Joe Simpson Touching The Void
February 22, 2013 by staff
Joe Simpson Touching The Void, Joe Simpson remembers ending his mountaineering career on a high in 2009 The moutaineer Joe Simpson, best known for his book Touching the Void, remembers the last climb of his career.
The footprints on this snow ridge are mine. Nobody had passed that way before and, in all likelihood, no one will again. They are the footsteps of my last climb and they evoke in me a turbulent swell of emotions. It was the evening of October 27 2009. I took the photograph looking down from my first bivouac on the unclimbed south-west ridge of Mera Peak, a 6,476m mountain in the Sagarmatha region of the Nepalese Himalayas. I was comfortably ensconced in a nest of vast slabby boulders that had tumbled into a reassuringly protective stone coffin. The stove was hissing, coffee was ready. It was a great place to sleep. I was climbing alone; not something I particularly liked to do. I was missing the company of my friend Ray Delaney, who at the last minute had decided not to attempt the climb. He thought the ice cliffs threatening the ridge were too dangerous. He was probably right. It nagged at me and made me nervous. It was a long way down.
I watched the rosy evening light set the surrounding mountains aglow and thought through all the possible dangers on the climb ahead, examining each of them, solving them, letting them go, persuading myself that all would be well. It was a strangely emotional evening. This was going to be my last climb. Injuries to knees, ankles, neck and back had seen to that; arthritis ruled. At 50 years old my body was cashing the cheques I had written 25 years earlier. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to cope without mountains in my life. There was also a whiff of fear in the air, a bittersweet disquiet, that oddly addictive fusion of excitement and apprehension that comes with climbing mountains. Was I doing the right thing? Did I need to do this? Why not walk away?
I glanced to my right at the great sweep of the south face. I could see the line of the central pillar that our friends Mal Duff and Ian ‘Tat’ Tattersall had climbed 27 years earlier – the only route so far climbed on the face. They were both dead now, and I wondered if they were looking down on me then, amused at my impudence, tolerantly protective. I hoped so. Lying back in my sleeping bag, watching the darkening sun wash my footsteps away, I thought of all the great days in the hills and I hoped the next day would be one of them.
And it was. Two days later I sat on the summit, admiring a horizon of five 8,000m peaks – Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Makalu and Kanchenjunga. I had safely completed the first ascent, alone, of a new route on a Himalayan mountain. It doesn’t get much better than that. Three days later I met up with Ray in the village of Khote, and we shook hands and drank beer. I will always regret that we didn’t do that last climb together. I named the new route ‘In Memoriam’ for Mal and Tat. Great days – all gone now.
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