When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn't slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning, he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn't made it back to their camp and were desperately struggling for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated.
Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world. A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall's team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.
Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people -- including himself -- to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer's eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.
Life got you down? Then join us on a guided expedition led by Capital Idiocy Inc. as we climb to...
The Summit of MOUNT EVEREST
For the bargain price of $65,000, we will take you on the adventure of a lifetime full of scenic views, camaraderie, and athleticism.
Worried that you lack the necessary climbing experience? Don’t be discouraged! While Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, it is not the most technically challenging climb. And in addition to our expertise and mentorship, we will have the support of the local populace, the Sherpa, to handle the basic logistical arrangements so that you can focus on the prize.
Never been above sea level? Don’t sweat it! We will prepare you for the high altitudes with our carefully developed Acclimatization Program.
Sensitive to the cold? We have you covered…with the best protective clothing available!
When the time is right, we’ll organize the final push to the summit where you will enjoy the exhilaration of being the King/Queen of the world.
Remember your safety and health are our top priority!
What are you waiting for? There is limited space! Call us today at 1-800-YOU-DEAD to sign up.
-----------------------  Does not include airfare to Nepal and subsequent FedEx expenses when we return your personal belongings to your grieving spouse in [insert idyllic American town here].
 Just avert your eyes from the dead bodies along the trail. They have been there for years. Honestly, after the first one, you won’t notice them anymore.
 Well, most of the people are great. Some of them suck big time…when it matters most too. They’ll pass you over for dead THREE TIMES before they put some effort into helping you.
 Just kidding! We’ll provide bottled oxygen at the higher altitudes.
 Seriously, zero experience is required. We’ll take anyone.
 That’s an understatement! We would be screwed without these guys. They cook, carry the heaviest loads, and lay out the ropes. Essentially they take care of the most dangerous tasks for a fraction of what we pay our Western guides. Plus they always have a delicious, steaming cup of tea ready when you reach your tent.
 It really is a good program. But you can never be 100% sure how high altitude will affect individuals. We’ll do our best to help if you develop High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) where your brain starts leaking fluids, but remember at the top of a mountain, there is only so much we can do. And again, that’s not much.
 But it’s still damn cold up there. And if a storm hits and you cannot find your way back to camp? Oh boy! Get ready for a windchill exceeding 100 below zero. And frostbite. Lots of frostbite. Plus what good is all that gear when people keep losing their mittens and we find the deceased half-stripped?
 Did you not read the previous footnote? Storms. They can come out of nowhere.
 For a few minutes at least. Plus we use the verb “enjoy” loosely. You won’t have slept or eaten properly for days. You’ll be physically spent. And with your severely handicapped mental capabilities, you may not even realize where you are. Heck, you may not even be at the top in actuality! Some losers mistakenly thought they’d reached the top and placed all their trinket flags. They were off by a good 500 feet. (Plus they died on the way down. Double losers.)
 Now that’s just a lie. Our number one priority is getting you to the summit, no matter the risks. Otherwise you’ll run home and whine that we turned you around 200 feet from the top. You won’t think to thank us that you are alive to do said whining. And you’ll hurt business. Plus it’s hard as hell to keep you safe up there and you won’t be one quota of help. And health? Ha! You can hardly hold us accountable for the intestinal parasites you’ll contract in that camp where everyone shits in the open.
 Having second thoughts? Look, why don’t you read Into Thin Air instead? You can read it at home in your bed, safe and warm. The author, that crazy guy, already climbed Mount Everest for you. He reminds me of travel writer, Bill Bryson with his accessible, factual, and tension-filled writing, minus the humor. Because climbing Mount Everest is not funny. Vicariously, that’s the only way I recommend climbing this one.
i havent left my house in 37 days and i think its finally getting to me because, after reading this, i immediately thought, ‘climbing everest sounds like fun.’
its official - ive gone insane.
i feel beyond guilty for finding so much fascination with what was the most horrific moment in krakauers life. i am a terrible human, but i honestly couldnt put this down.
there is just something about krakauers writing that makes me think his grocery lists are equally alluring. and knowing how personal this was for him made this book that much more captivating for me. i loved how this is formatted, the way the facts are presented, and how coherent the timeline and his commentary is. just everything about this invites the reader in in such an informative and also highly emotionally way.
i truly cant imagine what i would have done or how i would currently feel if i was in his shoes. but i am so grateful that he felt the desire to share and document this story. so tragic and, yet, so fascinating.
seriously, it is time to just raze everest and be done with it already. i mean, it's big and impressive but it is just taking up all this room and killing people so why do we even need it anymore?? can't we just get over it? really, i think it has reached its peak and is all downhill from here.
shameless punning aside.
so this started out as an article that KRAKAUER was asked to write for outside magazine about the commercialization of everest. it should embarrass us that something that costs 75,000 dollars to even attempt even has the potential to become "commercialized." (for example - i just balked at shelling out $7.17 for the sandwich i am eating. and like everest, it is kind of crappy) how misplaced is our spending? for fifty bucks a toe, i will chop yours right off and you can pretend you climbed everest and had a gay old time. everyone wins! but there are purists who think that there was golden age of everest and everything since then has just been compromised and now everest is a trash heap full of inconvenient dead bodies and empty oxygen bottles and really just anyone can climb everest so it isn't even a challenge anymore...
THAT IS THE KIND OF ATTITUDE THAT EVEREST WILL FUCKING KILL YOU FOR HAVING!!!
do not climb everest - it is a trap!!
when i was making this year's thanksgiving meal, i decided to have a little fun and incorporate things i learned from everest into the prep. because i had soooo many brussels sprouts to prepare, as well as parsnips, carrots, beets, sweet and regular potatoes, turnips, onions, cauliflower, etc. it was a lot of peeling. and i tried to see how many i could peel while holding my breath, and what that did to my motor skills. all i learned is that i really like to breathe and any activity in which i cannot breathe is not for me. by the end, i was weeping, "KRAKAUER wouldn't give up!! he would chop allllll the brussels sprouts!!!"
but from everything i have read of everest (note: two books) it is THE WORST. all of the reaching of the summit which should be time for celebration is always so anticlimactic. you can't stay up there very long because humans need to breathe and all; there is no fireplace and hot cocoa like at the top of the viennese alps, and then there is the small matter of DESCENDING!! all that bullshit and putting-up-with for ten seconds of "experience"?? i gave all that up in high school, thank you very much.
oh shit - i have class now. i will "review" more later...
okay, so i went to class. i learned some stuff. and i don't have much more to say about this. it is not as action-packed as peak, and a lot of it reads like KRAKAUER working through his personal demons and dealing with his culpability, but it is still interesting. i still think everest is unnecessary - it is like a hot fourteen year old - who needs that kind of temptation, right? oh, and also, this:
I recently attended the Banff mountain film festival in Canada. One of the key speakers was Simone Moro, the close friend of Anatoli Boukreev, the climber who was killed in an avalanche several years ago on Annapurna and whom Krakauer pretty much vilifies in this book as not having done enough to save the lives of those caught in the blizzard on Mount Everest in May of 1996. Needless to say, the vibe in the room was chilly whenever the subject of Krakauer's version of events came up; he was accused of slander and some in the room even claimed that he had not done much himself to save the lives of those in danger during the Everest disaster.
