Joe Simpson was born in 1960 in Kuala Lumpur in the Federation of Malaysia, where his father was stationed with the British Army. From an early age, he was fascinated with rock climbing. When he was 14, he read The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, which told the tale of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger by Harrer and his team in 1938. The book also tells the story of Toni Kurz, a German mountaineer who, along with his comrades, tragically died attempting the North Face. Despite the objective dangers of mountaineering described in the book, the account sparked a passion for the mountains in the young Simpson.
In his mid-twenties, in 1985, Simpson and Yates made it their goal to climb the Siula Grande, a treacherous peak whose summit reaches almost 21,000 ft above sea level. The mountain is a part of the Waywash mountain range, which resides in the Andes of Peru.
Simply stated by Simpson, they climbed because it was fun. The freedom found by escaping civilization to strike out and conquer a wild peak like Siula Grande was second to none for these men. Simpson wrote in his diary, “It feels menacingly remote and exhilarating at the same time…no hordes of climbers,...
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...er, and despite feelings of bitterness, resentment, panic, isolation, etc., the pair were able to stay calm and collected on their attempted descent down the mountain. Had their positions been reversed, I believe the outcome would have been the same, though that is just my conjecture. Yates received a heavy amount of criticism from the climbing community for his decision to cut his climbing partner’s rope. There was really no other choice though, and to this day, Simpson still defends Yates’ decision.
Despite the obvious dangers presented in this true story, I cannot deny the appeal of going on a mountaineering trip of my own. I will start off small though. Simpson and Yates were highly skilled climbers when they set out to climb the West Face of Siula Grande – and their route up the mountain has never has never been successfully completed by anyone else to this day.
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