Simon Yates should have gone down in mountain folklore as a hero. In appalling conditions, high on a previously unclimbed Andean mountain face, he fought long and hard to save the life of his badly injured friend, Joe Simpson. Only when all hope was gone, and it was certain that he would otherwise be dragged to his death, did Yates do what he had to do, which is what you would have done, what any other climber would have done and, most crucially, what Simpson later said that he too would have done.
With his strength gone and his feet scrabbling in vain to prevent his life slipping away, the 22-year-old Sheffield climber took out a knife. With night fallen, the wind howling and snow spindrifting all around, the blade stuck to his lips as he eased it open with his teeth. You've seen the movie... Need us say more.
If you've ever read or watched the phenomenal 'Touching the Void', you'll know about Simon Yates. 2010 marks 25 years since he and his climbing partner Joe Simpson undertook their famous first ascent of the West Face of Siula Grande (6344m). This September Simon will return with World Expeditions to the Peruvian Andes to lead an expedition for trekkers from around the world - in fact, it's not too late you can still join him...read on to see what he had to say about his upcoming trek and what it's like to 'touch the void'.
Q: The award winning book and film, 'Touching the Void' has achieved infamy worldwide. How has that affected you?
I occasionally get recognised - usually in Nepal for some reason - and people stop me and ask if I am Joe Simpson. I hardly get mobbed on the streets of my home town - Penrith - though.
Q: What have you been up to in the 25 years since?
Quite a lot really - travelling and climbing around the globe. I've made first ascents of some beautiful mountains, mountain faces and ridges. I did a lot of trips to Pakistan in my earlier climbing career, a spell of big wall climbing in the early 1990's and more recently have been drawn to mountain wilderness - places like the Cordillera Darwin in Tierra del Fuego, The Wrangell St Elais Range on the Alaskan/Yukon border and the mountains of Eastern Greenland. In addition to climbing for myself I've also guided clients to the summits of Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina, Ama Dablam in Nepal, Khan Tengri in Kazakhstan, Peak Lenin in Kygyzstan and Spantik in Pakistan.
Q: Quarter of a century on since you summited Siula Grande, how are you feeling about returning to the Peruvian Andes?
I'm looking forward to it. It will be my forth trip to the area and the circuit of the Cordillera Huayash is widely considered to be one of the best treks in the world. I'm also hoping to spy a few future mountaineering projects while I'm there.
Q: So what's life like for a famous international mountaineer? What's a typical day for you?
I can't say I have a typical day luckily. When I'm at home I have to deal with the usual nuts and bolts of life - cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, paying the bills, getting the car serviced, collecting the kids from school etc. Most of my work is done on the computer and phone. When I'm away I could be travelling, walking, climbing or simply sitting at a base camp. At present I've been sneaking out of my office quite a lot to go and ice climb - we're having one of the coldest winters in decades here in the UK and I'm trying to make the most of it.
Q: What are your top five treks/climbs?
Any long trek in Pakistan - simply the most raw and stunning mountain scenery in the world in my opinion. Of my own climbs the ones that stand out are the first scent of Leyla Peak in Pakistan, the big new route on the East Face of the Central Tower of Paine in Chilean Patagonia, the first ascent of Monte Ada in Tierra del Fuego and the first alpine style ascent of the SW ridge of Mount Vancouver in Alaska I did last spring.
Q: Favourite mountain..?
Shivling in the Gangotri region of India. Quite simply the most striking peak you will ever see. It's also a place of great religious significance for Hindus - the source of the Ganges at Gamukh is just below the base camp.
Q: You've certainly accomplished some amazing mountaineering - what's the biggest mistake you see trekkers, climbers and mountaineers making out there?
There seems to be an increasing reliance on recent digital technology. Mobile and satellite phones and GPS devices are useful tools, but you can still have accidents and the devices in themselves do not guarantee you getting rescued.
Q: For the aspiring mountaineers amongst us that want to join you in Peru - what should we expect and do we need get some training in beforehand?
This trip is suitable for fit hill walkers, so those joining the trip should aim to be that. There are a couple of high passes to cross on the trek so everyone will feel the altitude, but although presenting a challenge it should not pose too much of a problem as ample time to acclimatize is built into the schedule.
Q: So what's next for Simon Yates after you return to Peru this October?
Write another book, go to South America in the new year (2011) and then back to Alaska next spring. I haven't got any further than that at present..!
In September 2010 Simon Yates will return to Cordillera Huayash with a group of trekkers to experience the magnificence of the Peruvian Andes once more. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kiwi trekkers to accompany him on this epic journey. Departing 25 Sept – 13 Oct 2010 and priced from just $3990 per person please contact World Expeditions for trip details on 0800 350 083 or visit www.worldexpeditions.com
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