Thursday, November 3, 2005
I would never summit Mount Everest. I lack the mental or physical fortitude to push myself past certain limits, but the world's peak has always fascinated me.
Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" has been in publication for nearly a decade, but I had never picked it up. I knew I would like Krakauer's writing style based on his experience with Outside, a magazine frequently awarded for its sportswriting.
I was not disappointed, but I didn't anticipate how powerful a book it would be.
My hands and feet felt colder on certain pages. I swear I was even short of breath at times. Between the technical mountaineering terms was a beautiful yet tragic recount of life on Mount Everest in the fateful spring of 1996.
In his book, Krakauer acquaints the reader with Mount Everest, its relationship with Tibetans and Nepalese, as well as the history that led climbers to pay exorbitant amounts to have someone guide them up. (The $65,000-ish price tag doesn't seem so hefty when you realize it essentially is a price tag on your life).
Then, chapter by chapter, Krakauer takes you up Mount Everest, and then back down, and then back up, as you acclimate ever so carefully to the thinning air so your body doesn't implode.
It is just crazy to think people subject their bodies and their brains to this misery and pressure. It truly is a matter of life, death and luck while camping overnight on a glacier where rocks and ice fall haphazardly at any given time.
But still, the expedition -- Krakauer's is one of several on Mount Everest in May 1996 -- continues upward.
Most of the book is dedicated to the ascent; the most time is spent at Base Camp and the several camps perched higher up. It isn't until the final couple of chapters when Krakauer's group begins its descent in great weather -- the ultimate key to summiting Everest. During the next few chapters, readers go through hypoxia, extreme frostbite and devastation as crew members perish in the blizzard atop Everest. Legitimate questions are asked about the safety of the mission, about the decisions that were made and whether those making them were capable of making them. Some Krakauer answered. Some Krakauer was still searching for six months after returning to the United States. Some undoubtedly remain trapped beneath ice and snow atop the world.