Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer

  Praise for Jon Krakauer’s


  “A book that offers readers the emotional immediacy of a survivor’s testament as well as the precision, detail, and quest for accuracy of a great piece of journalism.… It is impossible to read this book unmoved.”


  “Brilliant, haunting.… This is an angry book, made even more so by the fact that hardly anyone seems to have learned a thing from the tragedy.”


  “Every bit as absorbing and unnerving as his bestseller, Into the Wild.”


  “A searing book.”


  “Krakauer is an extremely gifted storyteller as well as a relentlessly honest and even-handed journalist, the story is riveting and wonderfully complex in its own right, and Krakauer makes one excellent decision after another about how to tell it.… To call the book an adventure saga seems not to recognize that it is also a deeply thoughtful and finely wrought philosophical examination of the self.”


  “Krakauer introduces the many players until they feel familiar, then leads the reader with them up the mountain and into the so-called ‘Death Zone’ above 25,000 feet.”


  “Time collapses as, minute-by-minute, Krakauer rivetingly and movingly chronicles what ensued, much of which is near agony to read.… A brilliantly told story.”


  “[Krakauer] proves as sure-footed in prose as he was on the mountain … quietly building the suspense as we follow the ill-fated expedition through its preparation and shakedown forays, and then delivering a lucid, blow-by-blow account of the cataclysmic storm and the death and agony following in its wake.”


  “Into Thin Air reads like a fine novel—the main characters breathe their way through a plot so commanding, the book is hard to put down.”


  “Make room on your shelf for mountaineering classics.… Krakauer’s grip on your emotions will leave you gasping for breath.”


  “[A] riveting account of events leading to the death of guides Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, assistant Andy Harris and two clients.”


  “[A] gripping analysis of the tragedy.”


  “Into Thin Air is the … intense, taut, driving account of what happened. It is an engrossing book, difficult for the reader to put down … superbly reported.”


  “Astounding … honest … eloquent.… Through objective and thorough research and in sparkling prose, Krakauer tells a story that arouses fury, disgust, admiration and tears.”


  “Meticulously researched and exceptionally well-written, Into Thin Air avoids the hype and easy condemnation that have infested other accounts. The book offers instead vivid details told matter-of-factly, almost quietly. The result is a deeply moving narrative that honors the courage of the people on the mountain while raising profound and possibly unanswerable questions about human behavior in a crisis.”


  “Jon Krakauer offers fresh insights into the tragedy in his superb Into Thin Air, in which he adroitly sifts through the misunderstandings, miscalculations and misguided zeal that led his fellow climbers to their doom. His new book is, on every level, a worthy successor to his outstanding Into the Wild.”


  “A taut, harrowing narrative of the most lethal season in Everest’s history … Krakauer offers a disturbing look at how technology, publicity, and commercialism have changed mountaineering.”


  “Just as he did in his previous book, the acclaimed Into the Wild, Krakauer employs exhaustive reporting, attention to detail, and a crisp, unpretentious writing style to shape the story.”


  “The intensity of the tragedy is haunting, and Krakauer’s graphic writing drives it home.”


  “[Krakauer] has produced a narrative that is both meticulously researched and deftly constructed.… His story rushes irresistibly forward.”


  “Though it comes from the genre named for what it isn’t (nonfiction), this has the feel of literature: Krakauer is Ishmael, the narrator who lives to tell the story but is forever trapped within it.… Krakauer’s reporting is steady but ferocious. The clink of ice in a glass, a poem of winter snow, will never sound the same.”


  “Every once in a while a work of nonfiction comes along that’s as good as anything a novelist could make up … Into Thin Air fits the bill.”


  “Deeply upsetting, genuinely nightmarish.… Krakauer writes indelibly.… He’s brilliant.… His story contains what must be one of the essences of hell: the unceasing potential for things to become worse than you fear.”


  “Into Thin Air is a remarkable work of reportage and self-examination.… And no book on the 1996 disaster is likely to consider so honestly the mistakes that killed his colleagues.”


  “Jon Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport, while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind.”






  Eiger Dreams

  Into the Wild

  Under the Banner of Heaven



  Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Where Men Win Glory, and is the editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.

  Anchor Books Mass-Market Edition, August 2009

  Copyright © 1997 by Jon Krakauer

  Map copyright © 1997 by Anita Karl

  Postscript copyright © 1999 by Jon Krakauer

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Villard Books in 1997. The Anchor Books edition is published by arrangement with Villard Books.

  Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Portions of this work were originally published in Outside.

  Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

  Krakauer, Jon.

  Into thin air: a personal account of the Mount Everest

  Disaster/Jon Krakauer.—1st Anchor Books ed.

  p. cm.

  Originally published: New York: Villard, c1997.

