Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review : Into Thin Air - John Krakauer*****

Into Thin Air is Jon Krakauer's personal account of the disaster that befell a number of teams trying to reach the summit of Mount Everest in May 2006. Krakauer accompanied Rob Hall's Adventure Consultant's expedition as a journalist working for Outside magazine, he had considerable high level mountaineering experience, and counted himself well qualified to accompany the group and try to reach the summit.

8 climbers died that day in the worst single day disaster on the mountain.

I found Krakauer's account to be detailed and compelling at the same time, I had read Krakauer's investigation of the disappearance of Chris 'Alexander Supertramp' McCandless in 'Into The Wild' and enjoyed his writing style in that book. Into The Wild takes you from the very start of the expedition, to base camp and acclimatisation at the higher camps, and then through to the assault on the summit itself and the catastrophe that unfolded around it. This was literally a book I could not put down, and absolutely absorbing true life story.

Krakauer sets out what he believes to be causes of the Everest disaster, too many climbers on the mountain and the use of oxygen allowing weaker climbers to push themselves beyond their limits being two of his critiques. His original brief from Outside magazine was to also look into the increasing commercialisation of Everest, and to examine the phenomena of professional guides taking paying guests up into the death zone, this he does and comes to the not unexpected conclusion that some, but certainly not all, of the paying climbers should not have been attempting the mountain.

Some people just will not understand the lure of summiting Everest, I love hill walking, and I would love to do some of the world's longer hikes if I had the time, so I can appreciate the inner drive that kicks in after you have managed a smaller climb, you want to achieve more and more, get higher and higher, and eventually only Everest will do. Krakauer points out that it is partly this same drive that kills some climbers, some men and women will push themselves to the point of exhaustion to the reach the summit and will then be unable to manage the more difficult descent.

Krakauer is also not slow to recognise his own shortcomings on the mountain and his personal mistakes that may have led to the death of one of his own own team mates. There have been a number of rebuttals to Krakauer's novel published, climber Anatoli Boukreev felt that he came in for undue criticism in the book and others wrote to Outside magazine to put forward their own acounts of the tragedy, some of those can be found at Outside Online.

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