Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why I'm Not a Mountain Climber

Last night, I caught the last half of Touching the Void on PBS. Smith was watching it and was hiding under the covers as I came in. I got sucked in immediately and watched the rest of the story with my mouth hanging wide open.

Note: this post is a complete **SPOILER**

The part where I came in with Smith hiding under the covers was when Joe broke his leg. Simon and Joe were climbing a mountain together in Peru. This was day 4. They were out of food, out of water and out of fuel. The break, was a bad one. cringing bad. hiding under the covers bad. Simon and Joe had to try and descend - despite the passing-out pain.

They rigged up a 300 foot line between them. Joe would go down first and Simon would hold steady. At the end of the rope, Joe would get settled and tug on the rope and then Simon would descend. Slow going. Did I mention the blizzard??? Then Joe hits an icy patch and slides slides slides off an ice cliff. He's dangling in mid-air, unable to yell back up to Simon to tell him what happened. He hangs there for an hour? 2 hours? trying desperately with frozen fingers and a broken leg to climb back up the rope. The sight below him is a crevasse.

At the top, Simon is losing his footing and slipping. After much anguish (and 2 hours of holding Joe) he cuts the rope. He assumes the worst for Joe and digs a snow cave for the night against the blizzard.

Joe falls into the crevasse.
Somehow his fall manages to stop at a slightly level spot near the top of the ice cave. He spends the night in scary, pain-ridden darkness, expecting to die. By morning light, he pulls on the rope, thinking that Simon is still attached and maybe he can pull him out, if he is still alive. He pulls in the end of the cut rope and cries.

Day 5: Simon awakes and descends the ice cliff, sees the crevasse. He assumes Joe is dead, no way he could have survived a fall into that crevasse. He begins a slow descent down the glacier, weary, dehydrated and assuming he will die too. A day later he makes the base camp where a friend is waiting - and can't believe the horrible state that Simon is in.

Meanwhile, up in the crevasse. Joe decides, well, since I'm already dead, I might as well see what's at the bottom of the crevasse. He goes down the 300 meter rope and if he hits bottom, great, if he gets to the end of the rope with no bottom in sight, he decides he'll just let go.

He hits bottom. He sees a small opening of light across the way. Crawls to it and crawls out onto the side of the mountain. yeah! relief!

And then he has to descend with his broken leg by himself. Day 6. Day 7 he makes it to the gigantic boulders at the base of the glacier. He rigs his sleeping pad around his leg to ease some of the inevitable falls he'll take. He is delirious. He crawls, he hops and he passes out. A stupid pop song will not get out of his head. He starts to doubt that anyone will be there at the camp. At some point in the night of day 8, he is awoken by a sharp smell - brought to by the incredible realization that he has been crawling through the latrine of the base camp. He starts to yell Simon's name.

Simon wakes up. And finds him, 4 days after leaving him for dead.

I could not help but ask at which point in the ordeal I would have just given up. It was all just too much. Joe was very candid in his retelling of his night in the crevasse, things that went through his mind at each stage. He is one amazing human being! If you haven't seen this movie or read the book, it has to be worth it, even knowing how it ends. It was just incredible.

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