Touching the Void (2003) - full transcript
In the mid-80's two young climbers attempted to reach the summit of Siula Grande in Peru; a feat that had previously been attempted but never achieved. With an extra man looking after base camp, Simon and Joe set off to scale the mount in one long push over several days. The peak is reached within three days, however on the descent Joe falls and breaks his leg. Despite what it means, the two continue with Simon letting Joe out on a rope for 300 meters, then descending to join him and so on. However when Joe goes out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up, Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Joe however survives the fall and was lucky to hit a ledge in the crevasse. This is the story of how he got back down.
And mainly it was fun.
That's all we ever did.
And we were fairly anarchic
and fairly irresponsible,
and we didn't give a damn about
anyone else or anything else,
and we just wanted to climb
the world. And it was fun.
It was just brilliant fun.
And every now and then it went
wildly wrong. And then it wasn't.
Got into Peru when I was 25, Simon 21.
But we had done a lot
of climbing in the Alps.
To climb mountains that have not been
climbed before, or a new route at a mountain
is what my climbing life
had been moving towards.
A friend of us, who'd done an amazing
amount of climbing in South-America
had seen this face in the mid-70's.
I think he said it would
be a challenging day out.
It was the last big mountain
face in this range of mountains,
that hadn't been climbed.
There's a great unknown there.
What's so compelling is
stepping into that unknown.
It was an isolated spot, a 2
- days walk from a road.
The mountains all around seemed very big,
compared to the mountains
I'd seen in the Alps.
We eventually reached a spot,
on the approach to Siula Grande.
You couldn't really take the
donkeys any further than this point.
I guess it would be 7-8 km from
the bottom of the mountains.
We knew Siula Grande was at
the back, but we didn't see it.
We'd met this lad called Richard Hawking
in Lima. He'd been travelling on his own.
And I think we said, "Why don't
you just join us on our trip?"
I think he said that he didn't
know anything about mountaineering.
I didn't really know
what pot of brew I was in.
or quite, what I was
letting myself in for.
We wanted Richard because
when we were on the mountain,
if he were at base camp he
could look after our kit.
I got to know Simon quite well.
I don't know whether it was
because of his personality,
or whether it was because he
was more forgiving towards me,
being a non-climber
in that environment.
But I found it very
hard to get to know Joe.
I was much more ambitious
about doing it than Simon was.
Siula Grande meant a lot.
We knew, a number of
expeditions had failed on it.
If no one had tried, it
wouldn't be quite the same.
It was the the fact that people had
tried and failed, so we knew it was hard.
And my feeling was, "Well, we'll
just do it. We're better than them."
Since the 1970s people
have been trying to climb
mountains in the great ranges
in what's called "Alpine style".
And essentially, Alpine style
means you pack a rucksack
full of all your clothing, your
food and your climbing equipment,
and you start off from a base camp
and you try and climb the mountain
you're gonna climb in a single push.
You don't fix the line of
ropes uphill beforehand,
you don't have a set of camps
that you stock and come down from.
That's the purest style and that's the style
that Joe and I had climbed Siula Grande.
It's a very committing way of climbing,
because you have no line of retreat.
If something goes wrong,
it can be very very serious.
There's no rescue, there's no helicopter
rescue and there's no other people.
There's no margin for error.
If you get badly hurt,
you'I probably die.
I hadn't seen it from this
angle, and it looked steep.
I sort of thought, you
know, "Christ, that's big".
Looks harder than I
thought and than I expected.
But I was excited.
Starting doing it was brilliant.
This is what we live for.
I love the actual movement of climbing.
When you're climbing well
it just feels brilliant.
It's like a combination
between ballet and gymnastics.
It's that mixture of power and grace.
For me, mountains are the most
beautiful places in the world.
When I go into these places I
feel an amazing sense of space,
an amazing sense of
freedom, when I get away
from all of the clutter
that we have in the world.
I think we surprised ourselves as
we got up the icefield about 300m,
and got up to a point where the
ice is running through rock bands,
and you've got vertical cascades.
We started intricately
climbing through these.
The fact, that you are
tied to your partner,
means that you put an immense amount of
trust in someone else's skill and ability.
But at some point, you may be thinking,
"For god's sake, Simon, don't fall
here, for god's sake, don't fall here"
The rope can be something that rather
than save your life, could kill you.
If your mate falls off then all
this gear rips out, you're dead,
you're gonna go with him.
If you're gonna do that sort of climbing
at some point you're gonna have to rely
wholly on your partner.
I think we were very pleased
at the end of that first day.
We had done a lot of
climbing, good climbing.
And we were very confident at
that point that we should make it.
That altitude, you dehydrate enormously.
You have to drink a lot
of fluid, 4-5 liters a day.
And the only way you can
get it, is by melting snow.
Everything is so time-consuming.
