Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
In 1996, a team of eleven courageous men and women began the journey of a lifetime. Led by mountaineering expert Rob Hall, the team’s goal was to summit the infamous Mt. Everest in two months. However, when it came time to summit the mountain, an unforeseen series of events spiraled out of control leaving eight people dead. Jon Krakauer, a journalist invited along on the expedition by Outside Magazine, recounts the experience and the tumult of an expedition gone wrong.
“I said no to the assignment [Outside Magazine] only because I thought it would be unbearably frustrating to spend two months in the shadow of Everest without ascending higher than Base Camp. If I were to travel to the far side of the globe and spend eight weeks away from my wife and home, I wanted an opportunity to climb the mountain,” (page 24).
“Gregarious by nature, Hall proved to be a skillful raconteur with a caustic Kiwi wit. Launching into a long story involving a French tourist, a Buddhist monk, and a particularly shaggy yak, Hall delivered the punch line with an impish squint, paused a beat for effect, then threw his head back in a booming, contagious laugh, unable to contain his delight in his own yarn. I liked him immediately,” (page 31).
“I wasn’t sure what to make of my fellow climbers. In outlook and experience they were nothing like the hard-core climbers with whom I usually went into the mountains. But they seemed like nice, decent folks, and there wasn’t a certifiable asshole in the entire group-at least not one who was showing his true colors at this early stage of the proceedings,” (page 37).
“The first six days of the trek went by in an ambrosial blur. The trail took us past glades of juniper and dwarf birch, blue pin and rhododendron, thundering waterfalls, enchanting boulder gardens, burbling streams. The Valkyrian skyline bristled with peaks that I’d been reading about since I was a child,” (page 48).
“Ascending Everest is a long, tedious process, more like a mammoth construction project than climbing as I’d previously known it,” (page 73).
“But if the Icefall was strenuous and terrifying, it had surprising allure as well. As dawn washed the darkness from the sky, the shattered glacier was revealed to be a three-dimensional landscape of phantasmal beauty, (page 79).
“‘If you get killed,’ she [Linda] argued with a mix of despair and anger, ‘it’s not just you who’ll pay the price. I’ll have to pay, too, you know, for the rest of my life. Doesn’t that matter to you?’
‘I’m not going to get killed,’ I answered. ‘Don’t be melodramatic,'” (page 84).
“Reaching the top of Everest is supposed to trigger a surge of intense elation; against long odds, after all, I had just attained a goal I’d coveted since childhood. But the summit was really only the halfway point. Any impulse I might have felt toward self-congratulation was extinguished by overwhelming apprehension about the long, dangerous descent that lay ahead,” (page 181).
**Note: I only included quotes from the earlier portions of the book as to not give away too many spoilers. Although when beginning the book it is obvious disaster is inevitable, I think the ending of the book is important to read as a whole rather than in chopped-up quotes.
I started this book per recommendation of my dad and overall, I sincerely enjoyed Krakauer’s writing style. To be frank, the first 40 pages or so were a little rough to get through. In addition to the long-winded exposition, Krakauer throws in extensive history behind Everest’s commercialization which can either be extremely interesting or torturously boring. I found it to be somewhat dull, but at the same time I appreciated learning more about the first people to climb Everest and facts such as different routes to the summit, the history of climbing permits, and Sherpa culture.
Once Krakauer begins to write of the actual expedition, I could not put the book down. In addition to fantastic passages about the scenery on the mountain, the action and ever-present thrill of danger is unmatched. Krakauer’s recollection of acclimating to the various base camps up until the summit is a captivating account to read. However, the most heartbreaking sections of this book are where Krakauer goes into detail about his teammates.
At the beginning of the book, Krakauer touches upon his exigence behind his writing. He explains that in addition clearing the disaster out of his head as best as possible, his book serves as a tribute to his fallen teammates. And even with the happy moments in the book, there is always a grim reminder of Krakauer’s survivor’s guilt. What begins as an exuberant journey morphs into a grotesque catastrophe in a matter of hours.
I admire Jon Krakauer’s bravery in writing this book, and I sympathize with his survivor’s guilt. I cannot imagine the kind of hell he and the families of the victims must be trapped in. I cried many times while reading simply because no one deserved to die and yet… it happened.
Despite the sadness of reading about amazing people being sacrificed to Mother Nature herself, I loved this book. The adventure was contagious and it honestly made me want to go climb a mountain, (granted, one that is not Mt. Everest because that shit is crazy), and hug the people close to me because life is fleeting and accidents happen.
The events of the Mt. Everest expedition of 1996 serve as a reminder that life is not only fragile, but that human error is not the only driving force behind devastating occurrences. Mt. Everest is a harsh environment that is not meant for humans. Throughout the book, Krakauer continually reminds the reader that lucidity at 29,000 feet is not a common commodity. This means that the choices each person made on that mountain May 10th, 1996 should not be judged without heavy consideration of the altitude, exhaustion, and illness the entire team was suffering from. In hindsight, there are always choices that seem easily damnable; i.e. “Why didn’t ____ do this? Why didn’t ____ do that?” But in reality, when horrible things happen, sometimes there is nothing that can be done except for to step back and realize that certain events are out of human control.