Nevertheless, as a reader of climbing nonfiction, I stand by Krakauer. I have always found his account of the Everest disaster an intensely moving and thought-provoking one. Like Joe Simpson's books, Into Thin Air reveals its speaker to be a climber with a conscience. Kraukauer loves climbing but is completely honest about the fact that such a dangerous sport so often puts one in the agonizing position of having to make life or death decisions under conditions that make clear thinking nearly impossible-- the cold, the lack of oxygen, the immense strain on the body at that great elevation. One gets the sense while reading that he is trying to make sense of this crazy sport as he writes, that this book is his process of figuring out the answer to the question: with all of the dangers and fatalities that result from climbing Everest, why on earth do people actually sign themselves up for this kind of thing?
In the years since I first picked up this book, I have discovered many other great climbing books in the adventure genre, although Krakauer's remains one of my all-time favorites. For more accounts of the Everest disaster, see also Boukreev's The Climb and Beck Weather's Left for Dead. If you enjoy Krakauer's writing, you might also enjoy Nando Parrado's Miracle in the Andes, a true account of the narrow escape of some members of a Uruguayan rugby team that survived by any means necessary-- and I do mean ANY means necessary--two grueling months in the Andes after their plane crashed in the mountains on the way home from a game. In addition, Joe Simpson's Touching the Void is a similarly remarkable story of a climber who survives unlikely odds after breaking his leg on the side of the mountain Siula Grande in Peru. There are also movie versions of both (Titled Alive and Touching the Void, respectively.) In addition, a movie version is due out soon for one of Krakauer's other wilderness adventure books, Into The Wild.
Into Thin Air or Injustice (of many kinds) on the Mountain.
Until almost the end this book was exactly as I expected it to be with just one exception. It was the story of a journalist climbing Mount Everest both as a journalist and as a mountaineer. Ideal getting paid to do your hobby! It was interesting because Krakauer is a damn good writer and because its fascinating to see the details of how the mountain is climbed.
It's also disappointing because few individuals do it by themselves, without a major support, like the guy who bicycled all the way around Europe to Nepal and then climbed the mountain alone (I would have liked to have read his story but it was only alluded to in the book. **I later read his book Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey).
For everyone else its a package tour for the fit and not-necessarily experienced who want to climb Everest and have an awful lot of spare cash. Transport is arranged, tents are set up, luggage is carried, there will be steaming hot tea awaiting the climbers on their return to their tents after an expedition, and if they really can't climb well, they can be short-roped and pulled up. Short-roped is the climber roping themselves with a less-than-one-metre rope to the waist of the would-be-climber and literally hauling them up.
Still, even with all this portering and pampering I was surprised that the first climbers of the season (using last year's ropes) fitted ropes up Everest so that the climbers didn't have to set their own. More than that, the really difficult bits got ladders installed! But no matter how many shortcuts and easements they are able to achieve there are two things that can neither be predicted nor controlled. One is altitude sickness which in some forms can kill very quickly, and in others causes mental delusions that led one of the team to his death. And the other is the weather. 15 climbers died the year Krakauer climbed.
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned there was one exception to my expectations for this book based on several books I have read by this author. The exception was one extraordinary chapter full of the most vituperative nastiness against a socialite climber. I didn't know why it was there. He didn't get any nicer towards her as the book progressed either, but then he said that when he was writing the book he had a 75 minute phone conversation with her. Either she didn't know what he'd written - I would never bother wasting time on someone who had that little respect for me and intended to tell the world - or he didn't write it until after the phone conversation. My only reaction to the chapter was thinking that the author was such a damn bitch.
The last chapter was tremendously interesting. Krakauer had not had much respect for another of the climbers - the guide and tour leader Anatoli Boukreev. He felt that Boukreev was more fulfilling his own ambitions of climbing than in sticking to his job of helping others to climb and looking after their safety. Boukreev wrote his own book saying that Krakauer had not mentioned certain incidents somewhat detrimental to himself and that he had made some observational errors, either through oxygen deprivation or wilfullness, and gave his own version of the climb. This argy-bargy went back and forth in print and on tv, and this chapter is Krakauer defending himself. Sadly Boukreev, a climber par excellence, was buried under an avalanche on Annapurna the following year, in 1997, so we will never get to hear what he thought of Krakauer's defence.
The book is worth reading because the Sherpas have always been sidelined in stories of climbing Everest. As if it is somehow more praiseworthy for a White man to climb the mountain and its nothing really for the Sherpas who can just hop up and down like monkeys carrying all the loads while the white man Climbs. This book sets the record straight. The mountain could not be the business it is without the Sherpas.
The tour companies and guides have enormous respect for these men and their abilities and form as firm friendships with them as they do with anyone else in their lives. Its a shame that this respect doesn't extend to paying them more than the one-tenth they earn compared to the tour guides but of course its justified in the traditional way - this is local wages, this is a lot of money for the locals, the locals don't need the things the guides from America, Australia etc do... Oh YAWN, I've heard it all before. Why can't people just put their money where their mouth is. You can't pay bills and put your kids through school on respect. Reduced by 1-star to four stars because of this.
Rewritten 7 May 2020 due to Covid-19 boredom, finding the book and skimming through it.
“[T]he sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die. Above 26,000 feet, moreover, the line between appropriate zeal and reckless summit fever becomes grievously thin. Thus the slopes of Everest are littered with corpses…” - Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
On June 8, 1924, the first great challenger to Mount Everest, George Leigh Mallory – along with partner Andrew Irvine – made a fateful attempt to summit the tallest mountain in the world. Expedition member Noel Odell, who was following in support, watched their progress from the safety of camp. In a “sudden clearing of the atmosphere,” Odell reported, Mallory and Irvine appeared as two “tiny black spot[s],” moving toward a “great rock step.” He saw them only for a moment before the clouds came in, obscuring Mallory’s blind march into legend. Neither Mallory or Irvine returned.
In the years since, Everest has not grown more forgiving. If you happen to reach the summit, you are at the approximate cruising altitude of a commercial jet liner. The air is so thin that you are literally dying. That, combined with moody weather changes and the typical challenges of mountaineering, makes for a dangerous, deadly environment. Everest is so unforgiving that the bodies of her would-be conquerors – such as the ill-fortuned “Green Boots” – often remain on her slopes for years, becoming macabre landmarks.
Despite this frightful reputation, the toll of May 10-11, 1996 manages to stand out. Five people – including two experienced guides – lost their lives after ignoring their own turnaround times and getting caught in a sudden storm. The cluster of deaths would have made news by itself. It just so happened, however, that one of the surviving climbers was Jon Krakauer, an adventurer and journalist on assignment for Outside magazine.
Krakauer eventually wrote an article about his experiences, though it was a far cry from the report on Everest’s commercialization that he had originally intended. Ultimately, he returned to his article and reshaped it into a book, Into Thin Air. In the years since its publication, Into Thin Air has come to be recognized as a classic of outdoor writing, despite the counter-publications written by other participants, disagreeing with every single one of Krakauer’s words.
Leaving aside the controversies – which swirl around the disaster like the spindrift off the peak of Everest – Into Thin Air is deserving of its lofty reputation.
