Touching the Void (1987) by Joe Simpson

Touching the Void (1987) by Joe Simpson

Author:Joe Simpson
Format: epub
Published: 1987-07-30T16:00:00+00:00


EIGHT

Silent Witness

As I descended, the sense of menace threatened to overwhelm me. In contrast to the fury of the night before it was unnervingly quiet. I expected an avalanche to come hissing down but nothing moved. There wasn’t a breath of wind to flurry the powder on the face, and even the snow kicked down by my steps slid away silently. It was as if the mountains were holding their breath, waiting for another death. Joe had died. The silence said so; but must they take me as well? It was warm in the sun. The face caught its glare in the huge white bowl above me, and up there, thousands of feet above me, the snow shimmered in the heat. We had been up there yesterday but there was no trace of our passing. The night had swept it clean, and it waved gently in the heat haze. There was a dry foul taste in my mouth. Dehydration, no doubt; or a hollow bitterness rising. I stared at the mountain rising over me. Empty. It was a pointless thing to have done—climb up it, across it, and down it. Stupid! It looked perfect; so clean and untouched, and we had changed nothing. It was beautiful, immaculate, but it left me empty. I had been on it too long, and it had taken everything.

I continued the descent, stepping down with methodical precision. I could have moved quicker, but somehow there didn’t seem to be any point. The windless silence closed over me. The glacier below my feet, encircled by ice mountains, remained quiet. There were no muffled ice collapses, or crevasses creaking open. I carried on down oppressed by the unnatural calm, and sensing that the hushed aura waited on me. I would let it wait. I wanted to do this thing with calm, and dignity. The sense of menace grew heavier as I carefully retreated.

Crusts of snow slithered quickly over a drop below me. I was standing on the edge of an ice cliff. I leaned out from the slope and peered over the cliff at least 100 feet down. I raised my eyes and searched the glacier directly beneath the cliff for signs of life. There was nothing. No tell-tale signs of a snow hole. So this is what he went over. My God! Why this, here! We never knew. The dreadful suspicion that I had nursed through the night was confirmed. Joe was dead.

I stared at the glacier below in shocked silence. Although I had feared the worst I had never expected to find this. I had envisaged a small vertical wall, a rock buttress even, but not this towering ice cliff. I looked back up the face and marked the descent we had taken during the lowerings in a plumb straight line down to where I stood. I felt cheated. The very means by which we had managed to rescue ourselves had caused the accident. I remembered the mounting excitement I had felt as we had progressed smoothly down the mountain.



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