I have just watched the docudrama "Touching the void" for the umpteenth time. I am a climber and mountaineer and have a great deal of respect for Simon Yates and his efforts to save Joe Simpson and also for his decision to cut the rope supporting Joe Simpson. On my last viewing of the movie the blindingly obvious question occurred to me. Why did Joe Simpson not cut the rope himself?

He was in a hopeless situation. Suspended on an overhanging face in severe wind chill conditions, he had lost the ability to climb up the rope, Yates was in an unsustainable position and it was obvious to both parties that this was the case. One of the two had to make a decision. Yates hung on for as long as he could and then cut the rope.

Joe Simpson has never blamed Simon Yates for cutting the rope,

Simpson publicly defended Yates. He dedicated his book and the documentary to Yates, saying his climbing partner saved his life by staying with him on the mountain for so long. Simpson said he, too, would have cut the rope if their positions had been reversed.


but has he ever explained why he did not cut the rope himself?

  • 6
    He didn't have a knife. Rule number one: always be the guy with the knife. Also, he knew his situation, but didn't know his friends'. For all he knew, he was waiting to see if his buddy had a plan 'B' to pull him back up. I'd be surprised if they didn't have a crevasse rescue kit on them.
    – ShemSeger
    Mar 6, 2017 at 4:20
  • 2
    Shem - I think that sounds like the perfect answer. Why didn't he cut the rope: he didn't have a knife.
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 6, 2017 at 9:00
  • Exactly, go post an answer @ShemSeger :) I read the book some years ago but can't remember that part. Thx.
    – Wills
    Mar 6, 2017 at 9:59
  • 2
    I absolutely have no clue why this should be opinion-based? O.o He asks for a statement from Joe Simpsons. If he says: "I didn't want to die." it's an answer. It's not like the author is asking for an opinion of the answerer on this topic. This question is a perfect fit imho.
    – OddDeer
    Mar 6, 2017 at 12:12

2 Answers 2


From Chapters 6 and 7 of the book Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, there are two things that I think would explain why he didn't cut the rope.

  1. He thought they were both going to die.

I knew he was in the same situation as me, unable to move. Either he would die in his seat or be pulled from it by the constant strain of my body...

Either thought of death, of mine or his, came quite unemotionally - matter-of-fact. I was too tired to care...

The rope jolted down a few inches. How long will you be Simon? I thought. How long till you join me...

...I accepted that I was going to die. There was no alternative.

  1. It didn't occur to him that either of them could/should cut the rope until he saw the cut end.

I tugged the loose rope. It moved easily...

When Simon had fallen he would have swept out and clear of the crevasse. So he must have hit the slope and stopped. He would be dead. He must be after that fall. When the rope comes tight I can Prussik up it...

I drew the slack rope to me and stared at the frayed end. Cut!

He had tried to Prussik up earlier to get out of the predicament and failed because his hands were too frozen. He did still have both of his ice axes and at least one screw so it is possible that he could have cut the rope with either of them.

  • 2
    Can you clarify the who the hims' hes, and I's are in the quotes? Mar 6, 2017 at 17:07
  • 2
    @JamesJenkins All of the quotes are written from Simpson's point of view. Mar 6, 2017 at 17:11

At a slide show I saw years ago, Joe Simpson said that the knife Simon Yates used was his own (i.e. Joe's).

  • 1
    Meaning Joe had no knife at that moment?
    – Martin F
    Mar 6, 2017 at 22:15

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