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Mountaintop experience like you’ve never known

Mountain climbers are crazy. They’re always thinking of new and exotic ways to put themselves in mortal danger, which, by the way, often involves other people, too, not to mention the people who have to come to their rescue.
Mountain climbing is simply dangerous, and a few climbers die doing what they love. But most survive, and often they have incredible stories to tell.
Two of them are Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, Britishers who decided in 1985 to tackle an unclimbed 21,000-foot rock face in the Andes Mountains of Peru.
Joe and Simon were experts and had climbed many hard peaks around the world. They knew what they were doing and were confident of their skills. They confronted danger in a very cool way.
All went according to plan until they got near the top, which was treacherous because of wild weather and really soft snow on the jagged top ridge that concealed hazards.
But they made it, snapped a few pictures, and then headed down as daylight faded.
The nightmare began when Joe fell off an ice ledge and fractured his right lower leg. The shin bone jammed up through his knee socket and pierced the femur. It was not a compound fracture ‘ no bone stuck through his pants, but whenever he moved it, which he couldn’t avoid high atop that mountain, the bones ground together and made him sick and crazy with pain. He was in no shape to go anywhere, but he wasn’t going to be rescued in the middle of the night in a raging, sub-zero snowstorm.
Simon knew Joe was in desperate straits, and there were moments when he doubted whether Joe would survive. So Simon did the only thing he could to help his partner. He dug a ‘snow seat’ for himself and very slowly lowered his partner down the mountain 300 feet at a time ‘ the length of their two ropes tied together. When Joe got to the end of that 300 feet, he’d stop, secure himself to the mountain, and Simon would climb down to him. They did that several times, and then the worst happened: Joe went over a cliff that neither one of them could have seen. Because it was dark and the wind was howling, Simon didn’t know if Joe was alive or not. But he did know that he couldn’t hold on forever to his partner (or his body) dangling at the end of the rope. Simon was gradually sliding out of his snow seat.
He did something that would earn him a nickname he’ll have the rest of his life. He took out his knife and became ‘The Man Who Cut The Rope.’ Simon deliberately let his climbing partner fall, almost certainly to his death. He became famous in mountain climbing circles.
Here’s the really remarkable thing. When Simon cut the rope, Joe fell into a crevasse and, unbelievably, crashed through several ice bridges and came to rest on an ice ledge. His pain was excruciating, but he stayed conscious and he tried to figure out how to survive. With an utterly useless leg, he couldn’t climb up, so he went down, hoping eventually to go up. Amazingly, the crevasse had a flat floor and a way out. Joe spotted light coming through an ice dome in the distance. Somehow, he crawled, pulled, hopped and willed himself out of the crevasse. Now, all he had to do was crawl in a delirious state for three days through a glacier, a morraine full of boulders, and icy, rock-filled riverbeds to the place where he thought he and Simon and a third man had made camp.
On his grueling trip down, Joe’s suffering was so severe that he almost ceased being human. He was practically the living dead. He was ‘touching the void.’ Just as he was almost insane with pain, exhaustion and hopelessness, he reached the camp in the middle of the night and crawled through what was his partner’s latrine. The ultimate insult.
Simon and Richard Hawking, the third man in the party who had watched the base camp while Simon and Joe went on their climb, were astonished to see their friend, practically dead. How could he have possibly survived and made his way there? They were only a couple of hours away from breaking camp to head home.
There was more agony as Joe was taken down the mountain on a donkey and given emergency treatment in a remote hospital. He later had about six surgeries on his leg, and, a few months later, he was climbing again in the Himalayas.
Simon had a lot of explaining to do, but Joe thought he did the only thing he could have done. He had one choice: Cut the rope and save himself, or hang on and both would die together. Joe figured he would have done the same thing. So, to exonerate his partner, he wrote a book, ‘Touching the Void.’ It’s fascinating reading, an incredible mountaineering story. It’s been made into a movie with the same name, and it should be out any time now.

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