Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
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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."
survived a lifetime of close scrapes like to counsel young protégés that staying alive hinges on listening carefully to one’s “inner voice.” Tales abound of one or another climber who decided to remain in his or her sleeping bag after detecting some inauspicious vibe in the ether and thereby survived a catastrophe that wiped out others who failed to heed the portents. I didn’t doubt the potential value of paying attention to subconscious cues. As I waited for Rob to lead the way, the ice
not usually in a mood for aesthetic enjoyment, there is nothing to look at but the bleak confusion inside the tent and the scaly, bearded countenance of one’s companion—fortunately the noise of the wind usually drowns out his stuffy breathing; worst of all is the feeling of complete helplessness and inability to deal with any emergency that might arise. I used to try to console myself with the thought that a year ago I would have been thrilled by the very idea of taking part in our present
had not been favorable: a backslapping Dallas pathologist with less-than-mediocre mountaineering skills, at first blush he came across as a rich Republican blowhard looking to buy the summit of Everest for his trophy case. Yet the better I got to know him, the more he earned my respect. Even though his inflexible new boots had chewed his feet into hamburger, Beck kept hobbling upward, day in and day out, scarcely mentioning what must have been horrific pain. He was tough, driven, stoic. And what
not appear to be grooving in the slightest; instead he looked anxious and extremely tired. Because he’d encouraged his clients to move up and down the mountain independently during the acclimatization period, he ended up having to make a number of hurried, unplanned excursions between Base Camp and the upper camps when several clients experienced problems and needed to be escorted down. He’d already made special trips to assist Tim Madsen, Pete Schoening, and Dale Kruse. And now, on what should
salute. Whoever it was reminded Athans of a mummy in a low-budget horror film. As the mummy lurched into camp, Burleson realized that it was none other than Beck Weathers, somehow risen from the dead. The previous night, huddling with Groom, Beidleman, Namba, and the other members of that group, Weathers had felt himself “growing colder and colder. I’d lost my right glove. My face was freezing. My hands were freezing. I felt myself growing really numb and then it got really hard to stay focused,