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

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

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into...

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Title:Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
Author:Jon Krakauer
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Edition Language:English

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

  • Brigette

    I recently attended the Banff mountain film festival in Canada. One of the key speakers was Simone Moro, the close friend of Anatoli Boukreev, the climber who was killed in an avalanche several years ago on Annapurna and whom Krakauer pretty much vilifies in this book as not having done enough to save the lives of those caught in the blizzard on Mount Everest in May of 1996. Needless to say, the vibe in the room was chilly whenever the subject of Krakauer's version of events came up; he was accu

    I recently attended the Banff mountain film festival in Canada. One of the key speakers was Simone Moro, the close friend of Anatoli Boukreev, the climber who was killed in an avalanche several years ago on Annapurna and whom Krakauer pretty much vilifies in this book as not having done enough to save the lives of those caught in the blizzard on Mount Everest in May of 1996. Needless to say, the vibe in the room was chilly whenever the subject of Krakauer's version of events came up; he was accused of slander and some in the room even claimed that he had not done much himself to save the lives of those in danger during the Everest disaster.

    Nevertheless, as a reader of climbing nonfiction, I stand by Krakauer. I have always found his account of the Everest disaster an intensely moving and thought-provoking one. Like Joe Simpson's books, Into Thin Air reveals its speaker to be a climber with a conscience. Kraukauer loves climbing but is completely honest about the fact that such a dangerous sport so often puts one in the agonizing position of having to make life or death decisions under conditions that make clear thinking nearly impossible-- the cold, the lack of oxygen, the immense strain on the body at that great elevation. One gets the sense while reading that he is trying to make sense of this crazy sport as he writes, that this book is his process of figuring out the answer to the question: with all of the dangers and fatalities that result from climbing Everest, why on earth do people actually sign themselves up for this kind of thing?

    In the years since I first picked up this book, I have discovered many other great climbing books in the adventure genre, although Krakauer's remains one of my all-time favorites. For more accounts of the Everest disaster, see also Boukreev's The Climb and Beck Weather's Left for Dead. If you enjoy Krakauer's writing, you might also enjoy Nando Parrado's Miracle in the Andes, a true account of the narrow escape of some members of a Uruguayan rugby team that survived by any means necessary-- and I do mean ANY means necessary--two grueling months in the Andes after their plane crashed in the mountains on the way home from a game. In addition, Joe Simpson's Touching the Void is a similarly remarkable story of a climber who survives unlikely odds after breaking his leg on the side of the mountain Siula Grande in Peru. There are also movie versions of both (Titled Alive and Touching the Void, respectively.) In addition, a movie version is due out soon for one of Krakauer's other wilderness adventure books, Into The Wild.

  • Cassy

    Life got you down? Then join us on a guided expedition led by

    as we climb to...

    For the bargain price of $65,000,[1] we will take you on the adventure of a lifetime full of scenic views,[2] camaraderie,[3] and athleticism.[4]

    Don’t be discouraged![5] While Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, it is not the most technically challenging climb. And in addition to our expertise and

    Life got you down? Then join us on a guided expedition led by

    as we climb to...

    For the bargain price of $65,000,[1] we will take you on the adventure of a lifetime full of scenic views,[2] camaraderie,[3] and athleticism.[4]

    Don’t be discouraged![5] While Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, it is not the most technically challenging climb. And in addition to our expertise and mentorship, we will have the support of the local populace, the Sherpa, to handle the basic logistical arrangements so that you can focus on the prize.[6]

    Don’t sweat it! We will prepare you for the high altitudes with our carefully developed

    .[7]

    We have you covered…with the best protective clothing available![8]

    When the time is right,[9] we’ll organize the final push to the summit where you will enjoy the exhilaration of being the King/Queen of the world.[10]

    Remember your safety and health are our top priority![11]

    What are you waiting for? There is limited space! Call us today at 1-800-YOU-DEAD to sign up.[12]

    -----------------------

    [1] Does not include airfare to Nepal and subsequent FedEx expenses when we return your personal belongings to your grieving spouse in [insert idyllic American town here].

    [2] Just avert your eyes from the dead bodies along the trail. They have been there for years. Honestly, after the first one, you won’t notice them anymore.

    [3] Well, most of the people are great. Some of them suck big time…when it matters most too. They’ll pass you over for dead THREE TIMES before they put some effort into helping you.

    [4] Just kidding! We’ll provide bottled oxygen at the higher altitudes.

    [5] Seriously, zero experience is required. We’ll take anyone.