To make a single brew at that
altitude takes a very long time,
You're perhaps looking at an hour
just to make a couple of cups.
For that reason, we perhaps didn't
brew up as much as we should have done
but we didn't have an awful lot
of spare gas with us, either.
There's not a lot of risk
in our lives normally now.
And to put an element of risk back
into it takes us out of the humdrum.
In that sense, it makes
you feel more alive.
I've never been that
high before, and it's
very very strenuous
to climb ice like that.
Not only is it technically difficult
and unstable and frightening,
but your heart is going like
crazy because of the altitude.
It would now go very cold indeed.
And we were up
5800-6000m, it was windy.
Then it started snowing, and it meant
that the whole face was pooring
with powdersnow avalanches.
The snow would actually stick
on the outside of your clothing.
It would then freeze on top of you,
like you're wearing a suit of armor.
The last section on the face
was about 100m of the
most nightmarish climbing.
Completely unstable powder snow.
No anchors at any point.
It was physically very, very
tiring, full-body climbing really.
It took us the best part of 5 or
6 hours to climb about 65 meters.
Carried on way after it got dark.
I was getting extremely cold,
'cause I was sitting still
while Simon was trying to climb.
I was getting near hypothermic.
You just knew that if you'd
just carried on, regardless,
it was gonna go tits up.
So we dug a snow cave.
In the morning, in good weather,
we actually saw what
we'd been trying to climb.
It was this undeering nightmare of
flutings of the finest powder
gouged out by snow falling down
meringues, and mushrooms, and
cornices all over the place.
We'd heard about these strange powder
snow conditions you get in the Andes,
and we've never seen it before.
I don't know the physics that explains why
powder snow can stay on such steep slopes.
In the Alps it would just slide off
if the slope was about 40 degrees.
It is some of the most precarious, unnerving
and dangerous climbing I've ever done.
We were actually scared, that
we would get to an impass,
where we couldn't climb any further up.
Because we knew we wouldn't
be able to get back down,
not what we've already climbed.
We were climbing ourselves into a trap.
And not only that, we could see this
150 meter drop that was waiting for us.
And so it was with great
relief that by 14:00,
we got onto the north
ridge and on the west face.
And we vowed that we didn't want to
go near any of the flutings again.
We were pretty tired, by the
time we got onto the ridge,
I was knackered. And
I remember thinking,
"Oh sod it, we've done the face,"
"now I can't really be bothered
to go all the way up there"
And then we thought, "Hang
on, we've come all this way,"
"we might as well stand on the top"
I don't particularly like summits,
because 80% of accidents happen on descent.
We decided before we even climbed the
face that we were going to come down
the north ridge of the
mountain, down to a cul
between the mountain Siula Grande
and another mountain called Yerupaja.
and then we'd be able to abseil
down the smaller section of the face.
Already the clouds were coming
in from the east. Big clouds.
We expected this ridge to
be quite straightforward,
quite an easy way to descend.
We were hoping, we would
be able to sort of walk.
And it turned out to be very difficult.
It was horrendous.
Vertical on the west side, with the
cornices overhanging the west side,
and on the east side steep
fleetings running down 100m below us.
It was a shock. And
it was quite dangerous.
It all got a bit out of
control. That stage of things.
Half an hour to an hour after
leaving the summit, we were lost.
We were in the wild now,
we couldn't see anything.
Then we got like a little break
in the clouds and I saw the ridge,
so I started climbing back up to it.
I didn't know it was the side
of the ridge I was on, but
it was actually an enormous
cornice, an overhang of snow and ice,
and I was walking up over the top of it.
I was left hanging, looking
down, as all this snow and ice
then fell away from me, down the
west side of the Siula Grande.
I got back up on the ridge
and shouted then to Joe
that I'd found the
ridge, like that, I said,
"I found the ridge, Joe!"
We'd hoped to go down that day,
but by the time it got dark,
we were still very high.
Still at 6000m.
And that night, as we made
a brew, the gas ran out.
It was pretty obvious
the following morning
that we descended the
worst part of the ridge.
And I was pretty confident that we'd
get back down to the base camp that day.
I thought at that stage it was pretty
much in the bag I suppose, the whole climb.
I was ahead of Simon,
and suddenly there was this
vertical wall, bisecting the ridge.
I then get on my hands and knees, and
hammer both my axes into the ice at the top
and then lower myself off the ice cliff.
When you hammer the axe in, you listen
to the sound it makes. And you look at it.
Now I was hanging with both axes,
right. I took the hammer out, and
what I wanted to do is now
place it in the vertical wall.
And I swung, and the pick
went in, and it just made a...
just a strange sound.
And I thought, "Well, I'll take
it out, make a good placement."
So I just wanted to put bona... dead
solid axe placements in. All the way down.
