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Inhuman torment. As a climber with a broken leg escaped from an ice cap

Joe Simpson is one of those people who have always liked mountains since childhood. He was born in Malaysia, but his roots and temperament was a true British. In 1984, he graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in English Literature and Philosophy. The beginning of adulthood, young Joe decided to celebrate the fulfillment of a dream – climbing on the hitherto unapproachable summit of the Peruvian Andes called Siula-Grande. As a result, he broke his leg, fell into a crevice, almost died of dehydration and experienced inhuman tortures. And yet the guy survived to tell his story later.


  • Pioneers
  • Inhuman pain and falling into the abyss
  • Horror and darkness
  • Five thousand fractures and Boney M.


The western wall of Siula-Grande with a height of more than 6300 meters was never conquered by anyone. The path was considered very dangerous, almost impossible. Joe Simpson had by then covered all the Alps and wanted to write his name in the history of mountaineering. Well, in the end he did it, albeit not as the guy expected.

Joe Simpson 20 years after the events. Photo:

Conquering any summit alone is a deadly activity. Joe though considered mountains the most beautiful place on the planet, but he did not go to such recklessness. He found himself a partner – a 22-year-old Simon Yates, who also fan of the mountains.

Simon Yates 30 years later. Photos:

The boys had to climb the Siul-Grande with the so-called alpine style. This means that you have to climb to the top as quickly as possible. To do this, the amount of equipment is minimized, climbers do not use rope rails, the insurance is simplified, there are no intermediate camps, there is no help to wait.

The beginning of any climb for each climber is always a complete delight. That’s why many of them can not be pulled out of the mountains by force. It was the same with Joe and Simon. The boys quickly overcame a glacier 300 meters high and came to the stony site.

Sioule Grande. Photos:

Further it was more difficult. The higher, the more you want to drink. At a high altitude, you constantly suffer from dehydration, the body requires five liters of water every day. And with the water in the mountains just the problem. Contrary to prejudice, snow itself does not quench thirst, it must be melt. The fire needs gas, and it takes about an hour to get a mug of snow from the snow. Thus, most of the time of ascent was occupied by the extraction of moisture.

The climb on the ice exhausts. In addition, the heart works at the limit because of all the same height and lack of oxygen. As if this is not enough, the temperature at the last stage of the hike has sharply dropped and a snowstorm has risen.

– The snow sticks to the clothes, then freezes – and here you have heavy armor. The last 100-150 meters was a nightmare. The loose snow crumbled, there was nothing to catch, you work all over the body, just to not fly down, – Joe recalls.

The photo is illustrative

In order to pass (more precisely, creep) the last 50 meters, the guys took about six hours. They froze to the bone, but still reached the top! It seemed that there was no energy left for enthusiasm. But no, it was an incredible feeling: as if you were at the top of the world, and all the worldly vanity remained somewhere far, far below.

And yet this was only the beginning. According to the climbers, about 80% of the troubles with them happen just during the descent, rather than the ascent. And if the ascent was so difficult, then how would it go down? Easy walks and the truth did not happen.

Inhuman pain and falling into the abyss

The way home was not asked from the very beginning. Already in half an hour the guys got lost: the mountain was covered by a cloud, visibility decreased to zero. Then they got on a snow canopy, which fell under the weight of climbers. Fortunately the height for the next ledge was small. The situation was complicated by the fact that by night Joe and Simon had run out of gas, which meant that there was now nothing to melt the water. It was necessary to descend as soon as possible.

The next morning it was sunny and quiet. It seemed that the worst part of the descent behind, now everything will go as it should. The climbers strapped themselves to each other with a rope with carbines and immediately started down the steep wall. At some point, Joe felt the ice ax in his right hand not go into the icy surface well enough. Only he swung to drive him deeper into the ice, like an ice ax in his left hand slipped, and the guy flew down.

There was a dry crunch, the body was pierced with monstrous pain. Joe flew from a dozen meters and landed unsuccessfully – the tibia fractured the knee and went into the hip. Fracture! In such conditions, it meant a sure death. But Simon was near – he should help!

The partner came down after him, in his eyes a mixture of shock, despair and horror was read. He gave Joe a strong anesthetic, but it was clear to both of them that it was impossible to come down together from a five-kilometer height. Run and call for help? Who, if the area is deserted? And no rescue team will get here.

The photo is illustrative. UIAA

The guys had two 50-meter ropes. Simon tied them, tied Joe and began to lower it. He found a ledge, tore a hole in the snow to hold, and as soon as possible, he let down a bandaged rope friend. So they overcame several rather flat spans. However, during one of the descents the sloping surface suddenly ended in a steep slope, in fact a cliff. Joe did not have time to scream to warn his partner, as he was already hanging over the abyss.

A wide ice crevice gaped at the bottom. Say something to Simon was not possible because of the howl of the wind. So Joe and remained hanging over the abyss, while his partner struggled to keep the rope, not knowing what was happening there, beyond the precipice.

The photo is illustrative. National Geographic

Simon’s arms and legs were numb, and he had no idea what happened to Joe. Maybe he already died and he keeps the body dead? It was unreal to lift it. Joe himself at the same time, too, could do nothing, just hanging on a rope and waiting for death, if not from falling, then frostbite.

After an hour and a half of uncertainty, Simon began to crawl to the abyss. His hands were numb, he could no longer hold the rope. Nothing else was left – the guy took out a knife and cut the “umbilical cord” that connected him with a friend somewhere on the other side of the universe.

Horror and darkness

Joe was unconscious at the time. He woke up from the impact in complete darkness. The climber was lucky: he flew about 15 meters, fell straight into the crevice, landed on a gentle slope, moved along it for about 50 meters and stopped.

