Book Reviews: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
On the night of May 10, while several mountaineering groups navigated the peaks of Everest, an unexpected blizzard swept over the mountain, making the already grueling high altitude climbing conditions even worse. Once the snow ceased, those who’d sought to conquer the world’s highest mountain would have their lives taken by it.
Into Thin Air is the true story of the events that occurred during what would become known as the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. Journalist Jon Krakauer ascended Mt. Everest attempting to report on why people are lured into risking their lives for the adventures of mountain climbing. However, when he came back down, he found himself with a story about hanging on to life and how at least nine other climbers that spring, could not.
Krakauer, a freelance writer and considerably experienced mountain climber from Seattle, Wash., was assigned by Outside Magazine to write a piece on the commercialization of Mt. Everest – located on the border between Nepal and Tibet in southwestern Asia. He then enlisted in a guided tour group called the Adventure Consultants, led by renowned mountain guide and New Zealand native, Rob Hall. For the next three months, Krakauer and his companions, each of whom paid at least $65,000, would experience the most brutal realities of mountain climbing.
Krakauer painstakingly recounts the tale of each of their stops on the way to the summit, from the lowlands of India, through the slippery icefalls of the Khumbu Glacier, and finally to the agonizing yet triumphant arrival at the summit – 29,000 vertical feet above sea level. As the climbers reached higher and higher, traveling toward the canopy of the sky into temperatures of 100 degrees below zero, the group began to experience the mind-numbing, delusional effects of hypoxia (a lack of oxygen to the brain), and limbs paralyzed with frostbite.
Krakauer, who’d been struggling to keep his sanity from the lack of proper oxygen at that altitude, describes the bittersweet moment of reaching the top:
“I’d been fantasizing about this moment and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care.”
However, as Hall told his clients, anyone can get to the top of Everest, “the trick is to get back down alive.” And for the Everest climbers of spring of 1996, this trick proved to be an impossible one.
During the early evening hours of May 10, and with little warning, a blinding snowstorm rolled over the mountain, leaving those who were conquering the summit trapped on its higher peaks. Because it was impossible to move in such fierce winds and bitter cold, the hikers were rendered immobile, forced to stop in their tracks, and take shelter wherever they were on the terrain. However, the mountain offered them little shelter, and as they waited for the storm to die down, their oxygen tanks slowly ran out of reserves, leaving them helpless. Those who did attempt to make their way down to safety would become disoriented in the limited visibility and never return to the camps that offered them refuge.
Krakauer gives his firsthand account through each step of the mountain’s trail, discussing what he believes really happened that season, and why things seemed to go so wrong. He includes detailed stories of each person involved with the expeditions, showing how their interactions with each other may have impacted the entire group’s fate.
Into Thin Air is a brutally truthful and personal story of what it takes for humans to endure nature’s toughest tests and how sometimes those tests cannot be passed; and all during “the worst single-season death toll since climbers first set foot on the peak seventy-five years ago.” Nature would have its way.
Written by: Christy Cedeno