And I was about to
swing at the ice again
The pain is... came
flooding down my thigh
and my knee was very, very very painful
The impact drove my lower leg
straight through my knee joint.
As the bone went into my tibia it
split the tibial plateau straight off
and carried on up.
Quite wild, the pain now. I
couldn't cope with it at first.
I just breathed on and it started to
go and I can remember looking across
to the west and seeing that we
were level with the summit of Rasac,
so I had a height gauge, where we were.
and I just thought, "fuck,
I can't have broken my leg",
"If I have broken my leg I'm dead."
And then the rope went slack.
I knew that meant that
Simon was coming towards me.
I couldn't feel any bone under anything.
I brought my hand down,
there's no blood on it,
and the pain had gone down a little bit.
And I thought, maybe I
was being a bit whacked,
I'd just torn a ligament or something.
I tried to stand on it
I felt all the bone go, all grating and
everything and I knew it was broken then.
The look that he gave
to me sticks in my mind
A look of shock and desperation
and a sort of terror.
Lots of things in a single look.
And he said, "Are you ok?"
I think it did occur to me to say,
"Yeah, I'm fine". That was stupid.
I think I said, "No,
I've broken my leg".
Immediately, just doom. I
thought "god, we're stuffed".
We're gonna be doing well if
either of us gets out of this now.
It did come into my mind, just thinking,
"If he slips off the side of the
mountain now, then I can just clear off,"
"and leave him and get myself down and
I don't have to have all the hassle,"
"of trying to deal with him and
with the situation we're in".
He gave me these painkillers which
were effectively headache tablets.
And he didn't really
talk about anything.
It was almost as if he...
He knew, what this meant.
He knew, and I knew, that he
was going to have to leave me.
He could have said something like
"I'm just going to get some help"
and I'd gone "right, yeah"
'Cause I knew there wasn't any help.
That'd been an easy
way for him to say it.
I didn't think we really seriously
thought that there was any choice
I couldn't put my finger on it, why
I thought something had happened.
And I started to think "Is one of
them dead, or are both of them dead?"
Even "If one of them is dead", not
"which one do I want to be dead", but
"if one comes back,
who do I want it to be?"
It's kind of, quite cold
to say it, but I guess
I would rather have it
would have been Simon.
I thought, "oh, he's not leaving"
I calmed down a bit and
managed to focus myself again
to think how I was going to
get him down the mountain.
We discussed, between us, what
we were going to have to do.
We thought, well, we got
2 ropes that are 50m long.
And if we tie them together we have a
100m rope with a knot in the middle of it.
So I tied to one end and
Simon tied to the other,
in theory he could lower me down 100m.
To really get anchors to
lower him from that do matter,
what I did was cut a bucket in the
snow, sit in there and brace myself.
And I sort of lay down between his legs.
And Simon started lowering then.
I'd lower him one rope length, 50m,
and then the knot would come
up between the two ropes.
Now the knot would not go
through the belay plates.
So he would stop me.
I would stand on my
left leg, my good leg,
so that I could get
the weight off the rope.
I gave him enough slack to
be able to unclip the rope
thread the rope back through the lowering
device, with the knot on the other side
clip it back to himself and
lower me the remaining 50m.
He'd make himself reasonably secure,
and I down climbed to join him.
And we'd repeat the process again.
Simon was trying to lower me fast,
and it meant that my foot kept jabbing
in and jabbing in and bending the knee.
I can remember feeling angry with
him because he was hurting me,
and I was thinking "do it slow",
and I also knew that he had to do
it this fast. He hadn't got a choice.
And he was very grim faced,
I remember looking at him,
wondering if he was pissed
off with the whole thing.
I couldn't take too much notice
unfortunately of these cries of pain,
because we got to go down.
We would dig these holes from
the sitting in the powder snow,
and they would last about the length
of the time it took to lower me.
And in fact they were
crumbling around him.
And he was lowering me on a 9mm,
well 8.8mm rope. That's that thick.
But hands sort of frozen.
What he did was quite extraordinary,
and I've never heard of any single
handed mountain rescue like that.
We were now lowering in a full storm. I
don't know what the wind chill factor was,
but it would be like -80
or something like that.
I lost a liter of blood in my leg,
I was in shock and severly dehydrated
It was a point where we should have
dug a snow cave and taken shelter,
got in our sleeping bags and
made a hot brew, and rehydrate.
We couldn't, 'cause we'd run out of gas.
And we just lost control at this point
because we couldn't dig a snow cave,
and risk getting trapped by
a storm that didn't break.
It was all starting to look up in many ways
at that point, as we were virtually down.
And I started to slowly think,
"maybe after this one we will have
one more, and we'll be on the glacier".
And suddenly all got hard
on my elbows, and icy,
and it got steeper, going down a
slope and suddenly it's steeper,
and I just was full of alarm.
I was screaming at Simon to stop as loud
as I could, and he just couldn't hear me.
