Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air

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Into Thin Air Summary

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Into Thin Air is American author and professional mountain climber Jon Krakauer’s personal account of his attempt to ascend Mount Everest, prompted by an assignment from Outside magazine to cover the commercial development of the communities at the mountain’s base. His climbing attempt, which was fatal for several, became the most deadly expedition ever to be attempted on the mountain. In the book, he reflects on his experience, reporting the experience as truthfully as possible, and resisting popular stereotypes about heroism and tragedy.

Krakauer recalls being inducted into the climbing group Adventure Consultants. Led by Rob Hall, the group’s goal was to accelerate aspiring climbers’ process of learning the ins and outs of Mount Everest before they ascended to the summit, while also providing climbing guides. He recalls the Everest climb being split up into a sequence of five camps, which included an initial Base Camp followed by Camp One through Camp Four. Krakauer states that his group spent weeks training at Base Camp, after which they repeatedly ventured up the mountains to the other camps. Once spring began to wind down in early May, his party resolved to attempt the summit.

Krakauer attempts to assemble an accurate and chronological account of the deadly ascent. Every member of Adventure Consultants struggled to adjust to the high altitude, which led to fatigue and weight loss, impeding climbing speed. He recalls many of the members being too inexperienced to go far without the assistance of the guides. Many mistakes were made in ascending the mountain, but none proved severe until their final push to the summit. He remembers that Rob Hall announced a time cut-off of 2:00 p.m. for the summit, after which anyone who hadn’t already reached it must turn back. When 2:00 rolled around, only a few, including Krakauer, had finished; however, the time cut-off was not enforced, leading to arrivals as late as 4:00 p.m. Rob Hall arrived at that time with Doug Hansen and a separate group which included Scott Fischer.

Not long after the full party had ascended, a storm appeared on the mountain. Krakauer, who made it down to Camp Four only partially deterred by the storm, had no idea how the rest of his group was faring. Meanwhile, Hansen and Hall became stranded. Hansen depleted his oxygen supplies, was unable to go further, and died. A separate party got lost in the storm and was rescued, with two individuals missing, whom they presumed were dead. Fischer disappeared and was later found dead. Hansen and Hall were stranded and died despite the rescue efforts of a guide, who died as well.

Fortunately, one of the two presumed dead, Beck Weathers, made it back to Camp Four. Having suffered severe frostbite in multiple locations, he later had several surgeries and amputations. Krakauer was permanently scarred by his experience, which had originated as a plan to simply report activity on Everest’s base. In total, twelve people died on the mountain that season.

Krakauer published the article he set out to write. He says he wrote Into Thin Air because the article could not present his whole experience on Everest. He claims that his interviews with the survivors added perspectives and information to the tragic story that he never could have surmised alone, given the intensity and danger of the blizzard. Krakauer admits he suffers from survivor’s guilt and still deals with the trauma of being brought so close to death.

Krakauer recognizes that his story might incense some readers who feel that it dishonors the climb’s victims; though he apologizes should that be the case, he says he is committed to relaying the experience accurately. In addition to a journalistic endeavor, Into Thin Air is unquestionably a survivor’s attempt to find catharsis through a literary rendering of trauma.