My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I guess I haven’t been doing the lightest of reading over the past few days, but this book definitely has me thinking.
Into Thin Air is a personal account from a man who climbed Mount Everest as part of a commercial climb in 1996. The climb ended in tragedy, with the mountain claiming the lives of many of the members of the teams. The author, Jon Krakauer, attempts to tell his recollection of the events, keeping in mind that everyone lacks clarity when you are at that altitude and your mind and body are deprived of oxygen. He discovers along the way that he misjudged and misremembered events that happened on the mountain, and the story has a huge element of surprise when he learns where he made mistakes.
It seems wrong to say that I “enjoyed” this book, since it is about such a tragic subject. I guess the best thing that I can think to say is that this book was fascinating. Before I picked it up, I knew very little about climbing Everest. I had no idea that an attempt to reach the summit included going up and down portions of the mountain several times, and over a period of 4 weeks. I assumed that it was more like climbing a less-imposing mountain, where you are always camping higher until you reach the summit. I didn’t know that it was much more of a two-steps-forward/two-steps-back endeavor.
I also didn’t realize that helicopter evacuations are not possible anywhere near the top of the mountain, so your options for getting the injured down from the summit are very limited. I guess I had never considered all of the physical limitations that come with that kind of altitude. Supplemental oxygen is a necessity for survival over more than a day or so, and all oxygen must be carried up. That means that if something goes wrong, there isn’t an abundance of time for action.
I would highly recommend this book, even though the subject is so sad. There are still great stories of survival and human strength contained in it. It really underscores the fact that tragedy can happen to even the best climbers. Nature is just such a powerful force.