I did notice that more
weight came onto the rope,
but didn't really think a lot
about this. And I just thought,
"Well, he's going over
some steeper ground"
When I looked down, and I glimpsed
'cause there was a big drop underneath me,
I was horrified to
discover what I'd gone over.
And I could clearly see that there was
a large crevice directly under the cliff,
about 25m below me.
I was trying to get my axes to see if I
could reach this wall that was out there,
I think, almost as I start and try to
do that, I started being lowered again.
And I was thinking, "Christ,
don't do it, don't do it",
'cause I knew, that there wasn't
enough rope to get me to the bottom.
And if I couldn't get
my weight off the rope,
he couldn't disconnect the
rope, to get on the other side.
And I knew all this, and I was
screaming again, not to lower me.
I carried on lowering him, until I
reached the knot, then shook the rope.
My signal to him, to take
the weight off the rope.
And nothing happened.
And nothing continued to happen.
I knew, that the only way out of
this is if I could climb up the rope.
I had two prusik loops. Prusik
loops are thin cords of rope.
And if you use a special twisting knot
on the rope, you can slide it up the rope,
and pull on it, and
the knot grips the rope.
Clip a snapping to it and then a
sling to it, and you can stand up.
And if you got another one, tied
above it, you slide that one up,
Standing this loop is now higher.
I was trying to hold myself
upright, to keep the rope in place.
And then trying to put this knot
through itself, and through itself,
and this fiddly bloody rope... it is just
hard to describe how I couldn't do it.
Because my fingers, I just
couldn't feel the fingers at all.
And I'd be looking and trying to
push the thing in, and using my teeth,
and getting it round,
and getting it round.
My hands were cold, my feet
were... I was very very cold.
It was a desperate position, made worse
by the fact that that I had no idea
what Joe was doing, or
what position he was in.
I just couldn't figure out why it was taking
him so long to get his weight off the rope,
there was no sensible
explanation for it.
I got one on, and I clipped it to my
chest, because that would keep me upright.
And I tried to put the other one on,
and I had real trouble with my hands.
And I dropped the bloody
thing, and I watched it fall.
And I knew that I was stuffed then.
I just thought, "Well,
I can't climb the rope",
this idea that you can climb a
rope hand over hand, you can't,
especially when your hands are
frozen. You just can't do it.
Nothing I can do, and I
felt completely helpless.
And really angry.
There was nothing I could do. I
couldn't get the weight off the rope,
I was just there, and this went
on for maybe an hour and a half,
during which time my position
became more and more desperate.
I was struggling to maintain the,
sort of shivery seat that I sat in,
and the snow was gradually
sliding away from under me.
So my position was getting desperate.
I think psychologically I was beaten.
'Cause there was nothing I could do,
so I just hung on the
rope and waited to die.
And I think I would have died pretty soon,
actually. The wind chill was very low.
I was literally going down the
mountain in little, jerky stages.
'Cause this soft, sugary snow
collapsed away underneath me.
I was expecting him to come off,
and couldn't do anything about it.
He was gonna fall about 100m.
50m away from me, he was gonna
fall double that, he was gonna die.
And he really didn't know, whether I was
meters off the ground, or centimeters,
he just didn't know. But he knew, I
think, pretty sadly, that he was gonna die.
Then I remembered that I've got a
pen knife in the top of my rucksack.
I took the decision pretty quickly.
To me, it just seemed like the right
thing to do under the circumstances.
Because there was no way that
I could maintain where I was,
sooner or later, I was going
to be pulled from the mountain.
I took the rucksack off, and then
unzipped the top pocket with one hand,
and got the pen knife out.
It was an awful night.
My mind was plagued with the
thoughts of what had happened to Joe.
It took a long time to warm myself
up. And I didn't properly, I guess.
Had a very, very cold night.
The overriding memory is just feeling
desperately, desperately thirsty.
To the point where I felt I could
smell the water in the snow around me.
I felt that very strongly.
It was quite a strange thing.
I didn't know what had happened.
What I landed on wasn't flat,
it was sloped on each side.
And I was sliding, in the dark.
I think I must have
fallen about 50m in total.
I was pretty surprised to be alive.
The head torch beam just
went down, and down, and down,
and the darkness just ate it, just gone.
I felt very unnerved,
very very vulnerable.
If I had landed less than
1m further to the right,
I would have just gone
down this huge hole.
I got this ice screw in, pretty quickly.
And then looked around, and thinking,
"Jezus, it's gonna be nearly
impossible to get out of"
My rope was going all the way up,
25m, up to this small entry hall.
And I thought, Simon
is on the end of that.
But I felt sure he was dead.
And it didn't mean anything.
I just thought, "If I pull on this
rope, it will come tight on his body".
