Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Touching the Void

In 1985 two young British friends, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, travelled to a remote corner of Peru. Ambitious mountaineers, their aim was to conquer the unclimbed West Face of a notorious 21,000 ft peak - "Siula Grande". Their story has become part of mountaineering legend.

Based on Joe Simpson's book Touching the void, and featuring interviews with Joe, Simon, and acquaintance Richard Hawking, this film is somewhere in between a documentary and film. For those who don't the story (and I really can't stress enough how much you should read the book); Joe and Simon set out to climb Siula Grande, a remote mountain in the Peruvian Andes; it would be a challenging climb, but nothing the two couldn't handle. They had met a fellow traveller in Lima a few days earlier (Richard Hawking), and as they needed someone to look after the tents while they were climbing, Joe and Simon asked if he would like to come along.

The climb was difficult but Joe and Simon managed to summit on the second day out from the camp. On the decent, Joe was climbing down when one of his ice-axes came out and he fell badly (not that far), and broke his leg, driving his lower leg up through his knee and splitting the cap! Still at about 6000 metres, Joe assumed that he was dead, there was no way he could get down the mountain. However, Simon began to lower Joe in 300 metre stretches (that's the amount of rope they could use), Joe could then secure himself to the mountain so that Simon could climb down to him and then repeat the process.

However, when Joe was lowered over an overhang he wasn't able to reach the mountain side to secure himself; Simon therefore was left higher up not knowing what was happening. Eventually Simon cuts the rope, and Joe plunges into a crevasse. What follows is an extraordinary feat of human survival. Joe not only survives the fall, but manages to crawl/hop/hallucinate his way back to camp. Simon and Richard both assumed that Joe is dead and cannot believe he has made it back. By cutting the rope Simon saved both of their lives; if he hadn't, Joe would have died of exposure hanging in mid air and eventually his body would have dragged Simon of the mountain.

That brief synopsis really doesn't do the story justice. It really is an incredible story that defies belief. It is really brought to life by director Kevin Macdonald and the way in which  he blends the interviews with Joe, Simon and Richard with the footage of actors on Siula Grande and some amazing photography of the Peruvian Andes. Joe and Simon are both very engaging (though Simon does remind me of Wallace a lot!) and really help the viewer empathise with the situation, resulting in a very powerful film. I recommend seeing this film, now! Read the book too, it's truly amazing; true stories are always more incredible than any novel.