Into Thin Air

“With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill,” observed Rob Hall, the leader of a commercial expedition, on his eighth tour of Mount Everest. ”The trick is to get back down alive.” The particular descent ahead of those on the ”hill” on May 10, 1996, resulted in the greatest loss of life in the history of mountaineering on Everest. As news spread of the nine deaths (including that of Hall, who spoke to his wife in New Zealand by radiophone as he lay stranded in a snowstorm on the summit ridge), a barrage of questions resounded: What went wrong? Why was the approaching storm ignored? And, most emphatically, why are ”tourists” with more money than expertise being taken up Everest in the first place? Jon Krakauer was one of the survivors, and in ”Into Thin Air” he relives the storm and its aftermath, trying to answer those questions. As he sees it, essentially nothing ”went wrong,” at least in terms of the storm, which struck with little warning. Instead, the root of the problem lies in the famous explanation George Mallory gave when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, an explanation that still holds true, albeit with a slight amendment. People climb Mount Everest because it — and the money — is there. Jon Krakauer was 42 at the time of the disastrous attempt on the highest peak in the Himalayas. Formerly an enthusiastic mountaineer but by then a slightly overweight author and journalist, he was sent by Outside magazine to write about the commercialization of Everest. He joined a fee-paying expedition led by Hall, using what he and his climber friends called ”the Yak Route,” over the less severe Southeast Ridge. In 1985, one of the first tourists was ushered to the top. Since then, as many as 40 people have reached the summit on a single day. In the spring of 1996, no fewer than 30 expeditions were preparing to ascend the mountain. Mr. Krakauer travelled to the Everest Base Camp through a region that is now visited by 15,000 trekkers every year. In the nearby hamlet of Lobuje, ”huge stinking piles of human faeces lay everywhere.” He was astonished to find more than 300 tents at the base camp and, later, over 1,000
empty oxygen cylinders discarded at 26,000 feet on the South Col. While Krakauer recoiled from such sights, his mind was also full of other concerns: ”I wasn’t sure what to make of my fellow clients. In outlook and experience they were nothing like the hard-core climbers with whom I usually went into the mountains. But they seemed like nice, decent folks.” Among them were a ”gentlemanly lawyer” from Michigan, a 56-year-old Australian anaesthetist, a 47-year-old Japanese woman (who was bagging the highest peaks on each continent and would be left behind on this one) and an American postal worker who had almost conquered Everest the previous year. They had little or no mountaineering experience and had paid $65,000 each, excluding airfare and equipment costs, to be led to the summit. Into Thin Air tells the whole harrowing tale of this Everest disaster.

ISBN 978-0385494786

Scroll to Top