    [6] That’s an understatement! We would be screwed without these guys. They cook, carry the heaviest loads, and lay out the ropes. Essentially they take care of the most dangerous tasks for a fraction of what we pay our Western guides. Plus they always have a delicious, steaming cup of tea ready when you reach your tent.

    [7] It really is a good program. But you can never be 100% sure how high altitude will affect individuals. We’ll do our best to help if you develop High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) where your brain starts leaking fluids, but remember at the top of a mountain, there is only so much we can do. And again, that’s not much.

    [8] But it’s still damn cold up there. And if a storm hits and you cannot find your way back to camp? Oh boy! Get ready for a windchill exceeding 100 below zero. And frostbite. Lots of frostbite. Plus what good is all that gear when people keep losing their mittens and we find the deceased half-stripped?

    [9] Did you not read the previous footnote? Storms. They can come out of nowhere.

    [10] For a few minutes at least. Plus we use the verb “enjoy” loosely. You won’t have slept or eaten properly for days. You’ll be physically spent. And with your severely handicapped mental capabilities, you may not even realize where you are. Heck, you may not even be at the top in actuality! Some losers mistakenly thought they’d reached the top and placed all their trinket flags. They were off by a good 500 feet. (Plus they died on the way down. Double losers.)

    [11] Now that’s just a lie. Our number one priority is getting you to the summit, no matter the risks. Otherwise you’ll run home and whine that we turned you around 200 feet from the top. You won’t think to thank us that you are alive to do said whining. And you’ll hurt business. Plus it’s hard as hell to keep you safe up there and you won’t be one quota of help. And health? Ha! You can hardly hold us accountable for the intestinal parasites you’ll contract in that camp where everyone shits in the open.

    [12] Having second thoughts? Look, why don’t you read

    instead? You can read it at home in your bed, safe and warm. The author, that crazy guy, already climbed Mount Everest for you. He reminds me of travel writer,

    with his accessible, factual, and tension-filled writing, minus the humor. Because climbing Mount Everest is not funny. Vicariously, that’s the only way I recommend climbing this one.

  • Michael

    Utterly harrowing and propulsive. I could not put this book down. This is another book that details people's misguided quests to conquer nature--to see nature as something to be conquered. It's also another great cold-weather read, to make you realize that, really, it's not so cold out after all.

  • Petra Eggs

    Into Thin Air or Injustice (of many kinds) on the Mountain.

    Until almost the end this book was exactly as I expected it to be with just one exception. It was the story of a journalist climbing Mount Everest both as a journalist and as a mountaineer. Ideal getting paid to do your hobby! It was interesting because Krakauer is a damn good writer and because its fascinating to see the details of how the mountain is climbed. Its also disappointing because few individuals do it by themselves, without a

    Into Thin Air or Injustice (of many kinds) on the Mountain.

    Until almost the end this book was exactly as I expected it to be with just one exception. It was the story of a journalist climbing Mount Everest both as a journalist and as a mountaineer. Ideal getting paid to do your hobby! It was interesting because Krakauer is a damn good writer and because its fascinating to see the details of how the mountain is climbed. Its also disappointing because few individuals do it by themselves, without a major support, like the guy who bicycled all the way around Europe to Nepal and then climbed the mountain alone (I would have liked to have read his story but it was only alluded to in the book). For everyone else its a package tour for the fit and not-necessarily experienced who want to climb Everest and have an awful lot of spare cash. Transport is arranged, tents are set up, luggage is carried, there will be steaming hot tea awaiting the climbers on their return to their tents after an expedition, and if they really can't climb well, they can be short-roped and pulled up. Short-roped is the climber roping themselves with a less-than-one-metre rope to the waist of the would-be-climber and literally hauling them up.

    Still, even with all this portering and pampering I was surprised that the first climbers of the season (using last year's ropes) fitted ropes up Everest so that the climbers didn't have to set their own. More than that, the really difficult bits got ladders installed! But no matter how many shortcuts and easements they are able to achieve there are two things that can neither be predicted nor controlled. One is altitude sickness which in some forms can kill very quickly, and in others causes mental delusions that led one of the team to his death. And the other is the weather. 15 climbers died the year Krakauer climbed.

    At the beginning of this review, I mentioned there was one exception to my expectations for this book based on several books I have read by this author. The exception was one extraordinary chapter full of the most vituperative nastiness against a socialite climber. I didn't know why it was there. He didn't get any nicer towards her as the book progressed either, but then he said that when he was writing the book he had a 75 minute phone conversation with her. Either she didn't know what he'd written - I would never bother wasting time on someone who had that little respect for me and intended to tell the world - or he didn't write it until after the phone conversation. My only reaction to the chapter was thinking that the author was such a damn bitch.