Unlike a lot of first-person memoirs churned out in the wake of disaster or trauma, Into Thin Air is the product of a man with a gift for writing. Krakauer may have thought of himself as a climber who got into journalism, but he is a natural storyteller, and his prose wonderfully evokes the beauties and terrors of the mountainside. In terms of conjuring place, of putting you there with the climbers – whether that is the squalor of a filthy lodge in Lobuje, the vertiginous seracs of the Icefall, or the top of the world itself – Krakauer succeeds at describing the indescribable.
At less than three-hundred pages, Into Thin Air is compact and briskly paced. Krakauer indulges a brief – and fascinating – history of mountaineering on Everest, before recounting his experiences as a member of Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultants expedition.
Most of the time, Krakauer stays within his own experiences. He tells you what he saw, what he heard, and his impressions of the other climbers (owing to the fact that he wrote this with the wounds still raw and weeping, he is extremely careful in his presentations). The only time Krakauer leaves the first-person perspective is to piece together what happened to those who died while he was not present (Krakauer was one of the first to summit Everest on May 10, 1996, and made it back to camp before the dying started in earnest).
Typically, I am wary of memoirs, since they are usually a vehicle for self-promotion or self-defense. Krakauer struggles a bit with being both journalist and participant, of both reporting the action and being part of it. For the most part, though, he strikes a good balance. He points out instances where bad decisions were made – Hall’s failure to abide by his turnaround time, for instance – but he does not reach a verdict or even issue an indictment. Indeed, Krakauer reserves his harshest words for himself, and a hypoxia-induced mistake he made that contributed to the death of one of the climbers.
To the extent that Krakauer provides a theory of the disaster, he attributes it to the crowds, with multiple expeditions trying to reach the summit during the same good-weather window. This led to traffic jams that turned the fixed ropes up the mountain into a Himalayan version of a Costco checkout line during a pandemic. One of the most gripping, anxious scenes in the book is Krakauer’s descent, as he has to wait for a slow-moving group to ascend the Hillary Step while his bottled oxygen runs out.
There is a saying that the first guy through the door always gets hit. Because Into Thin Air came out so quickly, and grew so popular, it immediately became a target for those who felt slighted or disrespected in Krakauer’s telling. For instance, the famed mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev felt compelled to pen – with a cowriter – his own account of the catastrophe, after Krakauer tepidly chided Boukreev for attempting to summit without supplemental oxygen while acting as a guide. (Krakauer also thoroughly describes Boukreev’s near-superhuman attempts to save the lives of climbers caught in the storm, so it’s not like he had a vendetta).
With the passage of so much time, I have absolutely zero interest in parsing all the different accounts, of trying to keep track of the directions all the fingers are pointing. I don’t believe it serves much of a purpose. This isn’t like a plane crash or a train accident, where reverse-engineering the calamity might save other lives in the future. You can’t make Everest safer because it is Everest. When you get near the top, you are subject to hypoxia, which hits everyone differently, and can strike down even the most veteran climber. It’s tough to blame anyone for an error in judgment when they can’t breathe, when they can’t think, when they are dying.
To say this event was a tragedy requires some modification. If this was a tragedy, it was of the high-tax bracket, entirely-avoidable variety. To make a supported climb on Everest requires a chunk of change that is quite a bit higher than the median income in the United States. Dying on Everest – unless you are a Sherpa – is a privilege few can afford.
To not only risk your life, but to pay handsomely for the opportunity, is partly an ego trip. Yet it is impossible not to stand a bit in awe of those who make the attempt. As Krakauer points out, the summit becomes an obsession for many, one that cannot simply be explained away as a premeditated lunge for the best cocktail party story ever. There is something mysterious in a person who insists on trudging past the deadline, who – like Mallory in 1924 – refuses to simply turn on their heels and return home, and instead keeps reaching for the apex, as time and breath wind down to nothing. There is a cost to Everest that Krakauer aptly shows cannot be translated into hard currency. There is a knowledge that – as a member of Mallory’s expedition later wrote – “the price of life is death, and that, so long as the payment be promptly made, it matters little to the individual when the payment is made.”
This is not a review. I don’t feel like writing a review for this book, but I feel like I should at least say something about it because I did enjoy it. I mean, it did make me utter “Jesus Christ” out loud more than one time, and I don’t often talk to myself while I am reading a book.
(I almost want to post a picture of a LOLcat with a caption that says “This buk wuz gud,” but I don’t have one.)
So…These are a few things I learned from reading this book:
1. If a person decides to climb Everest, they are likely to encounter dead bodies along the route up to the summit.
2. Lobuje, which is on the way to Everest Base Camp, is a place that overflows with human excrement. While Krakauer was there in 1996, he wrote "Huge stinking piles of human feces lay everywhere; it was impossible not to walk in it." Lovely. Insert “Want to get away from it all?” commercial here.
3. Without the assistance of Sherpas, it is unlikely that climbers would be able to reach the summit at all. Besides schlepping tons of your crap, they also know the way, and they place climbing ropes and in some instances, repair ladders, so people will be able to ascend the trickier places.
The place would also be a lot dirtier without them because they are partially responsible for removing some of the trash that Everest has accumulated over the years. One camp reported having around a thousand empty canisters of supplemental oxygen (as I said below in a review comment, so I might as well stick it in here, too).
4. In 1996, it cost $65,000 to be a client on a guided tour climbing Everest.
5. It is very easy to develop high-altitude sicknesses and/or hallucinations as a climber gets closer to the summit. In fact, the "every man/woman for him/herself" attitude that people had, whether or not they had to have it in order to survive, was more than a little disturbing.
On this particular excursion, two climbers got stuck on the mountain during a storm. They spent the night at 28,000 feet without shelter or supplemental oxygen and were believed to be dead. The guide sent to look for them the next day found them barely breathing after chipping off three inches of ice from their faces. Believing that they were beyond help, he left them there. One of the climbers, my personal hero, woke up from his coma hours later and was lucid enough to get himself back down to one of the camps. Sure, he lost half an arm, his nose, and all of the digits on his other hand to frostbite, but he's still alive.
Oh, and sure, the events that happened on Mt. Everest in 1996 were tragic, but I do think the people who climb it know what they are risking.
This book suddenly became very relevant - no less than TEN climbers have died this week (18-25 May 2019) on Everest. The reason for this horrible turn of events is given as inexperienced guides leading inexperienced climbers combined with the usual weather restrictions leading to these ghastly insane queueing situations :
Yes, that's the top of the highest mountain in the world.
This is the most defaced book I ever read. It must have been used in a school at one point. Up to page 69 there are two different people highlighting passages in pink and green but then in the margins, suddenly there is this:
Katie is Eric’s fave, to bad for him, he is silly, I hope he’s a good kisser
And then on page 77, which otherwise would be blank:
This is the most boring book I have ever read, I swear if anyone read this book by choice they are the biggest idiot in the world Jason is such a dork Jonathan has been a fag lately I HATE THIS BOOK It will be funny when you ask Jason if he kisses our/your hair. Ask is he kisses your hair, then if he kisses anyone elses hair Always Spicy
On page 88, in a different hand, we read
Eric Conner, Feb 24 2000 he asked me out
And on page 107:
Troy is hot! (but I never said that!)
