As mountaineering survival stories go, this is the destroyer of its class: an incredible climbing epic in the hands of a pitch-perfect writer. The book starts out as a journal about the solace (and menace) of going high and remote (Peru’s 21,000-foot Siula Grande) but soon becomes something else entirely. On the descent from the 21,000-foot summit, the author, suffering from a broken leg and damaged ribs from a previous accident, falls into a crevasse. His partner, Simon Yates, presuming him a goner and unable to keep Simpson’s dead weight from pulling him off the mountain, does the unthinkable: He cuts the rope. Alone in a canyon of ice, Simpson veers from stubborn determination to screaming anger and despair: “There was no one to hear,” he writes, “but the looming empty chamber behind me made me feel inhibited, as if it were some disapproving silent witness to my weakness.”
The book’s device of interspersing the devastated Yates’s thoughts in italics makes for amazing reading, and the pair’s reconciliation three days later at base camp, after Simpson has dragged himself down the scree, is a scene and theme that rises far above the mountaineering genre. Present the ethics of this book to someone who’s never climbed a mountain and you could still end up talking about it all night.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.