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84 pages 2 hours read

Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1997

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Into Thin Air is American is authored by professional mountain climber Jon Krakauer. It is a personal account of attempting to ascend Mount Everest, prompted by an assignment from Outside magazine to cover the commercial development of the communities at the mountain’s base. Krakauer’s climbing attempt, which was fatal for several, became the deadliest expedition ever on the mountain. In the book, he reflects on his experience, reporting it as truthfully as possible.

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

Krakauer tries 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. Krakauer 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 the final push to the summit. 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 reached the summit; 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, it began storming 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 and died, despite the rescue efforts of fellow guide, Andy Harris, who died as well. A separate party got lost in the storm and was rescued, with two individuals missing and presumed dead. Fischer was left on the mountain, unable to continue, and later died.

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 began as a plan to simply report activity on Everest’s base. In total, twelve people died on the mountain that season.

Krakauer published his article. He says he wrote Into Thin Air because the article couldn’t present the entirety of his experience. He claims that his interviews with survivors added perspectives and information 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 ordeal accurately. In addition to a journalistic endeavor, Into Thin Air is a survivor’s attempt to find catharsis through a literary rendering of trauma.

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