And her friend writes:
We should go to the movies, you, me, Troy & Eric coz they’re friends & Troy’s hot, so you could have “fun”
Okay, I will spare you the rest. There’s a poignant contrast between this dreamy teen hair-kissing and the terror-stricken narrative that Jon Krakauer patiently lays down here. It’s clear that the teenagers just didn’t connect to the story, and in some ways I can see why. In an attempt to be scrupulously correct, JK almost turns the events which killed eight people on Everest on 10-11 May 1996 into a stolid police report.
THE GULF OF COMPREHENSION BETWEEN MOUNTAINEERS AND NORMAL PEOPLE
Mountaineers voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way, spend loads of money on their own obsessive self-centred dreams and then expect to be congratulated by the rest of us for their feats. Lugging your mortal flesh into very high altitudes is madness.
There was no forgetting that we were more than three miles above sea level. Walking left me wheezing for several minutes. If I sat up too quickly, my head reeled and vertigo set in. The deep rasping cough I’d developed worsened by the day. Sleep became elusive. Most nights I’d wake up three or four times gasping for breath, feeling like I was suffocating. Cuts and scrapes refused to heal. My appetite vanished… my arms and legs gradually began to wither to sticklike proportions.
This was at 16,200 feet. The summit of Everest is 29,000 feet. The further you go up, the more likely you are to get HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema), where you froth blood, lapse into a coma and die) or HACE (High altitude cerebral edema), where you become deranged, lapse into a coma and die. Krakauer is also keen to deny that mountaineers are adrenalin junkies. We lubbers may imagine that when they get to the summit they experience some great euphoria. Not at all, he says. Getting up a mountain is grinding your way through great pain in the knowledge that getting back down from the summit is more dangerous than getting up to it. Mountaineering does not sound like a healthy outdoor pursuit to me.
THE MOUNTAINEERING CLASS SYSTEM
Climbing the big mountains like Everest is very dangerous, but it’s popular. A lot of ridiculous rich white people want to do it. So they join guided expeditions. On an Everest expedition there are three classes of people.
The guides – these are the white expert mountaineers who organise everything and guarantee client safety
The clients – these are the rich white people who have nothing better to do. We know they are rich because it costs an arm and a leg to be a member of an Everest expedition
The Sherpas – these are the Nepalese guys who do the actual manual labour of lugging all the rich white people’s food and essentials from base camp to camp 2 to camp 3 to camp 4 and back again along with making sure the white people don’t kill themselves in the fifty different ways available to them.
Sherpas put in the route, set up the camps, did the cooking, hauled all the loads. This conserved our energy and vastly increased our chances of getting up Everest.
This enforced client passivity earns these guided expeditions great contempt in other more radical mountaineering circles. That’s not really climbing a mountain at all, they say. These rich clients have no mountaineering skills themselves. It’s like herding rich white sheep. And some of the haughty sneerers also say that using oxygen tanks is cheating too. They say that you can only say you’ve climbed Everest if you do it without Sherpas and without oxygen. And guess what, some of these hard core guys have gone right ahead and climbed Everest without Sherpas and without oxygen, and when they got to the top they looked down on everyone else, you can bet your life.
THE TURN ROUND TIME
Into Thin Air is sometimes flawed by not explaining important concepts clearly enough for us non-climbers. One crucial concept was the TURN ROUND TIME. This was a big part of why eight people died and it took me a while to work out why. On the day your team is going to reach the summit the guide will announce a turn round time, usually 2 pm. This means that wherever the client is, they must turn round and begin descending at that time, even if they haven’t reached the summit yet. They might be only 30 minutes away but they must turn round and start descending. How ultimately frustrating!
There were several companies guiding clients to the summit on 10 May 1996 and one of them was new and very keen to get all of its clients to the summit. So keen that they allowed some stragglers to continue to the summit up to 4pm that day. According to JK, this contributed to some clients getting swallowed up in the sudden blizzard that hit the summit in the afternoon. No one saw it coming.
But there was a whole tangle of wrong decisions that day, including some made by JK himself. It’s a complicated picture, but to complicate it further, at least one other book has been published slagging off the conclusions and accusations made by JK in this book.
So, a self-inflicted confused disaster, many of the details of which are disputed. At the end of it all I was more convinced than ever that I will never, ever understand the motivations of many of my fellow human beings
“Everest has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics, and others with a shaky hold on reality.”
Welcome to one of Kelly’s creepy obsessions! (Advance apologies - this might get rambly.) Okay, so I’m totally obsessed with all things Everest and CAN. NOT. WAIT. to see the movie that details the same tragic events which are covered in this book (even though just watching the preview in IMAX 3-D made me have diarrhea). I have spent the past month watching EVERYTHING Everest-related on Netflix and You Tube. (Note: I highly recommend the television series Everest: Beyond the Limit as well as Ultimate Survival: Everest – unfortunately the IMAX Everest documentary which was filmed during this fateful 1996 expedition didn’t end up so great. Kudos to the filmmakers for attempting to produce a final product, but really once you’ve watched 8 of your fellow climbers die your heart probably isn’t in the project so much.)
Anyway, back to my bizarre fangirl squeeing. Because I’m ignorant I had no clue that Into Thin Air was an Everest book or that it was THE Everest book detailing the storm of the century . . .
(Note #2: The film is the same story, but the rights to Krakauer’s book were not purchased in order to make it – it’s a conglomeration of all of the survivors’ memories.) I had read Into the Wild and enjoyed Krakauer’s ability to spin a tale, but wasn’t thrilled with the story as a whole so I put his name on the backburner of authors I would read in the future should I come across him. Then everyone started reading Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town which brought him back to the forefront and me searching for his books – which leads to long story long HOLY SHIT HE WROTE AN EVEREST BOOK?!?!?!?!?!
Please note I have zero desire to ever attempt to climb Mt. Everest (or anything higher than a flight of stairs). EVER. First, I’m fat and have resigned myself to the fact that I will always be at least a little bit so. Second, I’m terrified of heights. We’re talking I can’t climb a stepladder. And third, EVEREST. Seriously. You know what you die of on Everest? Your BRAIN F-ING SWELLING TO THE POINT WHERE YOUR EYEBALLS BULGE OUT OF YOUR HEAD. Either that or you drown on your own lung juices. Drowning in water terrifies me, drowning because I was dumb enough to attempt to climb to the height of where a jumbo jet flies is beyond my comprehension. All that being said, I did the next best thing to really make me feel part of the action – I read this book while walking at a 30% incline on my treadmill. Just like being there I’m sure . . .
I can never wrap my brain around the fact that people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go on a vacation where there is a one in four chance of dying rather than reaching the summit. That’s cray. I also am one of the nutters who, although totally obsessed with the climbing of Everest, doesn’t really want anyone doing it. Everest is one of the natural wonders in the world – and due to the “cool factor” that one gets should they reach make it safely to the top and back down again it is also the home of 10 tons of garbage and heaping pyramids of human waste. It’s also a place where inexperienced adventure seeking overgrown children think they can buy their way to the top, but as Rob Hall (one of the expedition leaders who lost his life to the mountain) said . . .
