Touching The Void

Touching the VoidTouching the Void was published in 2008 by the Folio Society. Originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1988, it had been revised and the Folio Society edition was based on the 2004 edition.

The Book

Set in Scala, printed on Caxton Wove paper at Memminger, Germany and bound in cloth

The Story

Two young mountaineers aim to be the first to scale a Peruvian peak, Siula Grande, by the West Face. They want to do this “Alpine Style” which means making the attempt without planned intermediate supply points. Although very difficult both reach the summit. On the descent Joe Simpson, the author of this account, breaks his leg. Each realise that this is a likely death sentence without saying as much to each other. Simon Yates, the other mountaineer, attempts to lower Joe down the mountain as a storm breaks out. Suddenly he finds that Joe cannot take the weight from the rope. After a while he decides that the only way that he will survive is for him to cut the rope and make his own way down. That Joe will perish, if he has not already, is certain.

The rope is cut, and Simon makes his way back to the camp where Richard, the non climbing traveller is based. Simon is convinced that Joe has perished, and as he recuperates over a day or two he decides to burn Joe’s clothes. When Joe could not take the weight from the rope, it was because he was hanging suspended. He could not climb back up the rope and he couldn’t reach the mountain side. When the rope was finally cut, he fell into a crevasse.

By sheer bloody mindedness Joe manages to escape the crevasse and get back to the camp. He had been left for dead, and Richard and Simon had planned to leave that morning. Exhausted, dehydrated,  frostbitten, and pissed off that his clothes have been burnt, it takes some time to regain a sense of reality.

This is one of the great stories of dogged survival. As much as it is about the physical capacity to survive, it is more about the mental grit that is required.

It’s also about testing yourself to the limit, comradeship, and decisive choices.

The movie that is based on this work fits in well. Breathtaking illustration of the physical challenge.

The Illustrator

Geoff Grandfield was the Illustrator for this book.  The illustrations are quite stylised. They are stark.

Some I like, and some I don’t.

Another Illustration

It was interesting to contrast this book with the recently published A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, a mountaineering expedition which failed, but I’m sure a lot more fun!