Lingering in Thin Air

“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”

-Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

I have always been fascinated with delving into the minds of those with different experiences. Therefore, naturally, when I ran across a book about climbing the most famous mountain in the world, Everest, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. I wanted to have the best image possible of what it would be like to climb Mount Everest; what it did to you physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, I never could have predicted the toll that it would take on my own emotions.

Into Thin Air is about the Everest disaster that occurred on May 10, 1996. Among the sherpas, guides, medical assistants, climbers, and various others on the mountain on May 10, 1996, was Jon Krakauer, the author of this book. It’s hard to describe the sympathy that I have for Krakauer as he experienced the devastations of this disaster first hand. I truly feel that the depth of my knowledge about what it really means to climb a mountain has vastly expanded; however, retrospectively, I wonder if it’s knowledge that I really wanted to gain.

“Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Okay, once we get above here, above the South Col, our bodies will be literally dying. And I mean literally dying. It’s not called the Death Zone for nothing.”

-Rob Hall

Before reading this book, my view of what it would be like to climb a mountain was vastly different. I pictured my mind in solitude, with long treks of going from one place to the next. I pictured peace. However, this isn’t the full picture. Certainly I pictured cold, but I didn’t picture freezing. I didn’t picture hypoxia and, because of this, the increased likelihood of the development of HAPE, HACE, and hypothermia. I didn’t picture a tremendous weight loss, as being at such a high altitude and your body’s adjustment to this leads to a loss of food consumption. I didn’t picture exhaustion to the point that you can no longer carry the weight of your own body, or the development of hallucinations due to lack of oxygen. In fact, many people recall that they don’t enjoy getting to the peak of Mount Everest, but rather getting down.

Often I classify the greatness of literature by how much it is able to affect myself emotionally. By this account, Into Thin Air gains my highest of ratings. However, I find myself having a hard time recommending this book because of the intense emotion I experienced both during and after reading it. I think that as a story, although devastating, it is a wonderful read. However, I think that as a tool to understand and place yourself in the mindset of what it would be like to climb a mountain such as Everest, I would caution this. Although certainly successful at this, you have to ask yourself if it’s something you really want to familiarize yourself with.

Into Thin Air is a powerful tool to better understand the mindset and experience to take on a grueling task such as climbing the highest mountain in the world. Although many of us will not accomplish this feat, there are certainly things that can be learned from the others that have. I think that one of the most powerful things that can be taken from this book is that you simply cannot place blame on yourself for being oblivious in previous actions. One of the most haunting parts of this book is the blame that Krakauer places on himself for actions that he did or did not do. It is certainly understandable to do this. There are many instances where this has occurred in my own life;  I place a large weight on my shoulders for trivial things. The difference in this story, however, is that these things weren’t trivial. They were lives. I simply cannot imagine the depth of blame I would put on myself for thinking that maybe, if I had done something a little differently, this person would still be alive. However, there is no real value to keeping a weight such as this. You acknowledge it, learn from it, and try your best to forget and forgive it. I just feel that, when climbing Mount Everest, the risks are so high, that you have to be able to cope well with any of the consequences. It takes a special kind of person to conquer this skill and survive, both physically and mentally, in the thin air.





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