It’s the sort of decision that would induce a full-blown panic attack in even the calmest of people.
The climbing companion you are roped to has disappeared off the edge of a dangerously high mountain face in the Peruvian Andes. You have no idea whether he is alive or dead.
Your choices are stark. Do nothing and freeze to death or cut the rope and try to save your own, and possibly his, life.
World-renowned mountaineer Simon Yates, who visits Aberdeen and Inverness this week, cut the rope and lived to tell the tale.
Remarkably, his partner, Joe Simpson, also survived and turned his story into a book, Touching the Void, which also became a Bafta award-winning movie of the same name.
Initially, Simon’s decision to cut the rope split the mountaineering community.
“Once people found out what had actually happened and had the full set of facts, they understood completely my decision,” said Simon, who lives in the Lake District with his wife and two young children.
“Thankfully, I’ve never been in a situation like that again; it was definitely a once in a lifetime occurrence.
“A lot of that situation was brought about by inexperience as it was our first time in big mountains and we were still on a steep learning curve. I’m still learning now – you’re always learning – but now I have much more experience.”
While he’ll never shake off the reputation for being “the man who cut the rope”, there’s much more to Simon than someone who faced up to a hellish dilemma, as those attending his talk entitled The Wild Within will discover.
“The talk, and book of the same name, is a sort of travelogue with highlights of what I’ve done in the last 10 years, during which I’ve been increasingly drawn to wild, remote mountain ranges in places like Greenland, Tierra del Fuego and the Alaskan-Yukon border,” said Simon.
“I think I might have been an explorer had I been born in a different era, as I do like going to places where very few people have been.”
Regarded as one of the most famous and accomplished exploratory mountaineers of his time, he has climbed some of the most remote and rarely explored mountain ranges of the world, making 11 visits to the Pakistani Karakoram, climbing numerous peaks including first ascents of Leyla Peak and Nemeka.
He succeeded with a team making the first British ascents of Khan Tengri in Kazakhstan and for a time concentrated on big-wall climbing in Patagonia and Baffin Island – his most notable achievement being a new route on the Central Tower of Paine in Chile.
He’s also made four sailing and mountaineering trips to Chilean Tierra del Fuego resulting in the first ascents of Monte Ada and Monte Iorana.
In late 2004, he returned to Pakistan and made the first ascent of the south-west face of Hispar Sar and, in May 2005, climbed a new route on the west face of Mount Alverstone the remote Wrangell-St Elias range of mountains on the Alaskan–Yukon border.
But he doesn’t need to go abroad to experience mountain thrills.
He said: “I rate the mountains in the Scottish Highlands very highly as that’s where I learned to climb properly.”
“Taking on mountains like Ben Nevis or Lochnagar in the depth of a Scottish winter isn’t easy,” explained Simon, who started climbing when he was 14.
Laced with dry humour, his talks also relate to his own experience of the rapid commercialisation of mountain wilderness.
“In the old days, you used to write a letter telling people where you were going, the route you’d be taking and what date you hoped to return,” said Simon. “But modern technology means you can phone instead.
“I have a satellite phone which means I’m never out of contact, but it does take away that feeling of being alone.
“There’s a little line that runs through the talk that shows how, over the last 10 years, modern technology has altered the face of being out in the wilderness.”
The Wild Within uses stunning audio-visuals to allow Simon to retell his experiences of teaming up with mountaineering legends Doug Scott, Andy Parkin and, of course, Joe Simpson, and of his perpetual quest to seek out the world’s few remaining true wildernesses.
The show is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, tomorrow. Call 01463 234234 for tickets. It can also be seen at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on Tuesday, May 8. Call 01224 641122.