Into Thin Air is the story of death, despair, bravery, and perseverance during the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster. Krakauer was part of an expedition where 8 climbers perished on the earth’s highest mountain. The author, who had experience climbing mountains, made the trek to gather material to write a story about the trek to the highest summit not realizing the type of story that he would later tell.
He shared with the reader the gruelling climb, the brutal weather and the trauma of knowing that members of his team including his guides died on the mountain. It is sad to think that those who died on the mountain remained in place becoming landmarks for future climbers. The experienced guides had safety processes in place and sherpas to assist a mixed group of climbers up the mountain. Several participants had been part of unsuccessful climbs in the past and were very keen to beat the mountain, taking risks with their health and safety. Other groups were concurrently climbing with little communication and cooperation at times. There was an unspoken competition to reach the top.
The climb was timed for May 10th which was supposed to be a lucky day. Krakauer, struggling with the altitude spent very little time at the summit, only taking a couple of pictures of climbers at the top before heading down. He reported a bottleneck of climbers waiting to both ascend and descend which slowed process and that some climbers ignored their preset “turn back times” opting to continue to the top. As Krakauer headed back to the camp, a storm occurred making the climb more difficult and impacting those that were still near the summit.
Difficult decisions were made, climbers near death had to be abandoned for the greater good of the larger group. A brave climber was able to ascend and rescue others and two helicopters were able to evacuate a couple of climbers with severe frostbite. The survivors had to live with the trauma of the experience and several had to live with lifelong disability due to amputations.
Krakauer interviewed many of the climbers who had different perpsectives and was astonished to realize that he had been incorrect in the series of events. He came to understand that he had likely impacted the life of another climber who he had incorrectly thought was nearby due to crampon tracks. It was a combination of the brutal terrain, the unforgiving weather and human errors and decision that led to this disaster in the Himalayas.
The prologue described the controversy surrounding this book. Some surviving climbers and family members of the deceased were reported to be unhappy with Krakauer’s account, assumptions of what others were thinking and his opinions about the safety of the climb. Overall, I found it an interesting book to listen too yet have difficulty about the need to conquer mountain, spending tens of thousands of dollars along with many months on this quest.