“With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get UP this hill. The trick is to get back down alive.”
For a price of between $50,000 to $100,000 nearly anyone can attempt to make the climb and many believe the hiring of Sherpas and the hopes of being “short-roped” if the going gets tough will let them achieve their dream. While Krakauer was lucky enough to be matched up with some experienced climbers (between Rob Hall and Scott Fischer’s groups there was TONS of publicity/advertising money at stake so they needed everyone to summit safely in order to promote their expedition companies) they were still a rag-tag team of climbers that mixed expedition leaders, guides, sherpas, a lawyer, several doctors, a personnel director, a publisher, a postal worker and a journalist together. The reality of an Everest expedition is this - once you’re at altitude and the shit hits the fan. . .
“You might as well be on the moon.”
And with the price being one that the wealthy can easily afford (or that the middle-class can save a lifetime for in order to achieve the biggest bucketlist item out there), Mt. Everest doesn’t even have to throw the curveball of bad weather. This . . . .
is often times the kiss of death. With the summit visable from this vantage point, climbers are nearly impossible to turn around – leading to a greater chance of hypothermia, frostbite, not making the descent before dark, running out of oxygen, etc. In my opinion, it should cost a million dollars per person to climb Everest. That would be enough money for clean-up and deter the wannabe super(wo)men from attempting the climb. Because seriously, while this book was fascinating in a “watching a trainwreck” type of way – it should have served as Exhibit A of why massive changes in the rules/regulations regarding Everest needs to happen.
Recommended to anyone who likes to experience adventure and defy death from the safety of their reading chair. My only advice is to familiarize yourself with the specific locations which are continually talked about with respect to the Everest climb. Places like the Lhotse Face, Khumbu Icefall or the Hillary Step. It’s easy to forget the danger that is the Khumbu Icefall if you don’t know that this is what it looks like . . .
Utterly harrowing and propulsive. I could not put this book down. This is another book that details people's misguided quests to conquer nature--to see nature as something to be conquered. It's also another great cold-weather read, to make you realize that, really, it's not so cold out after all.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of non-fiction. I prefer to listen to podcasts or interviews, rather than read straight-up non-fiction about a certain topic. And as someone who isn't particularly interested in climbing or sports in general, this wouldn't be a book that I'd normally read. But I'm so glad that I did.
It definitely reads more like a memoir, since the author was present for the events of the story. That made it a much more palatable read for me, rather than a book about an event where the author does all the research but has no first-hand experience of the thing. However, after having read this I would definitely read anything else Krakauer has written or writes because he is such an amazing storyteller.
I was never bored reading this book. He blends history and personal accounts into a gripping, harrowing, horrifying, fascinating story. It's truly awful, but I couldn't put it down. I'm not sure how I particularly feel about being so interested in reading about a tragedy like this, but I also think it opened my eyes to SO many new things that there is definitely merit to the story. On top of that, I can only imagine it was a story Krakauer felt he had to tell after having lived through it. I will definitely be recommending this book to friends and suggesting it to people who, like me, are hesitant to pick up non-fiction books that aren't memoir.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster is a 1997 bestselling non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer.
It details Krakauer's experience in the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a storm.
Krakauer's expedition was led by guide Rob Hall. Other groups were trying to summit on the same day, including one led by Scott Fischer, whose guiding agency, Mountain Madness, was perceived as a competitor to Hall's agency, Adventure Consultants.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهارم ماه سپتامبر سال 2010 میلادی
عنوان: در هوای رقیق؛ نویسنده: جان کراکائور؛ مترجم یحیی خوئی؛ تهران چشمه، 1387؛ در 355ص؛ مصر، نقشه، شابک 9789643624897؛ موضوع: داستان گروههای کوهنوردی - اورست از نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 20م
بسوی هوای رقیق: برداشتی شخصی از فاجعه ی «کوه اورست»، یا «در هوای رقیق»، یکی از پرفروشترین آثار غیرداستانی سال 1997میلادی و به قلم «جان کراکائر» است؛ این کتاب جزئیات حضور نویسنده در «کوه اورست» در خلال فاجعه ی سال 1996میلادی «کوه اورست» را به تصویر کشیده است؛ جاییکه هشت کوهنورد جان باختند، و بسیاری دیگر، در طوفانی سخت، گرفتار آمدند؛ اردویی که نویسنده در آن به سر میبرد، به رهبری «راب هال» پیش میرفت، در حالیکه گروههای دیگری نیز، در همان روز، میخواستند قله را فتح کنند؛ یکی از این گروهها، «جنون کوه» به رهبری «اسکات فیشر» بود، که با گروه «راب»، «مشاوران ماجراجویی» رقیب به حساب میآمد؛ در سال 1997میلادی اقتباسی سینمایی از این کتاب، با عنوان «در هوای رقیق: مرگ در اورست» به کارگردانی «رابرت مارکویتز» ساخته شد؛ فیلم دیگری هم در مورد این فاجعه در سال 2015میلادی با عنوان «اورست» ساخته شد ،که به ادعای کارگردان، «بالتاسار کورماکور» این کتاب تنها منبع آن نبوده و منابع دیگری نیز داشته است
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/04/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Which itself calls attention to the several people who have died on Everest in the past WEEK, not dissuaded by this story, obviously, which every climber knows well in multiple versions. This is the thing about risk-takers, death-defiers, mountain climbers, they must do what they must do.
I love this book. I listened to it on a road trip from Chicago to New Orleans on my spring break, 2004. It's funny, because spring break for northerners is often about heading south to warmth, and all I remember about the driving part of this trip south was climbing freezing cold and oxygen-starved Mount Everest as this incredibly gripping tragedy took place there. I was THERE, on that mountain. You know, some nights I get up for whatever reason in the night and I can't see anything, proceeding from my bed to the hallway and skirting the edge of the stairs on the way to pee or to soothe some nightmare-ridden kid, and I recall what some unfortunate climber did in a blinding snowstorm, unable to see, trying to make it back to his tent but plummeting off the edge of a cliff and down hundreds of feet--or was it thousands?--to his death. I never fall down the stairs. Not yet, not so far, anyway. I guess you may only have to do that once at my age. But I always think of this book, in horror.
Beautifully told by Krakauer, though it became as these accounts sometimes will somewhat controversial in that some people disagree with how he characterized some of the more sensitive aspects of the events. In later editions he includes other views of some of the disputed events, other interpretations, which I think is cool. But a great book stays with you and this one stays with me. And I read very few books like this, though after that I read other books by him including Into The Wild.
This is a story that sounds too unlikely, too cinematic, to make up. In 1996, journalist and mountain climber Jon Kraukauer was assigned to cover an Everest ascent expedition, and chronicle the experiences of people – some experienced climbers, some not - who paid a small fortune for the chance at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Kraukauer was a member of one of three American-led climbing teams that would attempt to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. By the time the teams made their way back to Base Camp, eleven people had died on the mountain.
