Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

First off, sorry this is late in the day. I wasn't stuck in a storm on Mt. Everest, so it's not like I even have a great excuse. Mea culpa.

It is, however, climbing season for Everest. It is also, I am sorry to say, the start of "summer reading" season for a lot of teens. Rumor has it that this book is on some lists. Let's just say that if it is, and you get a pick, you should read this one. (And if you don't get a pick, you probably won't mind this one.)

The book Into Thin Air has the following subtitle: "A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster" - an event that took place during climbing season in 1996, during which a rogue snow storm swept through while people were trying to summit the mountain. In all, nine climbers were killed, while others were temporarily stranded. Rob Hall, one of the experienced commercial guides leading a group up the mountain, is quoted early on as saying "With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down alive." Rob didn't make it back this time.

Jon Krakauer, the author, published the rather famous Into the Wild in 1996. It tells the story of a young man who decided to turn his back on society and live in the wilderness. The main character in that book did not survive. Thankfully, Krakauer, who is at least one of the main characters in Into Thin Air, made it back and was able to report not only on what it was like to climb Mt. Everest (and exactly how commercial that venture has become, complete with despoliation of the environment), but also to provide a first-person account of one of the worst climbing disasters in history.

There is plenty of information about what it's like to climb mountains (in general) and to climb tall mountains (in particular), including information about altitude sickness and proper preparations and protocols. There's also a riveting human story, as profiles of the people climbing on the same team as Krakauer (and on "rival" teams, meaning teams operated by other tour companies) are brought to life, including guides, Sherpas (ethnic Tibetans who are used to the altitude and traditionally see it as their job to protect the mountain), and paying climbers. One of the people on Krakauer's team, a doctor named Beck Weathers, was left for dead by his team, but later made it down the mountain alive (although not entirely well - he required a number of amputations, including his nose, which was rebuilt).

It is one of those stories that you wouldn't believe if it weren't true, and it's full of heart and heartache, and definitely a cool way to spend a hot summer's day.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

First-person mountaineering accounts are gripping and powerful. By the time this book came out, I had already discovered the books of Chris Bonington, Greg Child, Julie Tullis, and many others. Here's hoping this book will lead readers to those books, in addition to being such a strong book itself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the additional recommendations, Jenn!