    The last chapter was tremendously interesting. Krakauer had not had much respect for another of the climbers - the guide and tour leader Anatoli Boukreev. He felt that Boukreev was more fulfilling his own ambitions of climbing than in sticking to his job of helping others to climb and looking after their safety. Boukreev wrote his own book saying that Krakauer had not mentioned certain incidents somewhat detrimental to himself and that he had made some observational errors, either through oxygen deprivation or wilfullness, and gave his own version of the climb. This argy-bargy went back and forth in print and on tv, and this chapter is Krakauer defending himself. Sadly Boukreev, a climber par excellence, was buried under an avalanche on Annapurna the following year, in 1997, so we will never get to hear what he thought of Krakauer's defence.

    The book is worth reading because the Sherpas have always been sidelined in stories of climbing Everest. As if it is somehow more praiseworthy for a White man to climb the mountain and its nothing really for the Sherpas who can just hop up and down like monkeys carrying all the loads while the white man Climbs. This book sets the record straight. The mountain could not be the business it is without the Sherpas. The tour companies and guides have enormous respect for these men and their abilities and form as firm friendships with them as they do with anyone else in their lives. Its a shame that this respect doesn't extend to paying them more than the one-tenth they earn compared to the tour guides but of course its justified in the traditional way - this is local wages, this is a lot of money for the locals, the locals don't need the things the guides from America, Australia etc do... Oh YAWN, I've heard it all before. Why can't people just put their money where their mouth is. You can't pay bills and put your kids through school on respect. Reduced by 1-star to four stars because of this.

  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at:

    Welcome to one of Kelly’s creepy obsessions! (Advance apologies - this might get rambly.) Okay, so I’m totally obsessed with all things Everest and CAN. NOT. WAIT. to see the movie that details the same tragic events which are covered in this book (even though just watching the preview in IMAX 3-D made me have

    Find all of my reviews at:

    Welcome to one of Kelly’s creepy obsessions! (Advance apologies - this might get rambly.) Okay, so I’m totally obsessed with all things Everest and CAN. NOT. WAIT. to see the movie that details the same tragic events which are covered in this book (even though just watching the preview in IMAX 3-D made me have diarrhea). I have spent the past month watching EVERYTHING Everest-related on Netflix and You Tube. (Note: I

    recommend the television series Everest: Beyond the Limit as well as Ultimate Survival: Everest – unfortunately the IMAX Everest documentary which was filmed during this fateful 1996 expedition didn’t end up so great. Kudos to the filmmakers for attempting to produce a final product, but really once you’ve watched 8 of your fellow climbers die your heart probably isn’t in the project so much.)

    Anyway, back to my bizarre fangirl squeeing. Because I’m ignorant I had no clue that

    was an Everest book or that it was

    Everest book detailing the storm of the century . . .

    (Note #2: The film is the same story, but the rights to Krakauer’s book were not purchased in order to make it – it’s a conglomeration of all of the survivors’ memories.) I had read

    and enjoyed Krakauer’s ability to spin a tale, but wasn’t thrilled with the story as a whole so I put his name on the backburner of authors I would read in the future should I come across him. Then everyone started reading

    which brought him back to the forefront and me searching for his books – which leads to long story long

    Please note I have zero desire to ever attempt to climb Mt. Everest (or anything higher than a flight of stairs). EVER. First, I’m fat and have resigned myself to the fact that I will always be at least a little bit so. Second, I’m

    of heights. We’re talking I can’t climb a stepladder. And third,

    . Seriously. You know what you die of on Everest? Your BRAIN F-ING SWELLING TO THE POINT WHERE YOUR EYEBALLS BULGE OUT OF YOUR HEAD. Either that or you drown on your own lung juices. Drowning in water terrifies me, drowning because I was dumb enough to attempt to climb to the height of where a jumbo jet flies is beyond my comprehension. All that being said, I did the next best thing to really make me feel part of the action – I read this book while walking at a 30% incline on my treadmill. Just like being there I’m sure . . .

    I can never wrap my brain around the fact that people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go on a

    where there is a one in four chance of dying rather than reaching the summit. That’s cray. I also am one of the nutters who, although totally obsessed with the climbing of Everest, doesn’t really want anyone doing it. Everest is one of the natural wonders in the world – and due to the “cool factor” that one gets should they reach make it safely to the top and back down again it is also the home of 10 tons of garbage and heaping pyramids of human waste. It’s also a place where inexperienced adventure seeking overgrown children think they can buy their way to the top, but as Rob Hall (one of the expedition leaders who lost his life to the mountain) said . . .

