Into Thin Air, is an autobiography written by Jon Krakauer about an Everest disaster that he experienced first-hand while climbing the mountain in May of 1996. One theme that the author incorporates throughout the book is that climbing costs everything. He explains that climbing Mount Everest costs a lot of money. For some people, mountaineering costs their lives, limbs, and their family to pursue this passion. Krakauer uses a chronological text structure to describe the events of the fateful hike. The author was commissioned by Outside Magazine to write an article about Mount Everest.
Originally, he was not supposed to ascend Mount Everest, but he decided that spending two months at Base Camp would be very mundane and monotonous. So, the magazine paid $65,000 for him to ascend the mountain with a group led by Rob Hall. The editors felt that it was important to cover the tourism of climbing the tallest mountain peak in the world, since it was becoming more popular. On his flight to Nepal, he caught a glimpse of Mount Everest out his window and reality set in, he would be climbing, with oxygen, to the same altitude that his airplane was flying.
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, measuring 29,028 feet at its highest peak elevation. The trip to base camp at 17,600 feet, went smoothly. At base camp the guide, Rob Hall, discussed with the hikers the need to become acclimated to the altitude. They had to do a series of acclimation exercises trekking to Camp One and back, Camp Two and back, and Camp Three and back. This lasted a month, and by the end of the acclimation period, the hikers were all feeling more physically fit and ready to attack climbing the mountain.
Finally, on May 6th, the group began their trip to the peak of Mount Everest, a treacherous two-mile ascent above Base Camp. They climbed to Camp Three that day and were issued oxygen masks that would be worn all of the time for the remainder of the expedition. The next day, they traveled to Camp Four. At camp, Jon expressed his feelings of disconnect with the team. On other climbs where he was a participant, everyone was physically tied together while climbing, creating a felt need and dependence for each other.
Whereas on this trip, it appeared that everyone was on their own to fend for themselves, rather than functioning as a team. Jon was climbing with the first group to reach the peak that year, so they were required to install ropes to ascend some of the steep cliffs, because the ones from the previous year were covered with several layers of snow. Finally, on May 10th of 1996, after five days of difficult hiking, Krakauer achieved his lifelong dream of reaching the peak of Everest. Unfortunately, he did not stay on the summit long enough to take pictures, because he was worried about running out of oxygen.
On his way down, he saw some dark clouds rolling in over the mountain, but did not consider the dangers that might lay ahead of him and his teammates. Jon slowly began the descent back to Camp Four after spending a mere five minutes on the summit. The author’s oxygen canister was running low by this time, so he asked one of his friends to turn the oxygen off so that he could save it for later if necessary. But, the friend’s cold fingers did not work properly, and the oxygen was mistakenly turned on full blast. A couple of minutes later, Jon had no oxygen left and a storm was coming towards the peak.
The weather continued to worsen with increasing winds and decreasing temperature. Suddenly, thunder began to rumble and a blizzard appeared in full force. By this point, Jon was very close to Camp Four, but because of the wind and snow, he could not see anything. He was forced to just wait on the mountain in brutal wind chill temperatures of 100 degrees below zero. At some points, the visibility was so bad that he could not see his own two feet. After forty-five minutes of waiting, he was able to discern where he was and presumed that Camp Four was just below a steep cliff. He took is chances and jumped off the perilous cliff, successfully making it safely down to Camp Four.
Many of the hikers did not make it back to the camp that night by bedtime. Some of them straggled in later that night and early the next morning. Rob Hall, the guide for the expedition, had told the hikers that they had to reach the summit by 2:00 PM that afternoon, and if they did not make it by then, they needed to turn around and return to Camp Four. But, some people did not follow that rule and continued towards the summit, reaching it by 4:00 that afternoon, which proved deadly for some of them.
The leader, Rob Hall, was one of those who did not return, which was very worrisome. After the storm ended, some of the hikers returned up the mountain in order to search for others that were missing. Some climbers were found dead, and others were ill because of altitude sickness and frostbite. One of the worst encounters a climber discovered was finding two colleagues frozen, encased in ice. Just for curiosity, he chipped some of the ice off of both of their faces and surprisingly, both of them were still breathing.