  1. Mountaineering accidents—Everest, Mount (China and Nepal).

  2. Mount Everest Expedition (1996). 3. Krakauer, Jon. I. Title.

  [GV199.44.E85K725 1998]

  796.52′2′092—dc21 97-42880

  eISBN: 978-0-679-46271-2

; v3.1_r1

  For Linda;

  and in memory of Andy Harris, Doug Hansen,

  Rob Hall, Yasuko Namba, Scott Fischer, Ngawang

  Topche Sherpa, Chen Yu-Nan, Bruce Herrod,

  Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa, and Anatoli Boukreev



  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author

  Title Page






  Chapter One - Everest Summit: May 10, 1996 • 29,028 Feet

  Chapter Two - Dehra Dun, India: 1852 • 2,234 Feet

  Chapter Three - Over Northern India: March 29, 1996 • 30,000 Feet

  Chapter Four - Phakding: March 31, 1996 • 9,186 Feet

  Chapter Five - Lobuje: April 8, 1996 • 16,200 Feet

  Chapter Six - Everest Base Camp: April 12, 1996 • 17,600 Feet

  Chapter Seven - Camp One: April 13, 1996 • 19,500 Feet

  Chapter Eight - Camp One: April 16, 1996 • 19,500 Feet

  Chapter Nine - Camp Two: April 28, 1996 • 21,300 Feet

  Chapter Ten - Lhotse Face: April 29, 1996 • 23,400 Feet

  Chapter Eleven - Base Camp: May 6, 1996 • 17,600 Feet

  Chapter Twelve - Camp Three: May 9, 1996 • 24,000 Feet

  Chapter Thirteen - Southeast Ridge: May 10, 1996 • 27,600 Feet

  Chapter Fourteen - Summit: 1:12 P.M., May 10, 1996 • 29,028 Feet

  Chapter Fifteen - Summit: 1:25 P.M., May 10, 1996 • 29,028 Feet

  Chapter Sixteen - South Col: 6:00 A.M., May 11, 1996 • 26,000 Feet

  Chapter Seventeen - Summit: 3:40 P.M., May 10, 1996 • 29,028 Feet

  Chapter Eighteen - Northeast Ridge: May 10, 1996 • 28,550 Feet

  Chapter Nineteen - South Col: 7:30 A.M., May 11, 1996 • 26,000 Feet

  Chapter Twenty - The Geneva Spür: 9:45 A.M., May 12, 1996 • 25,900 Feet

  Chapter Twenty-One - Everest Base Camp: May 13, 1996 • 17,600 Feet

  Epilogue - Seattle: November 29, 1996 • 270 Feet

  Author’s Note


  Selected Bibliography


  Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in

  the reality of the tragedy which is actually being

  staged in the civilised world.

  —José Ortega y Gasset


  In March 1996, Outside magazine sent me to Nepal to participate in, and write about, a guided ascent of Mount Everest. I went as one of eight clients on an expedition led by a well-known guide from New Zealand named Rob Hall. On May 10 I arrived on top of the mountain, but the summit came at a terrible cost.

  Among my five teammates who reached the top, four, including Hall, perished in a rogue storm that blew in without warning while we were still high on the peak. By the time I’d descended to Base Camp nine climbers from four expeditions were dead, and three more lives would be lost before the month was out.

  The expedition left me badly shaken, and the article was difficult to write. Nevertheless, five weeks after I returned from Nepal I delivered a manuscript to Outside, and it was published in the September issue of the magazine. Upon its completion I attempted to put Everest out of my mind and get on with my life, but that turned out to be impossible. Through a fog of messy emotions, I continued trying to make sense of what had happened up there, and I obsessively mulled the circumstances of my companions’ deaths.

  The Outside piece was as accurate as I could make it under the circumstances, but my deadline had been unforgiving, the sequence of events had been frustratingly complex, and the memories of the survivors had been badly distorted by exhaustion, oxygen depletion, and shock. At one point during my research I asked three other people to recount an incident all four of us had witnessed high on the mountain, and none of us could agree on such crucial facts as the time, what had been said, or even who had been present. Within days after the Outside article went to press, I discovered that a few of the details I’d reported were in error. Most were minor inaccuracies of the sort that inevitably creep into works of deadline journalism, but one of my blunders was in no sense minor, and it had a devastating impact on the friends and family of one of the victims.

  Only slightly less disconcerting than the article’s factual errors was the material that necessarily had to be omitted for lack of space. Mark Bryant, the editor of Outside, and Larry Burke, the publisher, had given me an extraordinary amount of room to tell the story: they ran the piece at 17,000 words—four or five times as long as a typical magazine feature. Even so, I felt that it was much too abbreviated to do justice to the tragedy. The Everest climb had rocked my life to its core, and it became desperately important for me to record the events in complete detail, unconstrained by a limited number of column inches. This book is the fruit of that compulsion.

  The staggering unreliability of the human mind at high altitude made the research problematic. To avoid relying excessively on my own perceptions, I interviewed most of the protagonists at great length and on multiple occasions. When possible I also corroborated details with radio logs maintained by people at Base Camp, where clear thought wasn’t in such short supply. Readers familiar with the Outside article may notice discrepancies between certain details (primarily matters of time) reported in the magazine and those reported in the book; the revisions reflect new information that has come to light since publication of the magazine piece.

  Several authors and editors I respect counseled me not to write the book as quickly as I did; they urged me to wait two or three years and put some distance between me and the expedition in order to gain some crucial perspective. Their advice was sounds, but in the end I ignored it—mostly because what happened on the mountain was gnawing my guts out. I thought that writing the book might purge Everest from my life.

  It hasn’t, of course. Moreover, I agree that readers are often poorly served when an author writes as an act of catharsis, as I have done here. But I hoped something would be gained by spilling my soul in the calamity’s immediate aftermath, in the roil and torment of the moment. I wanted my account to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty that seemed in danger of leaching away with the passage of time and the dissipation of anguish.

  Some of the same people who warned me against writing hastily had also cautioned me against going to Everest in the first place. There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

  The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time.

  Jon Krakauer


  November 1996


  Mount Everest Spring 1996*

  Adventure Consultants Guided Expedition

  Rob Hall New Zealand, leader and head guide

  Mike Groom Australia, guide

  Andy “Harold” