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The second half tells the tale of an attempt on the North Face of the Eiger, a nearly 2 mile height of sheer rock and ice, doing this classic alpine route is to be Simpson's valedectory to climbing. In this he tells superbly the story of the mountain and the many (often tragic) stories of previous attempts followed by his own attempt. The sheer terror of the storm that breaks during the ascent and the tragedy that ensues when two (possibly three) other climbers are killed is evoked in moving but clear and gripping prose.
Simpson writes wonderfully about mountains and those who seek to conquer them. Even if (like me) you have never climbed a mountain in your life and don't intend to, read Joe Simpson for his marvellous descriptions, his superb prose and his evocation of life at the literal edge - physically and psychologically.
Joe Simpson is the writer who let out the secret - all your climbing heroes get scared. Fear can make a climber turn back well before they have even reached the mountain, let alone half-way up a crumbling ice climb. But there are real dangers, of falls, storms and avalanche, that each year seem to kill more of Simpson's friends. Here, the fear and the deaths have almost stopped him mountaineering, but there's one last climb he has to do - the North Face of the Eiger.
It's a book that won't satisfy everyone, as Simpson often seems to spend far more time thinking about climbing that actually doing it, and in the first half he gets nowhere near that north face, instead taking us through another few years of an autobiography that started with "This Game of Ghosts". But really, no one does do climbing books as well as Joe Simpson with his black humour, honesty and insight, and this is something of a masterclass. He can even sneak in a pretty good history of climbing on the Eiger, while psyching himself up for the climb, that quickly dismisses any worry that he might just be doing a little padding out. Of course, the original and best book on the Eiger is Heinrich Harrer's "The White Spider", and Joe Simpson has already had a pretty good go at writing the best climbing book of all time in "Touching the Void". This one is never going to quite match up, but that doesn't stop it being thought-provoking, gripping, compulsory reading for anyone interested in the mountains.