Kraukauer’s book describes the journey to Everest, the different people on the teams, the storm that scattered the group just below the summit, and the deadly aftermath. This book, among other things, seeks to rationalize the decisions and behaviors of some of the people in the group, and understand how so many died in such a senseless way. Kraukauer himself, because he was part of the team, isn’t an impartial witness, and the book doesn’t shy away from his own culpability – at least two of the deaths that occurred during the expedition were very likely a direct result of Kraukauer’s own actions.
There are two main draws to this book: first, you get a firsthand view of what exactly goes into an Everest expedition, so you never have to actually do it yourself (seriously, DO NOT CLIMB EVEREST. EVEN IF YOU DON’T DIE (and we’ll get to that) IT’S STILL A TERRIBLE IDEA), and then you get Kraukauer’s in-depth investigation of deaths that he himself may have been instrumental in. He also attempts to explain how a person decides to climb the highest mountain in the world, and why anyone would want to do this. For me, this was the only real weak point of the book, because despite Kraukauer’s best efforts, I never once thought to myself, yeah, climbing Everest sounds like a totally reasonable thing to attempt.
Seriously, Everest is bullshit and it was all I could talk about for days after finishing this book. For one thing, Everest isn’t even a difficult climb, if you look at it from a technical standpoint. It’s only hard because the high altitude will literally kill you – the climb itself is not hard. At one point, the team climbs a bunch of ladders that were tied to a rock face by a team back in the 1970s.
And another fun fact I learned from this book is that there are two main ways to die on Everest: first, you can lose your footing and fall into a crevasse, or just slide right off a fucking cliff, and die instantly from the fall. This is the easy way to die on Everest. The hard way is you get altitude sickness (which is a nice way of putting it – past a certain altitude, even if you have supplemental oxygen, your brain literally starts to die) and collapse, and can’t get up. And then your team just has to LEAVE YOU THERE, because they sure as hell can’t carry you down, so you get to just lie there in the snow, fully conscious, and wait to die. And then your corpse becomes a landmark, along with all the other dead bodies that are just SITTING UP THERE. (There’s a really good My Favorite Murder podcast episode where they talk about the bodies on Everest, and it is straight-up heartbreaking.)
Aside from examining his own role in the tragedy and getting others’ versions of what happened, Kraukauer also spends some time discussing whether it’s even a good idea for people to attempt Everest in the first place. Aside from the very real risk of death, Kraukauer also considers the ethics of employing local Sherpa guides, and whether supplemental oxygen ultimately helps or hurts climbers. And, on top of all of that, this book is essentially a murder investigation – Kraukauer goes over the events of the fateful day, interviews the other surviving climbers, and evaluates the decisions of the guides and what role they may have played in the tragedy. He manages to strike a good balance of not avoiding his own responsibility in the tragedy, while also reminding readers that he and the other climbers were suffering from severe oxygen deprivation, and therefore both their decision-making abilities and their memories are not fully functional.
It’s easy to read Kraukauer’s other book of tragedy in the wilderness, Into the Wild, with a certain degree of superiority. Christopher McCandless died because he was woefully unprepared to survive in the wild, and his lack of knowledge and naivety killed him. But, as Into Thin Air proves, you can be a seasoned professional with thousands of successful climbs under your belt, and still die because of one stupid mistake, because Nature doesn’t care. Anyone can (and does) die on Everest, and Kraukauer’s book examines, among other things, whether it’s worth it.
What a read to start 2018! I enjoyed the majority of this, and I'll admit I fell down a bit of a black hole when it came to the controversy behind Krakauer's perspective. Review will be up tomorrow! :)
Until 2014, one of the trail markers for mountaineers climbing the Everest on the main Northeast ridge route was "Green Boots", the corpse of a man wearing, well, green climbing boots - yes, a dead man was an Everest landmark, and people passed him by and photographed him (I will certainly not provide links). Most likely, it was the body of Head Constable Tsewang Paljor of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police who was part of an expedition that happened in the background of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, which is the main topic of Krakauer's book. While the corpse is not at that specific place anymore, Mr. Paljor's body is presumably still somewhere up there, but no one can say with certainty - what is certain though is that the cynicism and sensationalism that "Green Boots'" treatment illustrates is very telling and that the impulses behind it are an underlying theme of "Into Thin Air".
American journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer was part of an expedition that aimed to summit Mount Everest in May 1996, the same day as several other groups of climbers. Due to a series of unfortunate events, wrong decisions and an upcoming storm, eight mountaineers died and several got severely injured and almost froze to death. While Krakauer's account of the unfolding tragedy is certainly intriguing, the psychological dimension is what fascinated me: Why are people deciding to summit Everest, and what are the moral implications? Krakauer talks about motivational factors like a love of nature and a longing for adventure, but also vanity, the impulse to challenge oneself and the wish to stand out, all characteristics represented by members of the expeditions. Some mountaineers are unable or unwilling to question their own abilities, thus threatening the lives of other climbers and the sherpas who often risk everything for their rich clients in order to be able to feed their families. (After an ice avalanche killed 16 sherpas in 2014, the sherpas went on strike to push for better working conditions.)
The commercialization of Everest is an important topic in the book: The heads of the expeditions aim to guide as many participants to the summit as possible - they assume that especially Krakauer, the reporter, and Sandy Pittmann, the society girl, will generate publicity when they get home to tell their stories. Commercial expeditions are a competitive business, and clients who pay tens of thousands of dollars to take on Everest are very motivated to make it to the top - and this tunnel vision is potentially deadly for everyone involved. On the highest mountain of the world, the lack of humility can be a death sentence.
Since Krakauer wrote this book (it was published in 1997), these tendencies have become more and more extreme. John Oliver did a fantastic episode entitled "Everest" which talks about the current state of affairs. More and more inexperienced climbers join commercial expeditions, and now there is a also a serious problem with garbage and feces in the Himalaya. The sherpas' job becomes more and more dangerous, which is not exactly widely discussed as the rich white dilettantes want to tell heroic stories about their fearless ascent to the summit while showing numerous selfies. Oliver offers an alternative which is safer for everybody: https://www.thetopofmounteverest.com
And still, I understand the urge to explore, to see and experience new environments and extreme situations, to travel to remote, beautiful, dangerous places, to try and find out how far you can go. Parts of Krakauer's book reminded me of T.C. Boyle's novel Water Music about Scottish explorer Mungo Park who was obsessed by his wish to explore West Africa - and paid a high price. In a way, Krakauer and Boyle talk about rather universal human aspirations, about the Faustian impulse to know and conquer - this disruptive impulse can be beautiful or terrible.
We've discussed the book on the podcast, and you can listen to it here (in German).
Several authors and editors I respect counseled me not to write the book as quickly as I did; they urged me to wait two or three years and put some distance between me and the expedition in order to gain some crucial perspective. Their advice was sound, but in the end I ignored it- mostly because what happened on the mountain was gnawing my guts out. I thought that writing the book might purge Everest from my life. It hasn’t of course.
But it is the way this reads, as Jon Krakauer, a client of Rob Hall’s, Adventure Consultants Guided Expedition, takes us step by brutal step up that mountain, in the spring of 1996. And back down again! Clearly the account of an anguished man desperately trying to make sense of it all, by telling it all. Not an easy task.
