Mountaineer and explorer Simon Yates has an impressive career dating back
over thirty years that has taken him everywhere from Baffin Island to Australia, but to many he is defined by one split decision he took in his early 20s.
It was back in 1985 that a relatively inexperienced yet ambitious Yates and his friend Joe Simpson became the first climbers to successfully scale the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. The pair’s achievement was forever marred by an accident on the way down which left Simpson unable to walk.
Yates painstakingly used a rope to lower his injured partner 3000ft down the mountain in a bid to save his life but as darkness fell and a snow storm hit, Simpson ended up suspended over a 100ft crevasse. With Simpson’s weight dragging both climbers to a fatal fall, Yates cut the rope.
Miraculously Simpson survived the fall, eventually dragging himself to safety and writing the book Touching the Void, which was later made into a film by director Kevin Macdonald.
In the many years since that fateful climb Yates has notched up a string of climbing achievements and knows The Himalayas better than you know your local shop.
Journalist Sarah Glayzer caught up with Yates ahead of a talk he will be giving at The Adventure Travel Show in January, in which he will share insider details of the climbing expeditions he leads for World Expeditions.
Sarah Glayzer: Your degree is in Biochemistry; what career were you originally destined for?
Simon Yates: I never had a career in mind when I took my degree, and indeed never used it.
SG: What smell do you associate with climbing?
SY: The smell of lichen – a dusty and slightly fungal smell. It flourishes in fresh-air and mountain environments, and invariably ends up being the only noticeable other living thing around you.
SG: You regularly give lectures about your experiences. What question are you most often asked after speaking?
SY: ‘Are you and Joe still friends?’
SG: Which of your three books about mountaineering was the easiest one to write and why?
SY: ‘The Wild Within’ – my last book. I had a completely clear idea of what I wanted to write and wrote the beginning and end chapters before the middle section of the book. The previous two I wrote chronologically from beginning to end (slowly).
SG: Are theme park rides a massive anti-climax for you?
SY: No. They are just a totally different experience from climbing mountains.
SG: You have encountered actual life and death situations but what petty, small things really get your goat?
SY: People ripping at zips in tents. When there is hard frost the condensation in a tent freezes on tent zips and if people yank on them under those circumstances the zip pops. At high-altitude and cold temperatures this can create a very serious situation.
SG: What technological advance has had the biggest impact in climbing during your career?
SY: No single thing I would say, but all the clothing and other gear has got an awful lot lighter, which helps me a lot as I get older and weaker.
SG: Are you still drawn to climbing in the most remote places possible?
SY: Yes, absolutely – many of the best mountaineering firsts are to be found in these places and there are no queues.
SG: Do you have a post-climb ritual?
SY: Yes, I like to go out and have a few beers/ glasses of wine depending on the location.
SG: How would you feel if your children decided to follow in your footsteps and become mountaineers?
SY: If they wanted to do that it would not be a problem, but I am in no way a pushy climbing parent.
SG: You’ve led expeditions for all abilities all over the world. What is the strangest item that someone has brought with them on an expedition?
SY: Weird mascots and totems, but I cannot remember an exact one.
SG: What has been the stand out expedition of your career?
SY: The trip where I was part of the first ascents of Leila Peak and Nemeka in the Pakistani Karakoram in 1987. I think I have better mountaineering achievements, but the combination of what I did with some still good friends so early and fresh in my career was very special.
SG: What do you like about working with World Expeditions?
SY: They are very matter-of-fact, down-to-earth and fair to deal with, which is what you would expect from a company with Aussie roots.
SG: What topics do you plan to cover at the Adventure Travel Show?
SY: I will do exactly what it says on the tin. I have led both trekking and mountaineering trips for World Expeditions, but am focussing on the climbing expeditions and so plan to cover the following peaks: Spantik in Pakistan, Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan, a clutch of mountains in the Coredillera Real of Bolivia and most recently (2017) Baruntse in Nepal.
You can hear Simon Yates talk at The Adventure Travel Show at 15:45 on Sunday 21st January.
Words: Sarah Glayzer