He switched on the flashlight. To the crevice was too high – there is nothing to think of getting to it. The guy turned to his right side and could not grope for a beam of light from the bottom. The mountaineer lay on a small ledge and could do nothing. A broken leg limited movement, and there was nowhere to move. Climb the sheer wall? Risk and fall further into the abyss?

After looking around, Simpson was sure that his situation was hopeless. He turned off the flashlight, but immediately horrified. There is a total darkness, a crackling of ice and an eerie howling of the wind. It seemed that the cave was filled with horrible fantastic creatures who only dreamed of eating you.

– I told myself that in no case should one lose one’s self-control. I understood that if I lose my temper, I will lose control, and then everything will be exact. But it did not help. I began to scream, swear, curse myself, Simon and circumstances. I sobbed and howled. I never thought that I would reach such an animal state.

In the end, Joe fell asleep. He woke up in the morning. From above, through the gap, the sun blazed with a gentle ray, but despair did not go away. The unhappy man again began to call Simon, not knowing that he had passed by several hours ago, looked into the crevice and called his friend, eventually deciding that he had died, if he did not respond.

Picking himself up, Joe weighed all the few chances and decided to go down. He tied up the rest of the cut rope, attached the other end to the ice ax, which he drove into the icy stratum, and somehow began to descend. What if only emptiness is below? Well, then you can break with a clear conscience – death will be quick.

Joe was lucky: the length of the rope just enough to go down to 25 meters, directly to the bottom. The guy crawled cautiously on his stomach, and then he heard a crash. It was not the bottom of the gorge, but a snow layer with a base in the form of ice, and beneath it – emptiness.

– But I crawled. Carefully, as in the egg shell, because ahead saw the light breaking through the snow. I crawled to the stone steps, along which it was necessary to rise, drove the ice ax into the wall, began to pull up. I tried to climb so as to load a healthy left leg, but each time I stepped on the broken right. I felt the broken bones inside, the pain was inhuman, with every step my eyes darkened.

And yet Joe got to the vertical cleft, shook off the snow “coat” and went out on a wonderful sunny day. For a long time the guy did nothing, just lay on the snow and laughed. However, this was not the end of the torment, many troubles awaited ahead.

Five thousand fractures and Boney M.

Yes, Joe Simpson got out of the gorge, but stayed for miles on impassable sites, without food and water. Desperation gripped the boy again, and he realized that he could not think about the ultimate goal. Instead, the climber came up with a kind of game, exhibiting intermediate tasks like “crawl for 20 minutes in-on-it until that snowdrift.” I was in 18 minutes – I felt incredible happiness, was late for a minute – I was upset to tears.

So Joe and crawled all day. Sometimes he fell into a kind of maze with gills that had to be circumambulated, sometimes you had to go back and look for another way. Eventually, the exhausted and dehydrated guy crawled up the glacier and climbed onto the stony cliffs.

Everything, it was impossible to crawl further: too sharp stones. From improvised materials came to build something like a tire, which turned out somehow to strengthen the damaged leg. Joe jumped on his left leg, trying to keep his right weight. It turned out badly. At every “step” he fell, and each time it seemed to him that his leg was breaking anew.

Shot from the film “Touching the Void”

Hod, but Joe was coming. Probably, first of all due to obstinacy and will. He still set himself a mini-goal – “dokivlyat to that stone in 15 minutes.” No discounts and sympathy – only will, stubbornness and all-consuming pain.

At such an exhausting pace, the whole day passed. And then the climber collapsed on the rocks from impotence. He was still thirsty. It was especially painful to hear under the feet, somewhere deep beneath the rock, the water from the glacier murmurs. This murmur was driving me crazy.

“How good it was to lie without moving and do nothing!” I did not have the strength, and I got used to the idea that I would die. Creep farther seemed insane. Why, if all the same the end? And then, without a trace, I was seized by loneliness, a feeling that I was abandoned. And I crawled on. Not because I wanted to be saved, but because I wanted someone to be there when I died.

The photo is illustrative

Joe crawled on. There were still no traces of people, but he noticed a little dirty trickle. But it was completely unimportant – the guy pressed his lips to the water and drank a liter for a liter.

“I was fueled, I got strength with every sip.” Then I wet myself, and I even liked it: my legs were warm … Slowly, but surely I was degrading. Nothing left, shame disappeared. I was nobody. An unusual feeling.

And then Jo saw the tracks of Simon – it was a stone’s throw to the camp! But it was easy for a healthy person to get there, and not a crippled climber on the verge of losing consciousness. Simpson stopped distinguishing reality from delirium, in addition to all at some point in the head played the song of the unloved Joe of the group Boney M. – Brown Girl in the Ring. The annoying melody did not lag behind, played in a circle. “What the hell am I dying for Boney M.?!” Thought Joe and turned off.

– When the consciousness returned, I realized that I was lying on the rocks. But it seemed to me that I returned to the glacier, then I was sure that I was beaten at the supermarket. Then a sharp stink came into my nose, which, ammonia, brought me to life.

At night, unconscious, Joe reached the toilet next to the camp, which they broke with Simon a hundred thousand years ago. Simpson yelled furiously, shouting the name of a friend, – no one responded. At that moment, according to Joe, he felt that he had lost the most important thing – himself. But he did not stop screaming. Simon was in place. He still woke up and ran to the screams.

For almost a week of his infernal travel, Joe Simpson lost a third of the weight, and it took him more than two years to fully restore his health, during which he survived six surgeries. Joe, as it almost always happens in such cases, did not give up climbing. In addition, he began to write books. Today the man is 58 years old, and for his age he looks cheerful.

Source of the photo:
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