An astounding tale of human endurance, horror and tragedy on Everest, written by a journalist who lived to tell the tale first-hand.
There is seldom a successful book that starts off by telling you the ending. This is one of them. This much one knows at the start of the story: Jon obviously survived (or the book wouldn’t have happened). Mountain climbers are not to be scoffed at. Many of the people you meet in the first few pages end up dead. At 2PM on 10 May 1996, expeditions led by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer reached the top of the world – little did they know that disaster was imminent as the minutes ticked away and a storm was brewing lower down in the mountain.
A series of mistakes led to eight people losing their lives on Everest in the space of 24 hours in 1996. As Krakauer says, getting to the top is just the halfway point – they all lost their lives trying to get down from the ‘Death Zone’ in a massive storm.
It’s not preachy, it doesn’t pretend that you should know anything about mountaineering or about the history of Everest – in fact Krakauer sets the scene and shares the stories of mountaineers that went before them in snippets throughout the narrative. At times, the story is so vivid that it feels like you’re travelling up the mountain with them.
One of the things that amazed me the most was the selfless act of those who courageously tried to help those in danger, whether it be by going to look for them when they were too exhausted and oxygen-deprived to be able to, or those from the IMAX team who sent up their oxygen tanks regardless of the cost to their own expedition.
Krakauer paid just tribute to brave men and women whose lives were lost, and talked candidly about the weight that faced those who managed to survive. Let’s face it, there were no bad guys and evil deeds, just a series of unfortunate circumstances.
It also touches on an important (and for me a learning) point. The commercialisation of Everest, which has led people to pay around $75,000 for a trip to the top (and this was 10 years ago!) was a recurring theme throughout the book. Another theme was the fact that inexperienced climbers were told by guides that they would be given safe passage to get to the summit. Was this responsible? Krakauer leaves it up to the reader to decide.
I had intended to read more non-fiction this year, and ‘Into Thin Air’ has provided the perfect start.
Clarification: I know that the tale has been made into a blockbuster called ‘Everest’. I have yet to watch this film – but I personally don’t think that it could possibly overshadow the book. It doesn’t need more explosions, more drama. It’s life.
Creative commons image courtesy of xiquinhosilva