Because he would have flown off the
cliff, on to the downside of the crevice,
and then, Iying dead
there, like a counterweight,
the rope would have come back up
and then dropped into the crevice.
So I thought, if I pull on this
rope it will come tight on his body".
And it just kept coming,
and coming, and coming,
As soon as I saw it,
I knew it had been cut.
I thought, "you're gonna die in here".
I had a pleased feeling, that
it meant that Simon was alive.
Looking where I was
was an awful prospect.
You don't die of a broken leg.
I think I did turn my head
torch off to save the batteries.
It was dark, and it began to get to me.
There is something about crevices,
they have a dread feel, not
the place for the living.
I could hear the ice cracking,
and wind noises in the ice.
I turned the light on again,
'cause I didn't like it in the dark.
I felt very, very alone.
And I was very scared.
I was 25, I was fit,
I was super ambitious.
And this was the first trip I've
been on. I wanted to climb the world,
and it just didn't seem... this
hadn't been part of our game plan.
It must have been quite late.
I think that I pretty much was
thinking that I wasn't gonna get out.
Fuck. Stupid, stupid...
As a climber you should always be in
control, you have to be in control.
So doing that, you could be seen
as half a failure. You lost it.
This is childish. I
just cried and cried.
I'd be tougher than that.
It was getting light, as it was 5 or 6.
And I started screaming
Simon's name again.
I got myself up, got dressed inside the
snow home and packed everything away,
Just a horrible feeling of dread.
By this stage, I strongly felt that
Joe had been killed the previous day.
And that now I was going to
die, as some form of retribution.
But rather than just sit here,
feeling sorry for myself or whatever,
"I'll get on with it and
I'll die on the way down".
Very quickly, the ground
dropped away steeply.
So I skirted around this
area of steeper ground.
As I abseiled down, I could
see this overhanging ice cliff,
which was what I had lowered him over,
so I knew that he'd had
actually been hanging in space,
which is the reason he couldn't
get his weight off the rope.
And as I went down lower,
I could see to my horror,
that the base of this ice cliff
was an absolutely enormous crevice,
that's 12m wide and just bottomless
from where I was looking at it.
He would have been up with
first light, I thought.
'Cause I was desperately,
And he would have been. And he would
have wanted to get down, and get water.
And he would have wanted to find me.
Now I did stop and pause, and I
shouted across into the crevice,
and I yelled and yelled, "Joe, Joe".
And I suppose again, with
the benefit of hindsight,
after I got off the rope, I
should have gone and looked,
into the crevice, to see where he was.
But to be quite honest, the thought
didn't occur to me at that time.
I was just convinced he was dead.
Absolutely convinced, by 10, totally
convinced, that I was on my own.
That no one was coming to get me.
I was brought up as a devout Catholic.
I had long since
stopped believing in God.
I always wondered, if things really hit
the fan, whether I would, under pressure,
turn around and say a few Hail
Mary's, and say "get me out of here".
It never once occurred to me.
It meant that I really don't believe.
And I really do think that when you die,
you die. That's it, there's no afterlife.
And I was thinking, "Could
I climb out of here?"
25 meter of overhanging ice. No way,
I couldn't do it with a good leg.
I knew that they were both dead. But I
couldn't just clear off and leave the camp.
For one thing, I didn't
know anything about them,
except for their first
names, Joe and Simon.
I didn't know their family names,
I really knew nothing about them.
And I had this bizarre idea, that
if they'd fallen off the mountain,
they would have just
landed at the bottom of it.
And I thought, perhaps from the bottom
of the glacier, I'd be able to see them.
And set off with the aim
of going as far as I could.
I started to go down
the glacier on my own.
In this stage I was still certain
that I was gonna die myself.
Crossing a glacier is very
very dangerous on your own,
because there are crevices in
the ice, and the snow covers them.
Fortunately I managed to find
a faint outline of our tracks,
from when we walked in.
It was only when I got off the glacier,
I realized that I was going to get down,
I was going to get out of it,
I was gonna live.
I can't really describe how
scary the night had been.
I thought, it would
be like that, for days.
You gotta make decisions, you
gotta keep making decisions,
even if they're wrong decisions.
If you don't make
decisions you're stuffed.
Short of dying on the
ledge, my only chance was to
lower myself deeper into the crevice.
I didn't what I would find down there.
I was just hoping there might be some
way out of the labyrinth of ice and snow.
And I really struggled to make that
decision, I was so scared of going deeper.
The other option was
to just to sit there,
blindly hoping that
somehow it might get better,
and I just knew it wasn't
going to get better.
I didn't want to look down,
I was horrified at the thought
that it was just empty down there.
I didn't put a knot
near the end of the rope,
and if there was nothing down there
I wouldn't be able to hold the rope,
and then I would fall,
and it would be quick.
And I thought "Jesus, this is big!"
