Joe Simpson was left for dead high up in the Andes Mountains after he fell into a crevasse and his climbing partner made the unenviable decision to cut the rope that held them together*. Simon Yates had held on for as long as he could, but he was slipping towards the crevasse himself and Joe was unresponsive on the other end, dangling into the abyss. Rather than both die, Simon had to cut the rope and live with the sickening knowledge that Joe was dead.
But Joe was not dead.
He managed to haul himself out of the crevasse, and despite being in an immense amount of pain, began to crawl his way (his one leg had been badly broken in the fall) down the mountain. As he says: I knew I wasn’t going to make it, so why not just sit there and die? I had a sickening sense of loneliness. And I think that’s what made me keep going. I didn’t want to die by myself.
It took a huge physical effort, but more so a mental effort on the part of Simpson to finally reach base camp where, thankfully, Yates was still staying. One of the things he attributes to his survival was turning coming down the mountain into a series of 20min games. He would look at a rock, or a patch of snow, and give himself 20min to get there. If he made it, he celebrated the win as he would any game, and if he didn’t, he would be hugely disappointed in himself and would redouble his efforts for the next 20min.
His life narrowed don’t to those 20min intervals. If his mind wandered on to what lay ahead, he would cry uncontrollably. So, he had to control his focus on the present moment. The next 20min was all that mattered in his life.
When you are tired and feel like you can’t go on, thinking of what you still need to do to get to the end can be overwhelming, and disheartening. Try breaking up the remaining distance into a series of games. Maybe your goal is to make it to the next water station in 30min, maybe it is just making it to the next tree without walking, or maybe its simply focusing on walking up this hill one step at a time. Then celebrate these small wins…. and play the next game all the way to Pietermaritzburg.
*Read Touching the Void by Joe Simpson