High Drama at a High Altitude; Two Mountaineers Reach the End of Their Rope

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

We toss around the term "cliffhanger" often enough when talking about movies, but if you want to experience the meaning of the word in its purest (and most literal) sense, go see "Touching the Void." The true story of a mountain-climbing disaster in the Peruvian Andes--based on climber Joe Simpson's acclaimed 1988 book of the same title--the movie is a hybrid: both a dramatization of the events, since the climbers didn't film their exploits, and a documentary narrated by its participants many years after the fact. In 1985, Simpson and Simon Yates, two cocky Brits in their 20s, set out to climb, Alpine style, the forbiddingly vertical west face of the Suila Grande, which had never been scaled before. They made it up in three and a half days. But on the way down, in a driving blizzard, Simpson shattered his leg and was left dangling on the end of Yates's rope. Slowly lowering Simpson down, unable to see or hear him, Yates unwittingly left his partner suspended in midair over a yawning crevasse, unsure of whether Simpson was dead or alive, and faced with a choice: to cut himself free and save himself, or to die alongside his friend. Yates cut the rope.

What follows is a harrowing, jaw-dropping tale of survival so extreme it couldn't possibly be an invention. You know the two men survive because there they are in front of you, 19 years later, recounting the adventure with calm British reserve. Yet you still find it hard to believe that Simpson could possibly have lived through such an experience. …