By this stage I was
completely physically done in,
staggering back down these
meringues, still desperately thirsty.
There werre all these sort of
thoughts swirling around in my mind,
guilt, worry, thinking about how on earth
am I going to explain this to Joe's parents,
my friends, to Richard.
The thought did cross my mind that
maybe I could think up a decent story,
that would make me look better.
And I did quite think about
that, for quite a while.
Really the only image that sticks
in my mind from all the time in Peru,
is seeing this figure.
And it was fairly close
before I could see who it was.
But he looked absolutely horrendous.
You wouldn't recognize him.
And I said, "Where is Joe?"
And he just said, "Joe is dead".
I told him the whole story,
as we walked back to the camp,
I told him the whole
story of what had happened.
He wasn't in the slightest bit
judgemental about me or what I'd done,
he took it very well.
I must have lowered myself about 25m from
where the ice screw was at the bridge.
I was now in what seemed to
be the base of the crevice,
that was shaped like a big hourglass.
To the ceiling, was probably about 50m.
I think it's as big as the
St. Paul's dome in scale.
I remember looking down, and
there was just solid snow.
And I thought, "this is
the bottom of the crevice!"
About 15m away from me,
there was a slope leading up.
Right at the top, there was the
sun coming through this hole.
And it was shining, just this
big beam of sunlight coming in.
This was the way out
I'd been looking for!
I remember thinking, "Whoo, I can climb that
slope, I bloody well will climb that slope!"
I crawled across this flat floor, and
I started crawling across on my stomach.
Then I heard things
breaking away underneath me.
I realized that this wasn't a solid floor,
it seemed to be hollow underneath it.
I was absolutely horrified.
It was suddenly, as if
I was on an egg shell.
If I break through, I'll never be
able to get across to this slope,
and that was my way out.
Alright, I'm on it, this is solid now.
I started to get my axe in and hop up.
That is extremely painful, as your legs
hopped up, they both came down together.
I was trying to get into a better
position, so that my left foot ain't first.
But I inevitably went
onto my broken leg.
I feel the displacement
go, the bone move,
so every hop I nearly faint.
It was just excruciatingly painful.
And it was a bright sunny day.
Wow, the whole world has come back.
I was Iying on the snow, just laughing.
That was the relief of
getting out that place.
And I then looked at the
glacier and I thought,
"Well, you haven't even started, mate".
It's kilometers and kilometers
and on really bad ground.
But I think I was contemplating just
sitting there, because I was coming at this,
having done the most
serious climb in my life.
You come down safe from a climb like
that, you'd be exhausted for days.
You'd just eat and drink and sleep.
I'd just come out of that, I'd badly
broken a leg, I was in great pain,
highly dehydrated, I had no food, and
I was looking at trying to do that.
Just no way, just no way
you're physically gonna do that.
And then it occurred to me that
I should set definite targets.
I started to look at things and think,
"right, if I can get to that
crevice over there in 20 minutes",
"that's what I'm gonna do".
If I got there in 18 minutes I
was hysterically happy about it,
and if I'd gotten 22 or 24 minutes, I
was upset almost to the point of tears,
and it became obsessive.
I don't know why I did it, I think I knew
the big picture of what had happened to me,
and what I had to do was so
big I couldn't deal with it.
I stayed on Simon's tracks, and
they were weaving around over humps,
and past obvious crevices and stuff.
I thought, "Well, unless I come to a
hole with his body in the bottom of it,"
"these tracks will lead me
through the minefield of crevices".
All these huge mountains
around you, big mountain walls.
And they do make you
feel small and vulnerable.
And you wonder whether there's
some malign presence out to get you.
It was like somebody
was just teasing an ant,
and putting something
in its way all the time,
and eventually gonna stand on it.
I could see Simon's
tracks were filling in.
They were my lifeline off the glacier.
And I started to get very desperate.
I carried on crawling in the dark, a stupid
thing to do on the slope of the glacier.
But I was frightened and I was
just trying to see Simon's tracks.
In the morning, it was a bright,
sunny day, all the tracks had gone.
I started quite early,
and every now and then I had to stand
up on one leg to try see the way,
and then sit down again, and shuffle on.
There was one very horrendous
crevice bit right near the edge,
and I got into a maze of them.
I suddenly came to a point where I could
see ice running down, then I could see rocks.
It was probably me, who brought
up the subject of leaving.
Partly 'cause I was worried about Simon.
I just felt it was best to get as far away
as possible from where it had happened.
I didn't want to leave immediately,
I felt I needed a day or two
just to collect my thoughts,
and to regain some strength.
Spend a long time washing myself.
That felt good, to wash my hair and
to wash my face, to have a shave, to...
get the remnants, the
mountain out of my system.
I was desperately thirsty, because it
doesn't matter how much snow you eat,
you just can't get enough
water into your system.