    For a price of between $50,000 to $100,000 nearly

    can attempt to make the climb and many believe the hiring of Sherpas and the hopes of being “short-roped” if the going gets tough will let them achieve their dream. While Krakauer was lucky enough to be matched up with some experienced climbers (between Rob Hall and Scott Fischer’s groups there was TONS of publicity/advertising money at stake so they needed

    to summit safely in order to promote their expedition companies) they were still a rag-tag team of climbers that mixed expedition leaders, guides, sherpas, a lawyer, several doctors, a personnel director, a publisher, a postal worker and a journalist together. The reality of an Everest expedition is this - once you’re at altitude and the shit hits the fan. . .

    And with the price being one that the wealthy can easily afford (or that the middle-class can save a lifetime for in order to achieve the biggest bucketlist item out there), Mt. Everest doesn’t even have to throw the curveball of bad weather. This . . . .

    is often times the kiss of death. With the summit visable from this vantage point, climbers are nearly impossible to turn around – leading to a greater chance of hypothermia, frostbite, not making the descent before dark, running out of oxygen, etc. In my opinion, it should cost a million dollars per person to climb Everest. That would be enough money for clean-up and deter the wannabe super(wo)men from attempting the climb. Because seriously, while this book was fascinating in a “watching a trainwreck” type of way – it should have served as Exhibit A of why massive changes in the rules/regulations regarding Everest needs to happen.

    Recommended to anyone who likes to experience adventure and defy death from the safety of their reading chair. My only advice is to familiarize yourself with the specific locations which are continually talked about with respect to the Everest climb. Places like the Lhotse Face, Khumbu Icefall or the Hillary Step. It’s easy to forget the danger that is the Khumbu Icefall if you don’t know that

    is what it looks like . . .

  • Maxwell

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm

    the biggest fan of non-fiction. I prefer to listen to podcasts or interviews, rather than read straight-up non-fiction about a certain topic. And as someone who isn't particularly interested in climbing or sports in general, this wouldn't be a book that I'd normally read. But I'm so glad that I did.

    It definitely reads more like a memoir, since the author was present for the events of the story. That made it a much more palatable read for me, rather than a

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm

    the biggest fan of non-fiction. I prefer to listen to podcasts or interviews, rather than read straight-up non-fiction about a certain topic. And as someone who isn't particularly interested in climbing or sports in general, this wouldn't be a book that I'd normally read. But I'm so glad that I did.

    It definitely reads more like a memoir, since the author was present for the events of the story. That made it a much more palatable read for me, rather than a book about an event where the author does all the research but has no first-hand experience of the thing. However, after having read this I would definitely read anything else Krakauer has written or writes because he is such an amazing storyteller.

    I was never bored reading this book. He blends history and personal accounts into a gripping, harrowing, horrifying, fascinating story. It's truly awful, but I couldn't put it down. I'm not sure how I particularly feel about being so interested in reading about a tragedy like this, but I also think it opened my eyes to SO many new things that there is definitely merit to the story. On top of that, I can only imagine it was a story Krakauer felt he had to tell after having lived through it. I will definitely be recommending this book to friends and suggesting it to people who, like me, are hesitant to pick up non-fiction books that aren't memoir.

  • Michelle

    This is not a review. I don’t feel like writing a review for this book, but I feel like I should at least say something about it because I did enjoy it. I mean, it did make me utter “Jesus Christ” out loud more than one time, and I don’t often talk to myself while I am reading a book.

    (I almost want to post a picture of a LOLcat with a caption that says “This buk wuz gud,” but I don’t have one.)

    So…These are a few things I learned from reading this book:

    1. If a person decides to climb Everest, the

    This is not a review. I don’t feel like writing a review for this book, but I feel like I should at least say something about it because I did enjoy it. I mean, it did make me utter “Jesus Christ” out loud more than one time, and I don’t often talk to myself while I am reading a book.

    (I almost want to post a picture of a LOLcat with a caption that says “This buk wuz gud,” but I don’t have one.)

    So…These are a few things I learned from reading this book:

    1. If a person decides to climb Everest, they are likely to encounter dead bodies along the route up to the summit.

    2. Lobuje, which is on the way to Everest Base Camp, is a place that overflows with human excrement. While Krakauer was there in 1996, he wrote "Huge stinking piles of human feces lay everywhere; it was impossible not to walk in it." Lovely. Insert “Want to get away from it all?” commercial here.

