“Touching the void,” by Joe Simpson
Chapter 5 – “Disaster”
- When Joe breaks his leg during the climax of, “Touching the Void,” imagery is used to draw the reader in and allow them to see from Joe’s perspective. In the moments leading up to Joe’s fall, he describes attempting to descend a very precarious part of Siula Grande. He talks about lowering himself over the side of a cliff, his only leverage being the ice axe and ice hammer he has lodged into the side of the cliff face. He gives the image of the ice axe having a good grip on the lip of the ice wall and shows that he is making a calculated decision about where he’s inserting the ice hammer into the wall. This makes us as the reader believe that Joe has full control over the situation, providing us with a false sense of security. When Joe does fall, it happens suddenly at the hand of his ice axe. The axe becomes dislodged from the lip leaving him with no means of attaching himself to the wall.
Joe doesn’t talk about the initial fall but instead focuses on the aftermath and what happens next. He talks about the unbearable pain he feels in his knee, as well as the multitude of confusing twists and turns he endures, only then to be “catapulted,” over the side of the East face of Siula Grande. This provides the reader with the image of Joe being very disoriented and confused by the sudden movements and the excruciating pain he feels.
When compared with one another, the images Joe helps us visualize before and after the fall are contrasted in almost every way. Initially, Joe is sure of what he’s doing and is confident in himself and his gear, only to have that, quite literally, ripped away from him by the fall. He is then plunged into a state of confusion and terror. These drastically contrasting images and the sudden change that divides them, draw the reader in.
- When Joe shatters his knee, he believes that in time, he will be left by Simon on the mountain to die as there seems to be no possible way for him to get back down to base camp with his leg in unusable condition. This is unless Simon chooses to help Joe in a very long and very slow descent of the West face of Siula Grande. Simon’s perspective is included in this section of the text because we get an understanding of Joe’s situation from two very different standpoints. Simon is advantaged in this situation because he is fully capable and is able to make the decision as to whether he will help Joe make it back to base camp, or whether he will leave him for dead. Simon’s narration is included in the text so we can get and understanding of why he makes the choice to stay and help Joe. During this section of the text we know that Simon and Joe know that the most likely outcome for Joe is death, being left alone on the side of the mountain due to his inability to descend without help. This is shown when Simon says…
“You’re dead… No two ways about it! I think he knew it too. I could see it in his face. It was all totally rational.”
Later in the Simon’s narration, another line shows his rational and logical thinking when he says…
“I couldn’t help him and it occurred to me that in all likelihood he would fall to his death. I wasn’t disturbed by the thought. In a way I hoped he would fall.”
These lines show us that, to Simon, his own survival is more appealing than attempting the impossible task of saving Joe and the chances of him dying increasing as well. Despite this sensible way of analyzing his situation, Simon chooses to help Joe anyway, more out of sympathy than anything else.
Simon’s narration clearly shows a change in the men’s relationship. Once being friends, Joe sees Simon as his potential savior and Simon views Joe as a burden. This change in perspectives leaves the two seeing each other more as just climbing partners than friends. In life or death situations like the one Simon and Joe are experiencing, survival usually takes priority over everything else.
From this change, I as the reader, gather that this may be foreshadowing future events in which Simon abandons Joe to save his own life, casting aside the possibility of Joe making it off Siula Grande alive.