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Documentary examining the story of climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, whose attempt to scale Siula Grande in Peru in 1985 resulted in a disastrous accident. When Simpson suffers a broken leg, Yates tries to drag him back down the mountain, but in poor visibility Simpson falls over an icy ledge. Yates, unsure if his friend is alive or dead, makes the terrible decision to cut the rope tying them together. Somehow Joe survives the fall, and he recounts his tortuous journey back down the mountain.
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The Siula Grande mountain, nestled among the Peruvian Andes, is a climb fraught with danger. By 1985 climbers had attempted to reach the summit but none had been successful, yet this did not discourage British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. Young, experienced and seeking a challenge, they travelled with fellow climber Richard Hawking to the mountain, which stands at over 20,000ft and can experience freezing ice storms near its peak. With Hawking looking after base camp, Yates and Simpson set out to conquer the mighty giant.
For the first thirty minutes of Touching The Void, Kevin MacDonaldís masterful film that combines dramatic reconstructions with interviews from Yates, Simpson and Hawking, it is an uplifting story of man battling all that nature has to offer and succeeding against all odds. Simpson and Yates make a perilous climb up the west face of Siula Grande, determined to make their mark on this vicious landscape. As they recount the feelings of pride and accomplishment standing upon the mountain top, combined with stunning footage of the frozen range, one can feel a sense of admiration for the two men. Their sheer determination pushes them across dangerous slopes, but it is on the way down that this determination would be most needed and their story takes an almost fatal twist.
Simpson tells of the agonising pain he felt when one small mistake caused him to fall on the descent, suffering a compound fracture that left his leg in a terrible state. Well aware that there was no rescue to be had, Yates tied their ropes together and slowly began lowering Simpson down the mountain, 300ft at a time. This slow, tiring work came to an abrupt stop when Joe flew out over an overhang with no way of climbing back up. Waiting hours in the freezing cold, Simon eventually decided to cut the rope, certain that his friend had succumbed to the temperature and his injury. Simpson fell through the icy roof of a crevice before landing on a ledge, somehow still alive.
What follows is a remarkable story of survival in the face of overwhelming odds. As Yates had to fight his own guilt at abandoning his friend, Simpsonís demons were far more physical as he crawled through the crevice and down the slope of Siula Grande, hoping that he would reach base camp before the others left. Both men tell their stories with a certain amount of reservation; rarely do they resort to hyperbole, and it is rarely required, given the facts themselves are almost hard to believe. Though never overemotional, all three men are engaging interviewees, with an obvious love of their sport. Not that their tale never pulls at the heartstrings - from the gut churning image of Simpsonís leg compacting on itself to the humour of Joe believing he would die with an awful pop song stuck in his head, thereís plenty here to make Touching The Void accessible to people who have no interest in climbing.
The director MacDonald seamlessly combines the interviews and reconstructions to create a film that is both informative and visually arresting. One must also applaud his ability to keep the audience on the edge of their seats - though we already know both Simpson and Yates survived their treacherous journey, we are still moved to worry about their fate.
For this is not simply the story of a mountaineering expedition gone wrong. This is a raw and brutal story of man against nature, a war that has raged since the very birth of civilisation. Simpson and Yates, in their attempts to stamp their names on this wild and frozen land, were punished for such audacity. Their battle with the elements was one in which simply surviving was a victory.