    3. Without the assistance of Sherpas, it is unlikely that climbers would be able to reach the summit at all. Besides schlepping tons of your crap, they also know the way, and they place climbing ropes and in some instances, repair ladders, so people will be able to ascend the trickier places.

    The place would also be a lot dirtier without them because they are partially responsible for removing some of the trash that Everest has accumulated over the years. One camp reported having around a thousand empty canisters of supplemental oxygen (as I said below in a review comment, so I might as well stick it in here, too).

    4. In 1996, it cost $65,000 to be a client on a guided tour climbing Everest.

    5. It is very easy to develop high-altitude sicknesses and/or hallucinations as a climber gets closer to the summit. In fact, the "every man/woman for him/herself" attitude that people had, whether or not they had to have it in order to survive, was more than a little disturbing.

    On this particular excursion, two climbers got stuck on the mountain during a storm. They spent the night at 28,000 feet without shelter or supplemental oxygen and were believed to be dead. The guide sent to look for them the next day found them barely breathing after chipping off three inches of ice from their faces. Believing that they were beyond help, he left them there. One of the climbers, my personal hero, woke up from his coma hours later and was lucid enough to get himself back down to one of the camps. Sure, he lost half an arm, his nose, and all of the digits on his other hand to frostbite, but he's still alive.

    Oh, and sure, the events that happened on Mt. Everest in 1996 were tragic, but I do think the people who climb it know what they are risking.

  • Steve

    Note to self: take climbing Everest off bucket list.

  • karen

    RELEASE THE KRAKAUER!!!!

    seriously, it is time to just raze everest and be done with it already. i mean, it's big and impressive but it is just taking up all this room and killing people so why do we even need it anymore?? can't we just get over it? really, i think it has reached its peak and is all downhill from here.

    shameless punning aside.

    so this started out as an article that KRAKAUER was asked to write for outside magazine about the commercialization of everest. it should embarrass us that s

    RELEASE THE KRAKAUER!!!!

    seriously, it is time to just raze everest and be done with it already. i mean, it's big and impressive but it is just taking up all this room and killing people so why do we even need it anymore?? can't we just get over it? really, i think it has reached its peak and is all downhill from here.

    shameless punning aside.

    so this started out as an article that KRAKAUER was asked to write for outside magazine about the commercialization of everest. it should embarrass us that something that costs 75,000 dollars to even

    even has the

    to become "commercialized". (for example - i just balked at shelling out $7.17 for the sandwich i am eating. and like everest, it is kind of crappy) how misplaced is our spending? for fifty bucks a toe, i will chop yours right off and you can pretend you climbed everest and had a gay old time. everyone wins! but there are purists who think that there was golden age of everest and everything since then has just been compromised and now everest is a trash heap full of inconvenient dead bodies and empty oxygen bottles and really just anyone can climb everest so it isn't even a challenge anymore...

    THAT IS THE KIND OF ATTITUDE THAT EVEREST WILL FUCKING KILL YOU FOR HAVING!!!

    do not climb everest - it is a trap!!

    when i was making this year's thanksgiving meal, i decided to have a little fun and incorporate things i learned from everest into the prep. because i had soooo many brussels sprouts to prepare, as well as parsnips, carrots, beets, sweet and regular potatoes, turnips, onions, cauliflower, etc. it was a lot of peeling. and i tried to see how many i could peel while holding my breath, and what that did to my motor skills. all i learned is that i really like to breathe and any activity in which i cannot breathe is not for me. by the end, i was weeping, "KRAKAUER wouldn't give up!! he would chop allllll the brussels sprouts!!!"

    but from everything i have read of everest (note: two books) it is THE WORST. all of the reaching of the summit which should be time for celebration is always so anticlimactic. you can't stay up there very long because humans need to breathe and all; there is no fireplace and hot cocoa like at the top of the viennese alps, and then there is the small matter of DESCENDING!! all that bullshit and putting-up-with for ten seconds of "experience"?? i gave all that up in high school, thank you very much.

    oh shit - i have class now. i will "review" more later...

    okay, so i went to class. i learned some stuff.and i don't have much more to say about this. it is not as action-packed as

    , and a lot of it reads like KRAKAUER working through his personal demons and dealing with his culpability, but it is still interesting. i still think everest is unnecessary - it is like a hot fourteen year old - who needs that kind of temptation, right? oh, and also, this:

    seriously. everest: who needs it?

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