Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer

October 19, 1999 (first published 1997)

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. - from Goodreads

Confession:  We watched the movie Everest a few weeks ago, and I almost immediately ran to the library to pick up this book.  Jon Krakauer is a journalist who was researching an article for Outside magazine about the growing popularity and commercialization of Mt. Everest guided climbing trips when he joined Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants team to climb Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996; Rob Hall had previously summited Mt. Everest and was known to be a meticulous guide.

Krakauer's book is equally fascinating and terrifying.  I didn't realize the preparation that goes into a Mt. Everest summit attempt.  Krakauer and the team he was with literally spent weeks in the Himalayas, acclimating to the high altitude and thin air before even attempting the climb.  I was also surprised at the range in skills exhibited by various climbers; some had so little experience, it was amazing that they would even think about attempting to climb the highest mountain in the world.

Even with all the careful preparation and contingency plans in place, a successful Mt. Everest summit attempt seems to rely so much on luck.  Krakauer analyzes the series of events and questionable decisions that happened on the summit attempt that may have contributed to the disaster (not strictly sticking to the schedule, mis-communication about extra oxygen canisters, a fierce storm that seemed to come out of nowhere, etc.).

And then, when Krakauer actually made it to the summit, he couldn't even enjoy his accomplishment.  He was so tired, cold, and half-delirious from lack of oxygen that all he could think about was how he was going to get back down.  For him, the climb was completely debilitating, and even knowing his team was still out there, lost, there was so little he could do, physically and mentally.  He speaks about the guilt he felt and how he thought his actions contributed to the disaster and even perhaps specifically to the death of one of his guides, which was heartbreaking to read.

4.5 stars - A must-read for fans of thrilling non-fiction.

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