The Everest climb had rocked my life to its core, and it became desperately important for me to record the events in complete detail. The staggering unreliability of the human mind at high altitude made the research problematic. To avoid relying excessively on my own perceptions, I interviewed most of the protagonists at great length and on multiple occasions. When possible I also corroborated details with radio logs maintained by people at base camp, where clear thought wasn’t in such short supply.
Chances are I would not have read this were it not for my daughter’s unbridled enthusiasm in discussing it one Saturday morning when I was over for coffee. When I left that day Into Thin Air left with me. Hands down the greatest adventure, survivor story I have ever read. How could it not be? The author's visceral honesty in portraying his own part in this tragedy, took my breath away and lends undeniable,crediblity to this account.
The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time.
Into Thin Air is a recollection of the tragic events of May 1996, when numerous individuals died following an ascent to the top of Everest. It is told by Jon Krakauer, a journalist and mountaineer who initially joined the expedition to write a magazine piece on the growing industry of 'guided' groups of inexperienced mountaineers.
This was a fascinating memoir, that really delves deep into the disaster and the small moments of bad luck and judgement that contributed to so much death. Krakauer really makes the reader understand each and every single person who was involved, drawing on their personal histories and passion for mountaineering and bringing it to the forefront of the reader's mind. Everyone there that day had a common goal - to reach the summit, and all of them were gripped to some degree by Everest fever. The mystique of the mountain drew them all in, pushing some of them beyond the limits, and I found myself equally enthralled and incredibly anxious to find out their inevitable fate.
I was also really facinated by Krakauer's descriptions of high altitude sickness, and just how debilitating it is on the body. Far from just shortness of breath, the body is subjected to horrendous migraines, blindness, hypoxia, hypothermia, intestinal issues and cerebral and pulmonary edema. The effects can be sudden, and deadly, as well as warping the mind and making a difficult journey innumerably harder as the brain become sluggish and mistakes are more likely to happen. The whole experience is utterly exhausting on body and mind, making any ascent of Everest even more amazing.
Sometimes I did get confused by who was who, as the author tended to switch between first and surnames regularly - meaning I had to remember two names for an already large group. I also found it difficult to pinpoint where everyone was during certain scenes as I am unfamiliar with the layout of Everest. However, looking up some pictures of the South Col and the various Camps helped 'set the scene' in my mind.
Utterly riveting, ultimately heartbreaking. Nature is a cruel mistress in the pursuit of glory.
I absolutely loved this!! I had a feeling that I would due to my personal experience hiking and climbing in the Pacific Northwest region.
"Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?" This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, a Himalayan mountain climber in 1921. And his answer was, "Because it’s there."
This might not make sense to someone who’s not into this sport or adventure, but to me, I get it. Why do I test myself on grueling 4500’ elevation hikes or scrambles?
Well, to get to the top! To challenge myself physically, mentally and sometimes emotionally to push myself up that trail. The scenery is beautiful, takes your breath away and you just can't beat it. I’ve had some of my happiest moments lost in the woods, so to speak. I do realize it's not for everyone but I tend to understand why the climbers in this book wanted to climb Mt. Everest. It gets into your blood and yeah, you get addicted to it. Especially when you get to the top!! It's a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and I'm sure marathon runners get this same high.
My husband is also a hiker and climber. He has been on my case to read this book for years and I’m finally glad I did!
Jon Krakauer did an excellent job writing this book. I can’t imagine it was easy to write about your own personal experience in regards to the Mt. Everest disaster. He seemed to ask himself in the book if he could have done more and blamed himself for misunderstood memories. I can’t imagine what the lack of oxygen does to a person since I’ve never experienced this phenomenon. Because of his undeniable credibility in the account of this tragedy, I’m more inclined to believe his version of the climb on May 10th, 1996.
I know other accounts are out of there such as Anatoli Boukreev's book, The Climb. It's in response to Krakauer's book. I'll try to get to other books one day about this tragedy.
Will I plan to read more books by Krakauer?! Hell yes I will! It's due to the fact that I’m not a non-fiction fan and this was damn good!!
One of the most horrifying things I've read in a while. The sense of doom is palpable. I knew Everest climbers are always walking past corpses but...corpses of people they knew? Infinitely worse, there's two separate descriptions of people literally walking past dying or desperate mountaineers and just *leaving* them to die because to help them would mean...not getting to the top of the pointy rock. Christ.
The book is a howl of pain from someone who if only belatedly realised the human cost of getting up the pointy rock wasn't worth whatever they gained from doing so. What that gain might be, spiritual enlightenment or sense of achievement over nature or whatever, is not made clear by this author, which isn't surprising given how many people died.
Let us not dwell on the super rich USian proto influencer who made Sherpas carry 80lbs of electronics up Everest so she could post the 1990s equivalent of selfies.
This is probably the best climbing book I have read despite the controversy surrounding some aspects. It was as enthralling as books like Endurance and as readable. I was with the author on the mountain and felt the terrible pain of the losses they endured, the guilt of the survivors and the many "what ifs" after the event.
The author relays his personal experiences climbing Everest in 1996 with a number of groups. This was the tragic year when many of the participants didn't make it off the mountain due to a catalogue of errors and an untimely snow storm. He also documents a lot of the history of other climbs and delves into the personalities and characters of some of the great climbers.
More generally, I am drawn to these adventure books and stories which hold a certain fascination. But whenever I read about the cost ($70,000 minimum,) the risk ( 1 in 4 people die in an Everest attempt) and the pain and possible life changing injuries from frost bite, I am always glad I can just read about it from the warmth and comfort of a safe altitude on dry ground.
There is something unique about people who set out to achieve these goals. Krakauer describes them like this
To become a climber was to join a self-contained, rabidly idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large. The culture of ascent was characterised by intense competition and undiluted machismo, but for the most part, its constituents were concerned with impressing one another only. Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling the more unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable
I find myself wondering how they feel when it is all over. They have spent a fortune, risked everything, endured much pain, put their waiting family through a nightmare and possibly lost colleagues or friends to a gruesome death. What is it all for? Is it worth it? What are they really seeking?
Reading books like this, one might suppose that most climbers do it for the beauty of the scenery or the thrill of the surroundings. However, it is clear from this book and others that these aspects very much take a back seat. Instead, it is a competition to be the best in the field and it can take over a person's life. Climbing mountains is what they dream about and ultimately what they live for. It can become an obsession in the same way that sport or work or any other hobby can. That is when it becomes dangerous and purposeless.
God created each of us with a vacuum that only He can fill. Man will seek to deny this and seek pleasure and fulfillment in many places other than God. These things then become idols. They must be kept in their proper place and we need to keep a proper perspective.
This is a great book. The strong language is not so great hence the less than perfect rating. There is no sexual content and no violence. There are upsetting scenes of death.
Interesting book, didn’t know a lot the accident before reading it (only have heard of it vaguely). I honestly don’t get the thrill of climbing such peaks especially since the fatalities aren’t few. Or at least the extra danger climbers might put themselves through. But hey, don’t worry they’ll pay someone to carry all of their junk! Rtc.
May 10, 1996 was a very, very bad day to be climbing to “the roof of the world.” On that day, journalist and avid mountain climber Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest with a group as part of a guided expedition. He was on assignment for “Outside” magazine and was one of the few in his group to survive this expedition after a ferocious storm hit out of the blue. Into Thin Air is as much a meticulous detailing of this tragedy as it is a personal catharsis: “ . . . what happened on the mountain was gnawing my guts out. I thought that writing the book might purge Everest from my life.”
