Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Jon Krakauer

Language: English

Pages: 332

ISBN: 0385494785

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

National Bestseller 

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.

This updated trade paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds fascinating light on the acrimonious debate that flared between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy.  "I have no doubt that Boukreev's intentions were good on summit day," writes Krakauer in the postscript, dated August 1999. "What disturbs me, though, was Boukreev's refusal to acknowledge the possibility that he made even a single poor decision. Never did he indicate that perhaps it wasn't the best choice to climb without gas or go down ahead of his clients." As usual, Krakauer supports his points with dogged research and a good dose of humility. But rather than continue the heated discourse that has raged since Into Thin Air's denouncement of guide Boukreev, Krakauer's tone is conciliatory; he points most of his criticism at G. Weston De Walt, who coauthored The Climb, Boukreev's version of events. And in a touching conclusion, Krakauer recounts his last conversation with the late Boukreev, in which the two weathered climbers agreed to disagree about certain points. Krakauer had great hopes to patch things up with Boukreev, but the Russian later died in an avalanche on another Himalayan peak, Annapurna I.

In 1999, Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters--a prestigious prize intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment."  According to the Academy's citation, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer.  His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."

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twenty-seven—whom he’d raised as a single father. He bunked in the tent next to mine, and every time a fax would arrive from Angie he’d read it to me, beaming. “Jeez,” he would announce, “how do you suppose a screwup like me could have raised such a great kid?” For my part, I wrote few postcards or faxes to anybody. Instead, I spent most of my time in Base Camp brooding about how I’d perform higher on the mountain, especially in the so-called Death Zone above 25,000 feet. I’d logged considerably

advance of Pittman, the four men strung ropes partway up the Kangshung Face, an extremely difficult and hazardous wall on the Tibetan side of the mountain. With a great deal of assistance from Lowe, Pittman ascended the fixed ropes to 22,000 feet, but once again she was forced to surrender her attempt before the summit; this time the problem was dangerously unstable snow conditions that forced the whole team to abandon the mountain. Until I bumped into her at Gorak Shep during the trek to Base

taken it to a tent for closer inspection, while the others fretted over the disaster they were certain that any examination of it would bring. The goddess Chomolungma, they claimed, doesn’t tolerate “jiggy jiggy”—anything unclean—on her sacred mountain. Buddhism as it is practiced in the high reaches of the Khumbu has a distinctly animistic flavor: the Sherpas venerate a tangled mélange of deities and spirits who are said to inhabit the canyons, rivers, and peaks of the region. And paying

pants was hitched to the back of a much smaller Sherpa by a three-foot length of cord; the Sherpa, not wearing an oxygen mask, huffing loudly, was hauling his partner up the slope like a horse pulling a plow. The odd pair was passing other people and making good time, but the arrangement—a technique for assisting a weak or injured climber known as short-roping—appeared to be hazardous and extremely uncomfortable for both parties. By and by, I recognized the Sherpa as Fischer’s flamboyant sirdar,

there first, and returning without the loss of a single man, and without having put any greater strain on himself and his men than was all in the day’s work of polar exploration. On the other hand, our expedition, running appalling risks, performing prodigies of superhuman endurance, achieving immortal renown, commemorated in august cathedral sermons and by public statues, yet reaching the Pole only to find our terrible journey superfluous, and leaving our best men dead on the ice. To ignore such

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