The rescue hiker was told afterwards that there was nothing that he could do to help so that they would survive, so he was forced to leave them there to die. However, several hours later, one of the people that was found encased in ice stumbled down to the camp. They were astonished and realized he needed immediate medical attention for his severe frostbite. Their guide, Rob Hall, had still not returned to camp, and was not found by others, so the team felt it necessary to start down the mountain, so as to avoid any more danger. They descended to Camp Two that day.
The next morning, Krakauer was assigned to find a place where a helicopter could land to rescue the people who were severely injured. The helicopter rescued two of the injured hikers on May 15th. Normally, the team would hike back to Luklai, a small town where they would take a plane back to the commercial airport. However, because there was no guide, and there were more injured people to care for, they left Base Camp by helicopter on May 16th. Krakauer was in a somber mood for quite a while after returning home. Four of his teammates, including Rob Hall, had perished in the storm.
The author concludes the book with statistics regarding hiking Mount Everest. Twelve people died attempting to climb Everest that season, which only accounts for three percent of the threehundred and ninety-eight climbers to hike above Base Camp. The year Jon Krakauer climbed the mountain was recorded as one of the deadliest for hikers. Statistically, because more people climbed, 1996 was actually a safer than average year of climbing. He also says that in 1996, twelve climbers died and eighty-four actually reached the summit, which means that one of every seven hikers who reached the summit died.
When one considers the dangers involved in such a hike, it is important to realize that it will never be completely safe to climb Mount Everest. There are many positive aspects of Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. First, he describes in detail the full experience of the climb including the potential consequences. He put his heart into the book, in order to make the reader feel more emotionally connected to the characters and the intense expedition. Because he became one of the hikers and was not just a reporter, he has the authority to share his feelings, trials, and his experience. Along with that, he gives reality.
He does not just write what people might want to hear, that climbing Mount Everest is a great adventure with no danger involved. He gives the good, the bad, and the ugly of climbing Mount Everest. This gives the book more of a sense of passion, because the author reveals the true aspects of the trip, throughout the book. Also, Jon Krakauer had title pages for each of his chapters depicting the location and the date of the chapter. Doing so is helpful to the readers, because it gives them a timeline of when and where the events of the upcoming chapter will be happening, in comparison to the previous chapter.
Adding to the timeline aspect, Krakauer is very organized in his book. He writes in chronological order throughout the book which makes it very simple for the reader to follow the activities of each day. The book has a simple narrative format which makes it very readable. On the flip side, the book has some negative aspects. First of all, the author gets distracted and sometimes strays off topic. For example, he will be explaining the ascent to the peak and then will jump into something completely different such as hikers’ past climbing experiences.
Normally, these side trails have little connection with what he was originally saying. He writes the book more like a journal with thoughts and tangents, rather than a one topic book with smooth transitions. Also, another distraction in this book is Krakauer’s language. He swears many times throughout the book and uses offensive language. Finally, even though he does a good job of explaining the story, it is very gruesome. Some of the details might not be appropriate for younger readers, or people who are emotional. At one point, he explains his teammate’s search for people after the storm.
He says that there were two people laying in the snow with ice around their faces. The teammate picked the ice off of their faces, finding that they were both still alive. That detail could easily make a sensitive person shudder at the thought of finding someone almost dead with ice molded around their face, suffering a slow death. Also, Krakauer uses some difficult climbing words to describe his hike. Because ne readers may not have an interest in hiking and climbing, those words would be difficult to understand. Krakauer has a wonderful story to tell, but the way in which it is told could use some discretion.
Overall, the book Into Thin Air was not one of my favorites, because of the cons that were mentioned earlier. Though Krakauer is a detailed writer and his reflections of his hike up Mount Everest are accurately portrayed. There were times | became disinterested because of his choice of language and wording. I would recommend this book to people who like to climb and clearly understand the risks. It may be inspirational to those who desire to conquer Mount Everest. I would also recommend this book to people who like to read true stories of modern day heroes.
To some, making it successfully to the summit of Mount Everest, would be heroic. Others would consider it foolish to attempt such a perilous climb. This is not an easy book to read because of the gory details that Krakauer reveals, which include his language and the particulars of the disaster. On a scale of 1-10, I would give this book a rating of 4, because for me, the cons far outweighed the pros. I am not a climber, so I did not have the intense level of interest that an outdoorsmen would have. But, the book is worth reading for those interested in adventurous hikes.