The Badass of the Week.

Joe S. Simpson

It's hard to debate the badassitude of any hobby that can potentially get you killed, and mountaineering is no exception.  I mean, these climbers go out and push their bodies to the limit to the xtreme gonzo balls out, risking life and limb for no good reason except to prove how hardcore they are and to feel the rush of adrenaline that can only come from hanging off the side of a mountain 25,000 feet above the ground with nothing but your grip strength and a bungee cord between you and an incredibly painful death.  Probably the most extreme/insane mountaineers are those who specialize in ice climbing, which is to mountaineering what sword-swallowing is to fencing.

Ice climbing is pretty much where you try to scale a giant sheet of solid ice with nothing but a warm jacket, a fucking viking-style battle axe and some rope.  I can safely say that I find some dumbass way injure myself trying to operate the ice machine in my fucking freezer at least once a week, so I can only assume that I would last about fifteen seconds as an amateur ice climber.  The good news is that I don't think I have the arm strength to get myself more than about fifteen feet off the ground, so I'd probably just end up breaking an arm or some shit as I plummeted back to Earth, but some of these nuts can just fucking race up a slippery ice-slicked cliff face like they were some combination of an elevator and the Abominable Snowman.  One of those dudes is British climber Joe Simpson, a guy with one of the most hardcore survival stories this side of Beck Weathers or Larcena Pennington.

In 1985 Joe and his buddy Simon Yates decided to travel to the Andes and climb to the top of Siula Grande using a path that had never successfully been completed, just to prove that they had balls the size of small automobiles.  They chose to ascend the West face of the mountain, which was almost completely vertical and absolutely covered in nothing but a sheer layer of ice, loose dirt, flat rock, motorcycle grease, melted butter and used cooking oil.  It was 6,350 meters to the summit, which means very little to me because I'm about as familiar with the Metric System as I am with the proper technique for crocheting a sweatervest, but it's safe to say it was really fucking high up and nobody had ever completed the climb before.  Well Yates and Simpson just grabbed their crotches in a threatening manner (experienced climbers do this to try and intimidate the mountain they are about to ascend), threw on their climbing gear and hacked their way up the side of the previously-unconquerable mountain face.

They reached the summit after an arduous trek, and gave each other a jumping high-five at the peak to symbolize how fucking badass they were.  Then they immediately started their journey 3,000 feet back to their base camp where they could chill out and drink some coffee.  Unfortunately, before they got very far the ground gave out underneath Simpson and he busted ass like a bad skateboard bails video.  When he smashed into the ground, his tibia bone splintered like a toothpick and shards cracked up into his kneecap, fucking it up royally.  He could barely move his leg or stand, and they still had a long ways to go back to camp.  So Simon Yates took two cords of 150-foot rope, lashed them together, tied one end around his waist and used the other end around Joe.  For the next several hundred feet, Yates slowly lowered Joe down the mountain and together they made their way back to safety.

But then just as you thought things couldn't get any worse for our intrepid heroes, a huge ass blizzard fucking swept in and started kicking up snow like a drunken ski patrol snowmobile party.  In the whipping wind and unrelending snow, Yates unknowingly lowered Simpson off the side of a huge ass cliff, and before they realized what the shit was going on Joe Simpson found himself dangling 100 feet above the ground suspended only by a thin rope being held by his buddy.  Yates finally discovered what had happened and tried to yell down to Joe, but the unrelenting winds made communication impossible.  For over an hour, Simon Yates tried to hold onto the rope and pull his friend back up to safety, but after lowering Joe down the mountain for several hours he had no strength left.  Soon he realized that if he continued to hold on to that rope, he would eventually be dragged off the side of the cliff and neither man would survive the journey.  His feet began to slip in the snow.  His muscles burned.  Finally, he made the only decision he could - he cut the rope.  Joe Simpson plummeted 100 feet down a narrow crevasse, crashing into an ice bridge below.

Despite falling one hundred feet and landing flat on his back, Joe Simpson somehow managed to not die.  He looked around at his surroundings and discovered he was alone, freezing, horribly injured and trapped in an increasingly deadly situation.  At this point two things are running through his head - his unrelenting badass survival instinct and the song "Brown Girl in the Ring" by 1970s pop/disco supergroup Boney M.  Joe closed his eyes and told himself, "there's no fucking way I'm going to day with this shitty disco song stuck in my head".  He pulled himself up onto his one good foot and started moving.

He somehow found the strength to rappel down to the absolute bottom of the crevasse and crawl out from inside the glacier that for all intents and purposes should have been his tomb, and from there he spent the next three days crawling, limping and hopping five fucking miles back to base camp.  He had no food, ate snow to keep hydrated, and never gave up.  When he finally reached camp, he found his friend Simon Yates preparing to break down and head back to England.

Joe Simpson is about as fucking hardcore as they come.  The man summitted an unclimbable mountain face and managed to to survive a tremendous fall that would have killed most mortal humans.  Then, as if that wasn't badass enough, he pressed on with a knee so fucked up that he technically shouldn't have even been able to stand up, endured a complete lack of food, and somehow find a way to traverse an incredibly hostile, cold, high-altitude environment and make his way back to camp.  For that he is considered a legend amongst mountaineers, who all hope to aspire to that level of badassitude.  Absolutely unbelieveable.  It's the sort of shit you'd see in a bad action movie and be like, "yeah right bullshit that could never happen."

You can read more of his story in Touching the Void, the book he wrote about the adventure.


Touching the Void

No Ordinary Joe


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