This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

This has been on my "must read" list for several years. But when I read Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, I had all but sworn off Jon Krakauer. His writing and take on Pat Tillman's life was over-dramatic and I felt he was doing a disservice to this man's legacy.

But my friend Ann recommend that I give this particular novel a try and I decided to go for it and requested it from the library.

I'm glad I did.

While the Pat Tillman story left me frustrated and annoyed, Into Thin Air kept me in suspense and informed. I will say that Krakauer's style of providing background on his subject matter is extremely appreciated. It is the one thing I could enjoy about the Tillman story; I just couldn't stomach the rest.

But to learn about Mt. Everest, sirdars, sherpas, how thin the air is, HAPE and HACE was educational, to say the least. I have no desire to ever mountain climb, nor did I care to know anything about this extreme sport, but I welcomed the knowledge and felt I knew the lingo and logistics enough to relate to the events of May 10 and thereafter.

I was very, VERY cynical about this whole thing. 65K to "buy" your way to the summit. I found this to be an elitist activity that had very little to do with what I imagined (in my own naive mind) the mystique of Everest. If you had enough money and time, then you could do it; skill set didn't seem to be of importance. But fame and fortune did.

I also knew about the recent controversy surrounding the quest to make it to the summit that I found very upsetting: walking over the dead and dying, in the effort to make it to the top. This seems to go against the core of morality and being a kind human; bad karma.

My cynicism dwindled a bit and I became empathetic to the plight of all these men and women. It's heartbreaking. I can't stop thinking about Yasuko Namba and Beck Weathers, what they went through (miraculously, and I didn't know this while reading it, Beck Weathers survived).

The thought of Rob Hall dying near the summit, talking via radio to everyone, including his wife in New Zealand. I remember hearing about this soon after '96 and was heartbroken at the tidbit of news that reported it. But this time, I "knew" more about Rob Hall and the build up to his phone call and his death. It's disturbing.

I can honestly say that I have no idea why anyone would want to do this, especially someone like Doug Hansen, who was a postal worker and worked to earn enough money to do this climb, climb #2 for him. He attempted and failed to make it to the summit a year before. He made it this time but unfortunately, disappeared during the descent.

But the preparation beforehand is unbelievably and excruciatingly uncomfortable and most times, painful. Migraines, dry hacking coughs that seem to not go away, GI issues...all this before even making it to base camp and becoming acclimated to the air. Once they start acclimating, there are even more issues: more coughing, burning lungs while breathing, potty issues (try going #2 off the side of a mountain; one guy did and fell down the mountainside), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), hypothermia, and a slew of other horrible conditions that I can't imagine ever wanting to experience.

But that's me and apparently, there is something in certain people that find a need to do this. I can't find fault in that and hence, my empathy grew for the people who were about to die on this mountain.

A sad, sad story with amazing story-telling by Krakauer. I plan to read The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, the guide from Scott Fisher's team who was also involved in this climbing disaster. He died a year later in an avalanche at a different climb.

I also plan to watch the IMAX movie Everest IMAX, who were also there and part of the rescue effort in '96.


  1. An insightful review, Cindy! This book is on my must read list, and I was glad to find a copy at the Reader's Corner earlier this year. I haven't sunk my teeth into it yet, though, as it does seem like a "meaty" read. I was glad to read your review--thanks for letting us know about it on FB!

  2. Glad you decided to read it, and glad to hear my recommendation didn't turn out to be a dud. I seem to recall thinking the IMAX movie was a bit of a letdown after reading the book and knowing so much about the trek from the book, but like all IMAX movies, the footage is unbelievable1