I was lucky enough to be at a lecture the other day being given by Joe Simpson.  For those of you who don’t know Joe, he is famous for his attempt to climb the Peruvian mountain Siula Grande with his climbing partner Simon Yates in 1985.  They succeeded where many had failed but an unfortunate accident on the way down led to Joe breaking his leg.  Simon attempted to get him back down the mountain but during a bad storm and poor visibility he lowered Joe over a ledge on a rope, the rope got caught and after 1.5 hours of holding the rope Simon knew he had to cut it to survive.  Joe fell but somehow managed to survive the fall and the rest of the story, as detailed in the book and film  “Touching the Void”, is about Joe’s struggle to drag himself down the mountain.  Against all the odds both climbers lived to tell the tale.

I’d already seen the film a number of times, and we’re all big fans of the story here at Marton House so I was particularly pleased to discover I was going to hear Joe give a motivational speech.  I wasn’t disappointed either.  Joe spoke for over an hour and recounted the tale with little emotion, a difficult thing considering what he went through and it was a truly enlightening experience.

This post isn’t about what a great motivational speaker Joe is, though I’d highly recommend seeing him if you can, this post is about one tiny little thing he said about his experience.

As motivational speakers we quite often use a mountain as a metaphor, in fact one of our friends Clay Lowe uses it in situ as he takes his students up the side of Mount Snowdon.  However is reaching the top all it’s cracked up to be?

When Joe and Simon reached the top of Siula Grande they had a brief moment of elation, they reveled in the views and then they suddenly realised there was nowhere else to go – apart from down.  This was the only point during his presentation he looked slightly emotional and he claimed this realisation was a crushing blow for both of them. On the way back down hardly a word was uttered until the fateful accident happened.

Is it lonely at the top?  Does part of us die when we get there?  How can we eliminate these feelings?

Always having a goal is part of the answer, something that is difficult in mountaineering as every journey has a beginning and an end. When we went up the mountain with Clay we didn’t make it to the top, a crushing blow for us but did the experience bring us closer and make us stronger as a team because of the failure?

You can read more about Joe and Simon’s story here and here.