Monday, March 10, 2014

Amazing Stories of Survival - Men

"Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson

Joe and Simon are experienced mountain climbers on expedition in Peru. They randomly picked up Richard, a sweet but aimless world traveler, who comes along to keep their base camp in order (aka make sure nothing gets stolen).

Joe and Simon take a couple of shorter trips up easier sides of the mountain.They are feeling pretty confident so they start making their way up. Things are promising and they reach the summit but on their way down things start to turn. Through a series of not great decisions (hiking too long into the night, not packing enough food or gas) and just bum luck (storms that leave powdery unstable snow) there are a couple close calls.Then the accident happens. Joe's ice axe loses it's grip and he falls down a crevasse. The men are tethered together and so Simon tries to dig his axe in deeper to give himself more hold and to hopefully give Joe time to somehow regain his footing.However there is no response from Joe and Simon starts to lose grip.He is faced with the agonizing decision. He cuts the rope that binds them together so he is not also dragged into the crevasse. Once Simon manages to get to the crevasse he can not see Joe and assumes that he has fallen to his death. He slowly starts to make his way the rest of the way down the mountain wracked with guilt, trying to think of what he will tell Richard and Joe's parents.

In nothing short of a miracle, Joe lands on an ice bridge and not all the way down to the bottom of a seemingly bottomless pit. He is okay shape, except for a completely broken leg. Once Joe regains consciousness and realizes his choice is either to slowly die on this ice bridge, or die trying to get out he starts to climb. A climb that under ideal circumstances would have taken him 15 minutes ends up taking hours. Joe's struggle down the mountain and his psychological process takes up a good rest of the book.The descriptions of the sounds that his knee was making as he crawled to safety made me not be able to read this while I was eating. (Turns out I'm a little squeamish about these things).

If you read this book, go immediately to the back of the book and read the glossary. Kind of think this info should be in the front because they jump right into all the mountain climbing lingo and I was pretty clueless. 2.5 stars out of 5.Also don't ever go mountain climbing, you'll die.I don't understand why anyone does this for fun!

"Island of the Lost:Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World" by Joan Druett

Being in a shipwreck has to be an incredibly scary experience and this book gives you two of them. This book tells the story of a wild, uninhabited island near New Zealand and the very different experiences of two different groups of marooned men who were stranded at about the same time. One group is like the poster child for being stranded on a deserted island, where the other one is the perfect example of what not to do.

Let's talk about the islands first, just to set the mood; Auckalnd islands. It's a small chain of islands but most of the action takes place on one. It's a longish skinnyish island. The forest is incredibly dense and there is a narrow beach surrounded by lots of very sharp rocks (both ships wrecked due to a combination of rocks, bad equipment and bad weather). The English had tried to settle it as a farming community but the soil was worthless so they abandoned it after three years. Various explorers had stopped through to release pigs (for some reason) and to try to hunt it's occasional seal population but no one stayed for long.

The first group that landed was the crew and captain of the vessel Grafton. Everyone survives the wreck, which is miraculous in itself. They had a few supplies that washed up on shore, including a gun and some gunpowder (which makes a big difference in their survival). They immediately start thinking about survival essentials: fire, shelter, food, water. Luckily the Grafton doesn't completely sink so they manage to glean supplies from it's wreckage. Their main source of food is killing seals that appear on the island seasonally. (I understand that they had to do it, since they were starving but it still hurt my heart a little.) They have some lean moments, but after being stranded for almost 2 YEARS; 2 of them men set off in a small boat (which is really more like a floating basket) to find help. They are successful and everyone makes it out alive.

The second group that lands is from the Invercauld. Not everyone survives the inital wreck. The men who do survive, spend the first week just sitting on the beach waiting for rescue. Rescue doesn't come. This is a larger group of men, 19. And one large difference between these men and the other crew is that they have no bond or camaraderie. This is really the beginning of their undoing. The ship's captain pretty much has a mental break and is of little use. Many people die of injuries, starvation and exposure.I'm sort of surprised there isn't any outright murder. Also there's cannibalism. Eventually a Chinese ship wanders by and they manage to flag it down for a rescue. Out of the original surviving crew only 3 survive. I don't like those odds.

I thought this book was great, it was like reading a thriller.It was an average sized read (about 250 pages) but because it was so exciting it went really fast.(Also, as a bonus detailed descriptions of seal mating and birthing!) It was really interesting to see how good leadership and a spirit of teamwork basically saved the one crew and the lack of leadership and team work damned the other. 3 out of 5 stars!

Adorable food.


  1. Stories of survival always get me teary eyed. I watched Oprah once... with these men. I think there were four of five of them. Anyways, I think two survived this terrible shipwreck. It was so hard for me to watch and listen to their stories. Last year a good friend of mine died at sea. He went scuba diving in Miami and some how got pulled under and was missing for a week when a fisherman found his body. The agony of hope and waiting to hear good news was something I can't explain. Miss him all the time!

    Great post!

    1. Oh, I'm sorry it brought back sad memories of your friend.
      I always think that if I was in a situation like this I would just curl up in a fetal position and wait for it to be over. But I think the drive to survive is really strong and will kick in when we need it. Let's hope we never find out!


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