Touching the Void’s Simon Yates in person

Simon YatesLast night I attended a screening of Touching the Void at our annual mountain film festival here in Taos. The film, which came out in 2004, was based on the book by Joe Simpson. Read on for a summary if you want to spoil the movie. Also in attendance at the screening was Simon Yates, Simpson’s climbing partner from the film, who seems destined to forever be known as ‘the guy that cut the rope.’ Again, read on if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Yates spoke briefly after the movie, taking a handful of questions. It was, to say the least, odd. Yates is clearly still agitated by the whole thing. He discussed his falling out with Simpson over the fame that the book and film had brought them, and over his apparent role in history that he described as “following him everywhere. I’ve always got to respond to what are basically lies in the media, and it makes me look like a liar.”

He also said that portions of the story were omitted from the film that would have explain the true risks he took in his attempt to lower Simpson down the mountain. He also said that a note at the end of the film claiming that Yates returned to England “to face criticism from the climbing community” was exagerrated. “I’ve never had a problem finding a climbing partner, so that says a lot right there.”

The Q&A session was awkward, with Yates clearly uncomfortable to the point that he even began slowly edging offstage until the moderator called an end to questions.

Nontheless, the man and the story are both quite impressive, and I strongly recommend checking out the film.

From the Wikipedia summary:

Both tell the story of Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates, who were the first people to ascend to the summit of Siula Grande in Peru via the almost vertical west face. Disaster struck, however, on the descent. Simpson slipped down an ice cliff and landed awkwardly, smashing his tibia into his knee joint and breaking it. The pair, whose trip had already taken longer than they intended due to bad weather on the ascent, had run out of water and gas (which could have been used to melt ice and snow) and needed to descend quickly to their base camp, about 3,000 feet below.

They proceeded by tying two one hundred and fifty foot long ropes together and then tying themselves to each end. Yates dug himself into a hole in the snow and lowered Simpson down the mountain on the 300 feet of rope. A second disaster struck however when Simpson was lowered over a 100 foot overhanging cliff and left dangling in mid-air. Yates could not see Simpson, but felt all his weight on the rope, very slowly pulling Yates down the mountain. He held on for about an hour but was eventually forced to cut the rope, dropping Simpson into a crevasse.

The next morning Yates descended the mountain alone, and found the cliff. He realised what must have happened to Simpson and to his horror saw the crevasse below. He was certain that Simpson must have died in the crevasse and descended the rest of the mountain alone, itself a very dangerous feat.

In fact, Simpson had survived, despite a 100 foot fall and broken leg. When he took in the rope, he discovered the end was cut. He eventually abseiled from his landing spot on an ice bridge (which broke his fall and therefore presumably saved his life) to the bottom of the crevasse, and crawled out back onto the glacier via a side opening. From there, he spent three days, without food and only splashes of water from melting ice, crawling and hopping five miles back to the base camp. Almost completely delusional, he reached the base camp a few hours before Yates intended to leave the camp to return to civilisation.

Simpson’s survival is widely regarded by mountaineers as amongst the most amazing pieces of mountaineering lore in history.

Related Links:

Joe & Simon on Making the Movie