For those who know little to nothing about climbing Mt. Everest (or mountain climbing in general) Into Thin Air is a good place to start. There’s a lot that’s covered, and Krakauer’s a very well-organized writer who didn’t skimp on the details necessary to bring to life the reality of high-altitude climbing. It’s pretty grim, at best: Mt. Everest climbers are guaranteed to encounter plenty of corpses on their journey to the summit (there are now more than 235 on the mountain); they must travel across crevasses via metal ladders; and they’ll struggle for breath more and more the higher they climb. The harshest reality? That one in ten dies. This climb could be ultimate adventure or agonizing death. Krakauer explained all this in a highly engaging, vivid manner. At no time is any of this dry, and even for those who aren’t outdoors types, Into Thin Air will prove compelling.
Something Krakauer made clear early on is how very crucial adequate acclimatization is. No climber arrives at the foot of the mountain and just starts climbing. Climbing is done in a series of organized phases, with climbers climbing to and resting for a few days at a series of five camps located at increasing altitudes on the mountain.
He also gave lots of attention to the growing commercialization of climbing Mt. Everest, and it’s fascinating to read about. This awe-inspiring mountain may be a natural wonder, but access to it is far from free. Anyone who wishes to climb it must fork over tens of thousands of dollars, and most climb as part of guided expeditions.
Though Krakauer is a journalist, his style is never unfeeling or distant. Intermingled with climbing facts and thorough portraits of the other climbers on the mountain are his own musings, fears, and personal admissions. A few times he wondered whether he was being snobby in his judgments of the others in his group; he described crushing, altitude-induced headaches so excruciating that even moving his eyeballs hurt; he struggled greatly with survivor’s guilt after so many of his new friends died hideous deaths. At one point, thinking about a missing friend that he’d spent an hour searching for in vain: “I fell to my knees with dry heaves, retching over and over as the icy wind blasted against my back.”
Krakauer was so forthright and unafraid to share his lowest moments and the feelings of guilt that consumed him that I also felt that anguish. There’s simply no way not to empathize with him. To my disbelief, some critics have called Krakauer “cowardly” and “selfish.” I can only wonder exactly how much better they'd behave under the same horrendous circumstances.
On the surface, Into Thin Air is a story about mountain climbing and tragedy, but deep down it’s an emotional survival story. It has a universal resonance. All lovers of nonfiction--outdoorsy or not--will want to read this.
Does your dream holiday involve spending north of fifty grand to risk a fatal aneurysm, walk past the dead bodies of weaker adventurers who’ve come before you and possibly lose your fingers, toes and nose, if not your life? If so, then step right up to climb Mount Everest!
Seriously though, If you’ve ever thought you might like to climb Everest, read this book. If you still want to attempt the highest mountain in the world after finishing Into Thin Air, you are a braver person than I.
This is a masterful account of an adventure-turned-disaster that cost the lives of eight people, and scarred (both physically and psychologically) the lucky survivors.
If you've read Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void you have some understanding of the horrors of mountaineering gone wrong. Into Thin Air similarly deals with a climbing catastrophe but with the horrifying struggle consuming an entire group of climbers instead of a lone individual.
Jon Krakauer, a seasoned mountaineer, joined a 1996 expedition to Everest with experienced guides who had reached the mountaintop on numerous occasions with previous groups.
You would think that only the best of the best attempt Everest. The toughest, fittest, most experienced mountain-crazy hardasses out there. Alas, you would be wrong. As Krakauer details, the guides that led people up the mountain often weren’t as picky as they should have been, as theirs is a business like any other, and a need for customers led to many expeditions shepherding weaker sheep up the perilous slopes of the Himalayas.
What follows is a sad tale of bad luck, bad judgement, and many, many massive screw-ups that lead to eight people dying awful deaths in the snow after getting caught in bad weather and simply running out of strength in ‘The Death Zone’ (doesn’t that sound like a fantastic holiday location? The South of France has nothing on Everest) above 8000 meters, where even the strongest person can have unpredictable and fatal reactions to the low air pressure.
Krakauer writes with clarity and humanity, giving us a window seat to how everything goes so wrong, and both the heroism and foolishness that occurs in such trying circumstances. He doesn’t shy away from his own feelings of guilt, and the way that what happened on the upper reaches of Everest has impacted his life.
Into Thin Air is a gripping, terrifying and informative story that taught me more about mountaineering and its risks than any other book I’ve read. It’s an amazing story, both well told and memorable. Read this book, and prepare to shiver in imagined cold as you walk with Krakauer through the middle of a sub-zero high-altitude disaster.
Postscript: I read this book as I headed to Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas. Krakauer discusses in detail the effect that high altitude can have on perception, memory and the ability to focus, and when I stopped at a driveable pass on my trip that reached 5600m I experienced this firsthand. Within minutes I felt nauseous, disassociated from my surroundings, and in need of some serious sleep. How anyone dares to face the perils of altitudes above six kilometres is beyond me.
I'm just going to come out and say it: I just don't get it.
Even after reading this book, I just cannot understand why anybody would want to climb Everest. If nobody had ever done it before, I could understand it from the perspective of exploration and new discoveries, but this is a mountain that has now been climbed so often it has a serious garbage problem. From Jon Krakauer's descriptions in this book, it actually sounds like a bit of a shithole (or the opposite of a hole, I suppose).
Krakauer lists several different, contradictory statistics on how likely you are to die climbing Everest, but they were all far too high in my opinion, especially for something that's essentially a pointless exercise. I mean, I do understand that it's impossible to live a life free from risk... but there's a big difference between necessary risks and playing Russian Roulette and climbing Everest seems no different to me than pointing a gun at your head with one bullet in the chamber and pulling the trigger. It serves no more purpose to society and is just as dangerous.
Ah, maybe I'm just a grumpy old bastard with no sense of adventure! Who knows? However, when reading about this horrible tragedy on the slopes of Everest, the fact that their being there in the first place was essentially completely unnecessary just compounds the tragedy for me.
Krakauer certainly brings the whole affair to life; when reading this book I actually felt chilled to the bone at times. It was a harrowing read and a powerful one. I actually cried at his descriptions of how his teammates lost their lives.
There were aspects of his writing I wasn't that keen on. For example, I wish he hadn't kept referring to people by their first names one time, then their surnames the next time they were mentioned and then, in one case, even their nickname. If he'd been consistent in referring to them just by one name throughout I wouldn't have had to keep flipping to the list of participants at the front of the book to remind myself who he was talking about. Maybe the fault is with my memory rather than his writing; benefit of the doubt and all that.
I also didn't like the lengthy post script that dealt with his battle with one of the other climbers about the veracity of their different accounts. I can see the need to mention it, but not at such great length! A whole tenth of the book is taken up by this bickering-heavy post script! It was ugly and left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I finished the book.
All in all, I'm glad I read this, but I very much doubt I'd ever want to read it again. Such a senseless loss of human life with, as the author himself states, absolutely no lessons learned from it. Tragic.