Book Review “Into Thin Air”
Posted by bmac on June 21, 2008
After reading Jon Krakauers book about Chris McCandless “Into The Wild”, I tought I’d check out his next book, “Into Thin Air” about the deadliest single day in the history of Mt. Everest, May 10 1996, told from his perspective, as a member of one of the ill-fated expeditions that day.
Climbing Everest has become a business. The routes up the mountain have been narrowed down to a science to the extent that even inexperienced climbers can make a summit attempt, with the help of guides, and Sherpas. If you can cough up $65 grand, and are in decent physical condition, there are “Adventure Teams” that will all but drag your ass up to the highest point on planet Earth.
The really hard part however, is getting down, and Everest is littered with the frozen corpses of climbers who stood on top of the world, only to collapse on the descent, at which point, they are left for dead, because carrying them down the mountain is impossible, even for the masterful Sherpas. Climbers routinely trudge right by dead or dying “clients” overtaken by “Summit Fever,” who refused to turn around at the alotted time, because the summit was in reach.
This is what’s fascinating about this book. Climbing Everest is a three month process, as climbers have to acclimate to the altitude, to be able to make the final push to the summit, and by the time they’ve gotten to where they can make that push, the clock is ticking against their survival in the extreme cold and thin air. The summit of Everest is the halfway point of a 15-20 hour day of extreme conditions, after months of depriving their bodies of precious oxygen, and living in miserable conditions on the mountain.
This is where it gets ugly, and where things went wrong for Krakauers group, and several other expiditions that day in 1996. Many of the guides feel a responsibility to summit their clients who’ve paid so much to stand atop this mountain, and against their better judgement, will continue on to the summit well past the pre-arranged turn around time, and some clients just will not stop, (summit fever).
Krakauer takes us through the three month process, and the harrowing final two days spent in a deadly storm in the “Death Zone,” as his fellow climbers were dying or near death, stranded on the mountain without oxygen or shelter.
Fascinating stuff, riveting from beginning to end, and here’s the article Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine shortly after his return from Everest, which he expanded on for the book.
Check it out, it’s a great read. This particular incident has been exremely controversial, and here’s an interesting ten-year follow up from Outside.