Unputdownable. That’s what Into Thin Air is.
Jon Krakauer, a journalist turned mountaineer on a journey of his life, experiences the glory of summitting the highest peak on Earth. And this glory doesn’t come without witnessing the harsher side of high altitude climbing.
This book spawned from an Outlook article published in 1996, which was an assignment Jon Krakauer, the author undertook in the same year. The assignment was to provide insights into guided expeditions of Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest). Jon was a part of the expedition and he lucidly narrates his experience of climbing with amateur but passionate climbers.
Most of them made it to the top but unfortunately, not all of them could get down alive from the mountain. As many as 12 people died in the expedition.
One of the survivors, Jon, tries to relive the storm and its aftermath through this book and struggles to answer those questions, which were asked from him and his team-members as they came back from the regrettable disaster.
The author, who went to explore the world of commercialized ascents to Everest, was invited by Rob Hall, who was one of the leading guided tour operators, to climb the mountain with his team. A team of amateur climbers had gathered there to reach atop the roof of earth, some of them with practically no first-hand experience of high altitude climbing.
What started as a difficult and unpleasant experience at the base camp gradually became a great bonding exercise by the time members of the guided tour complete their acclimatization up and down the mountain. The rules were laid down for the climbers and above all the most important rule was to get back alive, even if that meant turning back 100 feet from the summit.
With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill. The trick is to get back down alive.
Unfortunately, most of Rob’s team members couldn’t come back alive, including Rob Hall himself because the most important rule was forgotten.
The storm that hit the expedition was unforeseen and once the amateur climbers were caught off guard by the mountain, they just couldn’t fight it back. Jon who survived the storm saw many of his team members giving it up in front of his eyes.
The survival stories that followed after the storm are gut wrenching and so are the stories of lost lives.
Jon, the journalistic climber just doesn’t focuses on his personal triumph but takes into account the holistic perspective. The errors in judgment(s) and the pressure of guiding a successful trip to the top have been discussed on many occasions.
The only thing which I didn’t like about this book was putting the blame on the legendary Russian climber Boukreev. Anatoli Boukreev, a member of Mountain Madness Expedition, was heavily criticized by Jon not just in this book but even in the movie adaptation of the book. The mountaineering fraternity have held conflicting views about Boukreev’s role and Jon’s criticism of his actions on the mountain that night.
To address all this criticism and present his side, Boukreev has written his understanding of events that unveiled that night in a book named The Climb.
A USD 65,000 trip to the top of the world comes with immense pressure and probably that’s what lead to so many errors on the part of clients as well as organizers.
It has been said about the book that it was just not possible to remember the details and chronology of events when the author himself was caught in the storm atop the mountain. Interestingly, the author has not only put his memories into this book but he has also interviewed the other team members who survived along with the sherpas who were the part of the rescue operations. Although he forgot to mention Boukreev’s story which would have made it even clearer to understand what actually conspired on that fateful night.
It took him nine months to write this book, which was completed despite Jon’s friends and fellow climbers’ repeated advice of staying away from the trauma. The book is not written by a climber who survived the horrible storm but it has been put forward as a brilliant work of journalistic research.
Into Thin Air is one of those books that need no second sitting. Just once is enough.
Unputdownable in every sense.