Joe Simpson - Survivor, Mountaineer, "Touching the Void" and so much more


Joe Simpson (mountaineer)

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Joe Simpson
Joe Simpson - 2013.jpg
Simpson in 2013
Personal information
Born13 April 1960 (age 61)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Joe Simpson (born 1960) is a British mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker. While climbing in Peru in 1985, he suffered severe injuries and was thought lost after falling into a crevasse, but he survived and managed to crawl back to his base camp. He described the ordeal in his best-selling 1988 book Touching the Void, which was adapted into a 2003 documentary film of the same name

Childhood life

Simpson was born on 13 August 1960[1] to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,[2] where his father was stationed with the British Army. From the age of 8, Simpson travelled between schools in Britain and various countries where his father was stationed.[3] Simpson began rock climbing after being introduced to the sport at Peak Scar on the Hambleton Hills in north-eastern Yorkshire by a teacher at Ampleforth College.[4][5] He was 14 when he read The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, about the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger by Harrer with Anderl Heckmair, Fritz Kasparek, and Ludwig Vörg in 1938. Despite the inherent dangers of mountaineering described in the book, this reading sparked a passion for the mountains in Simpson.

Climbing career

In 1985, Simpson and climbing partner Simon Yates made a first-ascent of the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande (6,344m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash of the Peruvian Andes. On the descent, Simpson broke his right leg and during their subsequent self-rescue in a storm, he and Yates became separated. The climb was nearly fatal for both climbers and, after they returned to Britain, a misleading article in a national newspaper led to Yates being criticised for having cut a rope that was keeping himself and Simpson together.[6]

Simpson published an article about the Siula Grande ordeal in the climbing press shortly afterwards,[7] and later wrote the best-selling book Touching the Void. The book has been translated into 23 languages and has sold almost two million copies worldwide.[8] Simpson wrote further about the Siula Grande expedition in his book This Game of Ghosts [9] as did Yates in his book Against the Wall.[10] A film based on the Touching the Void book was released in 2003. It takes the form of a docudrama with climbing sequences filmed in the European Alps and the Peruvian Andes together with interviews with Simpson, Yates and the third member of the expedition Richard Hawking (a non-climber).

Simpson underwent six surgical operations as a result of the leg injuries sustained on Siula Grande. The doctors told him he would never climb again and that he would have trouble walking for the rest of his life. After two years of rehabilitation, however, he returned to mountain climbing.

His later non-fiction books describe other expeditions and his changing feeling towards extreme mountaineering brought on by the many deaths that surround the pursuit. A bad fall broke Simpson's left ankle while climbing with Mal Duff in 1991 on Pachermo in Nepal, and is described in his third book This Game of Ghosts. Simpson also made six unsuccessful attempts on the North Face of the Eiger from 2000 to 2003 with his regular climbing partner Ray Delaney, all of which had to be aborted due to bad weather.[11] One of his books, The Beckoning Silence, was made into a documentary shown on Channel 4 in October 2007.[12] The book won the 2003 National Outdoor Book Award (Outdoor Literature category).

Simpson has another career as a motivational speaker, addressing corporate events throughout the world. His most recent book is the novel Walking the Wrong Side of the Grass, published in 2018.

Simpson is one of six people mentioned in the song "Ali in the Jungle" by English rock band The Hours ("Like Simpson on the mountain"), as an example of someone who overcame hardship and beat the odds to make a comeback.



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