And I saw the rocks, I knew how big these
boulders would be and how far it was,
and that was the first time
that I really thought about,
whether I could get the distance.
I got rid of all my gear.
I knew that I couldn't crawl over these
rocks, they were just too big and jumbled,
and that the only way to
do it was to try and hop.
I knew I was gonna fall a lot.
I'd fallen virtually every hop,
and it's just like having your leg
broken about every time, and I remember
looking back where I'd come
from, it was just over 20m,
and it had taken me ages. And
the pain, just of the 20+m...
I can be insanely stubborn.
And I do like to have things my way.
And things were seriously not
going my way over these days.
I'd look at a rock and then I'd go,
"Right, I get there in 20 minutes".
Once I decided I was going to
get that distance in 20 minutes,
I bloody well was gonna do it.
And it would help me, because I'd
get halfway through the distance,
and I'd be in such pain,
I just couldn't bear the thought
of getting up and falling on again,
but I'd look at the target and
think "I've got to get there".
And I'd think, when I was
Iying a bit long, and I think,
"no, you gotta get there. You only got
10 minutes left, only 10 minutes left!"
It seemed like there was a very cold,
pragmatic part of me that was saying,
"You have to do this, this and
this, if you're gonna get there".
"Come on, keep moving, keep moving"
"Right, get up, and do it again"
It was quite insistent, and quite clear.
It was almost like a voice or a separate
part of me, telling me to do something.
Very uncaring. No sympathy,
no acknowledgement of the fact
that I might be tired or hurt.
It was very, very odd.
That part of me kept saying, "Keep
moving, stop resting, keep moving",
and the other part of me, my
mind, anyway, just was, "Alright.",
looking around and absorbing things.
And as the hours went, and
certainly as the days started to go,
it became weirder and weirder.
So I was very, very, very
thirsty. Very dehydrated.
And the agonizing thing is, all
these boulders, these meringues,
are on top of the glacier. And
you could hear water running.
All the time.
I'd fall over a lot and I'd hear water and
I'd start digging around searching for it.
Couldn't find it, couldn't get it.
And it was driving me mad,
to be able to hear water.
I was worried about Simon.
About his health, 'cause his fingertips
were still quite bad from frostbite.
And I just felt it wasn't
a place to be lingering in.
We just started getting
ready to leave in the morning.
I did eventually collapse amidst the
rocks, and I didn't sleep very well.
My leg was very painful. It was agony.
It was the first night, I
think, it hadn't stormed.
It didn't snow on me, and it didn't
rain. And I could see the stars.
I can remember Iying on my back for
what seemed endless periods of time,
staring at the stars.
At one point I had this weird sensation
that I had been lain there, conscious,
for centuries, for lifetimes.
Becoming part of the rocks, and part
of where I was never gonna move from.
The sun came up, and
it started to warm me.
And I thought it'd be just so nice to
just lie there, don't move, and never hurt,
and christ, I got so,
so close to doing that.
I genuinely believed that I
wouldn't make the distance,
and I also believed
that I was going to die,
and I sort of acknowledged it
in a very matter-of-fact way.
And it seemed very rational
to keep on crawling,
if you didn't think it
was gonna be of any good.
I think that it was that loneliness,
that sense of being abandoned.
It was there all the time.
I didn't crawl, because
I thought I would survive,
I think I wanted to be
with somebody when I died.
Probably just a symbolic act to
say goodbye to him, in my own mind,
by doing that.
I drank liters and liters of it.
And it was just like putting fuel in,
I could feel myself immediately
just getting stronger.
I kept wetting myself.
And I can remember actually quite
liking the sensation, the warmth of it.
It was just a slow, steady reduction.
Not just physically.
Physically is very obvious,
but you, everything, yourself.
I felt left with nothing.
And I didn't care anymore.
Didn't have any dignity, you didn't care
whether you're brave or weak or anything.
You just became almost
nothing. It was strange.
I was still doing these test 20
minutes things, get here, get there.
And then I saw these footprints.
Then I got convinced, that
it was Simon and Richard.
They were up above me, and
they were just following on,
and I carried on crawling down,
utterly convinced that they
were wandering along behind me.
And I can remember thinking, "that is
really stupid, they would come and help you",
and I think I persuaded myself
that they were just following on,
because they didn't want to embarass me
'cause I peed myself and I was crying.
I don't know how long it
lasted, maybe about an hour.
I totally believed it, and then
suddenly it was like popping a bubble.
And then I realized that they weren't
there, and I felt utterly shattered.
It was about 4 o'clock
when I reached the lake.
And I that at the far end of
it, there was a meringue dam.
And from the top of that meringue dam,
I would be able to look down into
the valley where the base camp was.
In fact, I would be
able to see the tents.
This was the first time I thought it,
I thought, "I'm gonna make the distance,
I can actually make the distance".
