Paperback, 333 pages
Published October 19th 1999 by Anchor (first published 1997)
Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer’s book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end. Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history. The author’s own anguish over what happened on the mountain is palpable as he leads readers to ponder timeless questions.
Holly and I signed up for the Roof Beam Reader’s 2015 TBR Pile Challenge and this is my first book off the list. I bought my copy so long ago that my husband and I actually got into an argument over who the book belongs to – though neither of us had read it. Also- don’t you agree its all marital property anyway?!
Anyway, I knew that Krakauer tells a good story from reading Under the Banner of Heaven and I knew that he had actually been a part of this disastrous expedition. What I didn’t realize was that this book was also a confessional of the experience on the mountain and Krakauer’s own role in the loss of life.
Honestly, I found this book a bit depressing. People are paying (in the late ‘90s) $65,000 to fight their way up a mountain that might kill them. And in doing so they’re ruining the mountain itself:
It seems to me that to want to climb mountains you have to have an appreciation for nature, right? So why be a part of ruining what you’re going to see? That’s not even getting into the dead bodies left on the mountain.
I just don’t understand why you’d willingly go into a situation where you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to decide between your life and someone else’s before you go home. Or where there’s a fair chance you’ll die yourself. These climbers walk past people that are dying and just leave them. Do people just think it can’t happen to them, I wonder? Or are they so determine to say they’ve been to Everest that they don’t care? It is beyond me.
This might sound silly, but what I really wanted in this book was more photos. Krakauer talks about the Hillary Step as a significant waypoint-but I didn’t really understand how. He talks about how perilous the Iceflow was to ascend and descend-but I wanted to SEE it. So I spent a fair amount of time on Google images while reading. [Beware if you do this you can also see a lot of the bodies left behind on the climb.] This is how you cross the Icefall in portions:
Who thinks that’s a smart thing to do?!
All that being said, this was a fascinating story. Its a terribly sad story for the men and women who died both on Krakauer’s expedition and in climbs after. I respect Krakauer for coming out and explaining his own role and for the addendum chapter addressing the version put out by another guide. I might like to read other stories of this expedition some day, but for now I am more than satisfied with this version. I’m thankful to the Roof Beam Reader Challenge for getting me to read this one!
Major takeaway from this book- Why in God’s name does anyone want to climb Mt. Everest?