In June 1985, British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates embarked on a historic adventure—ascending the treacherous West Face of Siula Grande, a 21,000-foot mountain in Peru. Their initial ascent was arduous, but that was just a prelude to what would become a test of their physical and psychological limits.
During their descent, calamity struck. Simpson fell, shattering his right knee. For most, that would have been the end. Many would’ve seen this as the moment to give up, to abandon hope. But Yates refused to leave his friend behind. Armed with nothing more than determination and ingenuity, he began the laborious process of lowering Simpson down the mountain, braving blinding snow and numbing cold.
However, the nightmare took a turn for the worse. Simpson fell into a crevasse, and Yates faced an agonising decision. With heavy sorrow, he cut the rope, believing his friend was lost forever. But he underestimated the indomitable spirit of Joe Simpson.
In his book “Touching The Void,” Simpson captures his emotions in stark yet empowering terms. “As I gazed at the distant moraines, I knew that I must at least try,” he writes. The grim acceptance of his own mortality is not laced with fear but rather becomes a fact he can confront. This mental transformation, where fear metamorphosizes into fact, is an embodiment of resilience in its rawest form.
It’s astounding that Yates survived, but Simpson’s survival is beyond extraordinary. In an awe-inspiring act of human tenacity, he clawed his way out of the crevasse and dragged himself six miles back to camp. He endured three harrowing days and nights without food or water, losing three stone and falling into ketoacidosis. Yet he made it because he chose to try. A choice that many wouldn’t believe they could make until the very moment comes when you either do or you don’t.
What makes Simpson’s story resonate is the universal truth it exposes—that in moments of extreme pressure, ordinary people do extraordinary things. It’s a testament to the hidden reservoirs of courage that exist in all of us, waiting to surface when we need them most. Years later, after six surgeries and enduring physical hardships that would break most, Simpson was back climbing.
Joe Simpson’s story is more than a tale of survival; it’s a lesson in the transformative power of resilience and the indomitable human spirit. Never underestimate what you are capable of when faced with life’s harshest challenges. It’s a narrative of raw courage and absolute resolve, an affirmation that even when faced with insurmountable odds, the least we can do is try. And sometimes, that’s enough.
What in your life seems insurmountable right now, and how might you summon the courage to ‘at least try’ overcoming it?
Updated for 2023