Almost as soon I thought it, the next
thought that popped into my head was,
"Will there be anyone there?"
I thought, "Christ, this is the
fourth day since I saw Simon",
and as I worked it out, I thought,
"Why on earth would they be there?"
I knew it got dark at six, and thought
"I got to get there, I got to get there",
and I was trying to do
it as fast as possible.
The rest of that afternoon,
I was plagued by this dreadful
feeling that they would have gone.
I hadn't paid attention to what
was happening with the weather.
Between leaving at four and getting
to the top of the meringues, about six,
the weather had changed.
So when I looked down at the
valley, it was just full of clouds.
I listened intently, hoping to hear a
whistle or an answer, a cry back, something,
and I didn't hear anything at all.
and I spend a long time, sat
there, crying, not sure what to do.
I thought about getting
in my sleeping bag.
For some reason it just seemed a
bit of a pathetic way to end things,
just in a sleeping bag.
I thought, "Well, nice but just keep
going, you'll end it down there, somewhere".
I don't know entirely what
happened for the rest of that night.
I stopped looking at the watch, and
everything just started to go apart.
And I think I just got lost.
And I didn't know what
I was doing anymore.
I don't remember thinking of anyone,
anybody I loved or any of that.
I did have one time, when I got
a song going through my head.
And it was by a band called Boney M.
And I don't really like Boney M's music.
Brown girl in the ring,
there's a brown girl in the ring,
brown girl in the ring,
she looks like a sugar in a plum,
Show me your motion,
come on show me your motion,
show me your motion,
And it just went on and
on and on, for hours.
I found it very upsetting, 'cause I
wanted to try and get it out of my head.
And I wanted to think of other things.
I was thinking, "Bloody hell,
I'm gonna die to Boney M".
I remember sometimes not waking up,
I think I was awake all the time,
but coming to, it was like waking up,
and sort of find myself sitting there,
I didn't know where I was.
It was pitch black and snowing, and
I'd think I was back on the glacier,
or I'd think I was in a public car
park, and had been beaten up again,
and then I'd just drift off again.
I remember smelling something.
It was a really strong smell.
And it acted like a smelling salt,
to cut through all this delerium.
And I remember being really confused,
I couldn't understand what it meant.
It took me ages to to try
and work out what it meant.
I thought it was me.
And very slowly, I worked
it out, and I thought,
"I've crawled through the
latrine area of our camp site".
And I realized then, that
I was close to the tents.
As I was shouting it, I thought, "This
is it, this is as far as this game goes".
I'm not capable of going any further.
I made the mistake of having a little
bit of hope, that they'd still be there.
And when I shouted,
and they weren't there,
I sort of knew I was dead then.
That moment, when no
one answered the call,
it was... I lost something.
I lost me.
I woke up, not knowing why.
And was aware of this
kind of strange atmosphere,
I could hear the wind
howling outside the tent.
And started hearing something.
It did slowly dawn on me,
that really the only thing it could be,
would be Joe outside shouting.
But that was completely
impossible, because he was dead,
and he died 3 or 4 days ago.
And then head it again, much sharper,
and it really sounded like
somebody shouting. Simon.
I can have gotten into a panic,
but first, it couldn't be Joe,
because Joe's dead.
And then, if he is out there,
it's gonna be this horrible thing,
it can't be a human being, because,
no human being can possibly go
through that, and be outside the tent.
I was just kind of Iying there,
really not knowing what to do.
And then Simon woke up.
"Simon!", it was quite
clearly a shout of my name.
I knew it was Joe actually,
I knew immediately.
I was looking around, and then
I saw this thing, floating.
Of course Simon exploded into action.
Suddenly I heard voices.
Is that you?
I was holding back, because I didn't
feel that was a human being out there.
And we went back up the stream, right
from where these cries had come from,
about maybe 60-80 m outside
the camp, and there was Joe.
I couldn't completely believe
it, until I actually saw him,
but then it was still a little
difficult to believe that,
because of the eerie night
and the state he was in.
Absolutely awful state.
It was almost like he was
a sort of ghost-like figure.
It was like I had to sort of pinch
myself almost to believe this was true,
that this was really happening.
- Oh fuck, Joe!
he was swearing a lot. Swearing a lot.
Richard, lift him!
Richard, hold him, you
stupid bastard! Lift him!
I remember Simon grabbing my shoulders,
and holding me.
I remember that.
That feeling of being held.
He thanked me for trying to
get him down the mountain,
for all that I'd done up to the point,
where I cut the rope,
and he said to me, "I'd
have done the same".
Those were the first
words he uttered to me.
And I remember, before we'd done anything
to him, before we'd even close the door,
he said, "Where are my trousers?"
We had to explain, that we burned his
trousers, which made him quite angry.
And I think that kind of brought
me back into life, to some extend.
realizing it was the
same old Joe, back again.