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Touching The Void

I had wanted to read this book before seeing the movie. Didn't work out that way but as it turns out they were both really worthwhile. In spite of knowing pretty much what happens both film and book were still able to work magic.

A true story about a couple guys doing a "first ascent" of a knarly mountain in the Andes. While climbing down the author breaks his leg --basically a death sentence. Rather than leave him on the mountain, his climbing partner lowers him down as a storm rages. Each time he does it he's not tied down to anything --just sitting in a "snow seat" they've carved out. They've almost made it down when he lowers him over a cliff. He can neither pull him back up, nor climb down to him. Losing his strength and with the snow seat crumbling beneath him, he pulls out a knife and cuts the rope.

Here's a bit from early in the book where the author explains his anxiety about camping overnight on the side of a mountain:

"...There was no possibility of reaching the top that night, nor was there need for haste in seeking a ledge on which to sleep, for the weather was clear and settled, and we would certainly reach the top the following day. It would be another warm night, and this high up, at 17,000 feet, the sky would be brilliant with stars.

...I found Ian sitting on a ledge about four feet wide but long enough for the two of us to lie down foot-to-head. It would be quite adequate for a night's sleep. As I climbed up to him I noticed in my torchlight that the ledge was in fact the top of a large pedestal fixed to the vertical wall above the corner we had just climbed. It was solid and gave us no reason to think it might be unsafe.

An hour later we had fixed a handrail safety rope, strung between an old ring peg and a spike of rock, clipped ourselves in and settled down to sleep.

The next few seconds were unforgettable.

I was inside a protective waterproof bivouac bag, half-asleep, and Ian was making final adjustments to his safety line. Suddenly and without warning, I felt myself drop swiftly. Simultaneously there was an ear-splitting roar and grinding. With my head inside the bag and my arms flailing outside the opening at my chest I knew nothing except the sickening dread as I went plummeting down into the 2,000-foot abyss below. I heard a high-pitched yelp of fear amid the heavy roaring, then felt a springy recoil. The safety rope had held. All my weight was held on my armpits, as I had accidentally caught the safety rope in the fall. I swung gently on the rope, trying to remember whether I had tied-in to the rope and gripping my arms tight just in case.

The thunderous sound of tons of granite plunging down the pillar echoed and then died to silence. I was completely disorientated. The silence seemed frighteningly ominous. Where was Ian? I thought of that fleeting yelp, and was horrified by the idea that perhaps he had not tied-on after all... "



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