Into Thin Air

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I have just finished reading “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer and I must say it is one of the profound books I have read. This is my first tryst with non-fiction and boy! It hits hard. The author recounts his disastrous experience about his journey to the roof of the world and back in 1996 in this book.During May 1996, five expeditions ventured to conquer the Everest summit but ended up losing much more than they had bargained for. It was the ill-fated climb that led to the sad demise of 12 climbers in a single season – worst tragedy Everest has ever seen. Although all seemed fine the day the summit assault was launched, unpredictable forces of nature sneaked upon oblivious climbers leading to a ferocious struggle for life at oxygen-deprived dizzying altitudes of 26000 feet and above. 

Jon Krakauer’s masterly account succeeds in bringing up the harsh realities and the inherent risks of mountaineering. I have come to realize that state of mind and clarity of thought is just as important as physical fitness. At mind numbing heights (literally – due to oxygen deprivation), taking the right decision at the right moment saves one’s life as it happened on the ill-fated day. The author raises many issues regarding the Everest Expeditions which I thought never existed.

The dangerous commercialization of the “conquest to the roof of the world” is a case in point. Anybody who is able to afford the outrageous fee and has a death wish can end up on Everest as it seems. Commercial expeditions charging an enormous fee in return for a supposedly sure shot climb to the summit and back are aplenty! For a moment I believed even I could climb Everest with no prior experience whatsoever. In the face of adversity, saving one’s ass itself is a big deal. Let alone bring a group of amateur climbers to safety! 

One of the other issues raised by the author was trash on Mount Everest! Now who would’ve thought about that. The highest place on earth, I assumed would be as pristine as nature gets but so is not the case. Apparently 50 tons of non-biodegradable trash was abandoned on Everest between 1950 and 1990’s. The trash would consist of used oxygen canisters which are a burden to carry down and camping stuff for most parts. 

Into Thin Air being a personal account of the disaster also manages to take us through the emotional pandemonium that ensued during the expedition. Guilt ridden survivors trying to face their demons, the plight of those unfortunate ones counting their last moments on the mountain or the unyielding Sherpas in pursuit of the lost ones, all these experiences come to life with spine-chilling tenacity. Having said that, Into Thin Air is a gripping narration of the fateful expedition with an unbiased and honest point of view. 

Here are some interesting quotes I liked from the book. 

“But boyhood dreams die hard, I discovered, and good sense be damned” 

“But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find out what I really sought was something I had left behind” – Thomas F. Hornbein *

“Mortality had remained a conveniently hypothetical concept, an idea to ponder in the abstract”

“Wisdom comes easily after the fact”

“Climbers, as a species, are simply not distinguished by an excess of prudence”

*The author uses quotes from other authors in his book. 
picture courtesy : 

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  1. hey nice blog here. Krakauer's book is indeed very well written and is full of information.

  2. trash is becoming an issue in almost every tourist place. most people dont have 2nd thoughts throwing trash away as soon as they start panting ... i can imagine how it will be when u cant breath :)

    as a side note, have u watched vertical limit? K2 ascend is supposedly far more trecherous than climbing everest

  3. @Arun - Thanks. :) am waiting to get my hands on "Into the wild" one of these days and also maybe "Iceland: Land of Sagas"

    @Sandeep - trash is always a problem but i never expected so much pollution on Everest least of all! I have seen Vertical Limit. :)

    Everest is not the toughest climb among the eight thousanders but as fate would have it, even Everest claimed so many lives that day. That's the worst part of mountaineering maybe. You never know what would strike!

  4. wow!!
    grt bolg thr!!
    its as if u have experienced it first hand :P

  5. Hi,
    I came across your blog when I was searching for pictures of tambdi surla waterfalls.

    I would like to read the book "Into thin air" .. where can i get it ..
    I stay and work in pune so if i can order online or by phone it would be good


  6. @ Vivekanand - you can try either (from where i ordered the book online) or

  7. I WONDER WHERE I COULD FIND QUOTES FROM KRAKAUR ABOUT HIS 'SENSE OF SURVIVOR GUILT' why he couldn't save any dying climbers when he could've done so.

  8. @ Anonymous - Jon Krakauer's survivor guilt was heightened mostly due to the wrong information he had passed about his friend Andy Harold. He thought he talked to Andy just before the campsite on summit day and Andy made it safely to the tents when infact he was missing. So the next day during his recon, he saw a crampon clinging near the ice fall and assumed Andy might have dropped off the cliff. Later he finds out it was not Andy at all that he talked to on that day and he had no idea what happened to Andy while he had been telling everyone for the last two months that he had talked to Andy the day before he went missing.

  9. I got a copy of this book from a friend. The storyline is very nice.

  10. Loved reading the posts on your blog. You are a true travel freak!

    "Into the wild" is one of my favorite books. Did you get your copy?

    And since you like mountaineering stuff, have you watched these movies?
    - Touching the void (based on a real life event)
    - K2 (1 out of every 4 who attempt K2 don't return.. this movie is worth a watch for the climbing scenes)
    - Vertical limit (already mentioned by Sandeep above)

  11. ## Prem Sagar - Hey, glad you enjoyed my posts. :)

    I used to read a lot.. that is before all the travel frenzy. Nowadays I hardly find time to read.. I do have the copy of "Into the wild" but I am saving it up for a nice peaceful afternoon. Saw the movie though.. :)

    And I have seen vertical limit but not the other two.. Will try and get them soon!
    Keep visiting.

  12. hey! you'd want to follow up "Into Thin air" with "No way down", tragic tale on the K2.
    Unlike ..thin air, it is not a first hand account, but the book keeps you glued and leaves you teary eyed and a wrenched heart.

  13. This story is very nice
    thanks for post

  14. Wisdom comes easily after the fact - great quote


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