Touching the Void

Recently, I watched the movie Touching the Void, again; I have seen it about three or four times now, I suppose, and I guess that I will watch it many more times in the future. It is one of those films that I don’t actually have in my collection, but I do tend to watch every time they put it on TV. Why? Because it is an astonishing story of determination and persistence and it probably says more to me about goal-setting than anything else I have ever heard or read.

The film is based on the book of the same title, written by Joe Simpson and published in 1988. It recounts the story of two mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who set out to climb Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. The west face of this peak represented a major climbing challenge and it had never been climbed previously. They set out to climb it, alpine style, which, according to Joe, is the purest style of mountain climbing. It essentially consists of taking everything you need in your rucksack and climbing, with your partner, without any additional support of any kind.

After a strenuous and challenging ascent, they both made it to the summit and after a brief period of enjoying the moment, drinking in the feeling of exhilaration, they began their descent. It was whilst traversing the north ridge that Joe slipped and fell, breaking his leg badly. The impact drove his tibia through his kneecap and beyond his femur making it completely impossible for him to use his leg. Faced with this difficult situation, they hatched a plan to get Joe down the mountain, by lowering him, by hand using two 150 feet ropes tied together.

Simon would lower Joe 300 feet down the mountain, Joe would stand on his good leg and take up the slack. Simon would then climb down to him and repeat the exercise. The matter was complicated slightly by the knot used to tie the two ropes together, since it would not pass through the apparatus they were using. They invented a system to deal with this difficulty and were making progress using the method when the weather, which had been very bad, got even worse.

In blizzard conditions, and with night approaching, Simon inadvertently lowered Joe over an overhang. Unable to communicate because of the blizzard, Simon had no idea what had happened and hung on to the rope, gradually getting weaker and losing his footing. At the other end of the rope, Joe was dangling above a precipice with no ability to do anything. He had tried to climb the rope, but because of frost bite, he had dropped the equipment he needed to ascend.

After about hour and a half Simon made the agonising decision to cut the rope; racked with guilt because he felt it would mean certain death for his partner. He then dug a snow cave, spent the night on the mountain and made his descent the following day. Meanwhile, Joe had miraculously survived the fall; he had landed on a ledge inside a crevasse. Unable to climb out because of his broken leg, he lowered himself further into the crevasse. Eventually he saw a shaft of light and he managed to crawl and climb his way out.

Without food or water, after a very strenuous climb and difficult descent, after badly fracturing his leg and then surviving a 100 feet fall, after lowering himself into a crevasse fully knowing there might be no escape, falling again and again, jarring his leg every time, he eventually crawled and hopped all the way back down the mountain and to the camp. It took him a further three days.

I am sure you will agree that it is an amazing story. But, for me, the thing that makes it truly inspirational is the way that Joe never gave up. Faced with overwhelming odds and a truly gigantic goal, he actually broke the goal into smaller goals. He would challenge himself to crawl to a particular rock within twenty minutes. When he got there, he set himself another goal, and then another. This was how he managed to mentally deal with the seemingly insurmountable task of getting himself back to camp.

The goals we set for ourselves may also seem overwhelming at times. But personally, I take a good deal of encouragement from this truly amazing story of persistence and determination. My major goal – working toward achieving financial independence online – has consumed a good deal of my time for the past six years now. And there have certainly been occasions when I have wondered whether or not I will ever achieve the goal I set. It is certainly a harder goal than I had thought, but I can take encouragement from my progress. I can look back and see how far I have come and that gives me strength to continue.

When I think about what Simon managed to achieve, by sheer persistence and determination, I am encouraged to think that, by using the same methods, I will also achieve my big goal too. Like Simon, I am dividing that goal into smaller steps that I can focus upon one at a time. I hope that you have big goals and I hope you are encouraged to persist, through those difficult periods when you think you are not going to make it. As someone once said, if you are faced with the task of eating an elephant, it may seem impossible, but you can do it just one steak at a time or, to say it another way, a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step.

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