Void (2003) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

  • In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached within three days, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This is the story of how he got back down.

  • Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. It was 1985 and the men were young, fit, skilled climbers. The west face, remote and treacherous, had not been climbed before. Following a successful three-and-a-half-day ascent, disaster struck. Simpson fell a short distance and broke several bones in his leg. With no hope of rescue, the men decided to attempt descent together with Yates lowering Simpson 300 feet at a time in a slow, painful process that could have potentially been deadly for both. One further misstep led to Yates unknowingly lowering his injured partner over the lip of a crevasse. With the gradient having gone from steep to vertical, he was no longer able to hold on. Certain they were about to be pulled jointly to their deaths, the only choice was to cut the rope. How Simpson survived the fall, and made it back to base camp is a story that will astound and inspire. In Touching the Void, Yates and Simpson return to the Siula Grande for the first time to retell their story.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In 1985, Simon Yates and Joe Simpson attempted to be the first to successfully ascent the West Face of the 6,244 metre tall Siula Grande, located in the Peruvian Andes, taking an inexperienced Richard Hawking to stay at 'base camp'.

    Having successfully ascended the West Face of the Siula Grande (despite set-backs due to weather), using the 'Alpine' climbing method, Yates and Simpson turned their minds to descending the challenging North Ridge. It was at this point when the attempt started to go from difficult to disastrous, as Simpson slipped on an ice cliff, falling and landing in a way that crushed his tibia (shin-bone) into his knee joint, thus breaking his right leg.

    With Simpsons' broken leg, and no gas left to melt snow/ice for drinking water, the pair knew they would have to descend the remaining 1,000 metres as quickly as possible if they were to survive. After much deliberation, the pair decided the best way to descend would be for Yates to join two 150 foot ropes together and slowly lower Simpson. Because of the ropes' joining knot, Simpson would have to place his weight onto his good left leg every 150 feet. With visibility dwindling due to stormy conditions and night time approaching, Yates accidentally lowered Simpson off the edge of a cliff.

    Because of his position in relation to Simpson, Yates could not hear or see him. Simpson decided to attempt to climb up the rope using a Prusik knot, but this went from difficult to near-impossible when he dropped one of the cords needed to ascend the rope. Simpson was left hanging off the cliff for a long time.

    This was a very bad scenario, as Simpson was not only unable to climb the rope, but Yates was stuck on soft snow which was likely to give way, most likely pulling them both to their deaths. Yates made the tough decision to cut the rope to save himself from being dragged to his death. Simpson then plummeted into a deep crevasse, of which there seemed to be no escape. Yates, suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia, dug himself a 'snow cave' to shelter from the storm.

    The day after, Yates continued to descend the mountain reaching the crevasse. After shouting for Simpson with no reply, Yates came to the conclusion that Simpson was dead. Yates successfully reached base camp again, telling Hawking about what had happened. Simpson, however, had survived the 150 foot drop - landing on a small ledge just a few feet away from another drop deeper into the crevasse. Simpson realised it was impossible to climb back up to the crevasse entrance (because of overhanging ice and his broken leg). After going through a period of strong anxiety, stress, and depression, Simpson decided his only option was to use the rope Yates cut to descend further into the crevasse.

    After descending, Simpson noticed a second small entrance to the crevasse, of which a steep slope of snow led up to. Simpson managed to pull himself up this ledge, after crossing an unstable ledge of hollow ice. From this point, Simpson went three days without food or drinking water, crawling and hopping the remaining five miles back to base camp. This meant navigating through a glacier littered with more crevasses, similar to the one that Simpson was stuck in. Simpson was exhausted and very delirious, and at one point Boney M.'s song "Brown Girl in the Ring" was looping through his head.

    Only hours before Yates and Hawking were to return back to society, Hawking was awakened by the distant sound of Simpson shouting "Simon!" and went to investigate. This is where Joe Simpson was found, crawling helplessly towards base camp. Yates and Hawking carried Simpson back to the camp, where they tried to rebuild some of his strength.

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