Sheffner's Reviews > Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read September 24, 2019 to September 26, 2019.

A fascinating read. I'm not a climber but I enjoyed this. Well, enjoyed is not perhaps the right word. Krakauer does a good job of reporting and investigating a disaster that he was involved in - a very difficult task at the best of times. While some have criticized Krakauer's behaviour at the time (e.g. see the movie "Everest", which account Krakauer and others have disputed, and the book "The Climb") and "Into Thin Air" for trying to attach blame to others while hiding his own responsibility, in this 199 edition Krakauer responds to those criticisms: he admits he was at fault for attaching too much blame to one individual he had singled out in his first article and book, but he also clearly admits his own shame, guilt and responsibility for several events. One such case was his certainty that he had seen a climber who was later found to be missing go down before him and reach Camp Four, when in fact he had seen a climber approach the camp and going in the right direction. This news was given to the climber's wife, only to be retracted when Krakauer himself reached Camp Four and discovered that climber had not arrived or been seen. In fact, the climber Krakauer had seen and who had exchanged words with Krakauer as he past him on his way down turned out to be someone else entirely, something Krakauer only discovered months afterwards on interviewing some survivors. "Man, you've got some explaining to do" quotes Krakauer.

Krakauer was sent on this expedition by Outside magazine, who finally negotiated a deal with one of the guide groups to cover Krakauer's costs and thus enabling him to fulfill a long-held ambition. He had some misgivings about these guided expeditions and about some of their consequences (the crowding, the littering, and the predictions of inevitable disaster by many). As a professional climber himself, Krakauer was accustomed to knowing and choosing his climbing companions as they would be placing their lives in each other's hands. However, on a guided expedition, Krakauer had no say in the choice of his climbing companions and was strictly admonished to follow the instructions of the guides only. This created a dependency which led in several instances to Krakauer and others hesitating (sometimes fatally) because no guide was around to tell them what to do. One climber stayed far too long before descending because he'd been told to wait for a guide who didn't show up on time because of unforeseen circumstances. Krakauer himself was in a similar situation after summitting, anxious because his precious oxygen was running out with each wasted minute. He eventually went down after another guide appeared and sanctioned his departure.

Rob Hall, leader of Krakauer's expedition team, had set a limit of either 1 or 2 pm as the latest by which everyone should turn around and head down. Hall himself, however, did not reach the summit until much later. Krakauer surmises that competition with other expeditions (especially Fischer's who attacked the summit on the same day) pushed Hall to try to get as many of his clients to the summit as possible, late though it was, with tragic consequences.

Krakauer includes a list of all the teams and expeditions on Everest and nearby around that time. This list is invaluable to help the reader keep track of the many people involved and whose team they were on.

All in all, an excellent and well-written account of a disaster by someone involved; though it makes for sad reading, it also makes sense in its analysis of what went wrong. It might be worth considering that in an earlier book called "Into the Wild", Krakauer withheld crucial information at the request of family members, information which when later released by some of said family put a very different slant on the events described, particularly the motivation of the young man Chris McCandless. This is not to accuse Krakauer of dishonesty either in "Into the Wild" or "Into Thin Air" (on the contrary), but simply to point out that there are sometimes constraints on a writer on what they can publicly say: the very public nature of a book has consequences which must be taken into consideration when deciding what to include and what to leave out.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 24, 2019 – Started Reading
September 25, 2019 – Shelved
September 26, 2019 – Finished Reading

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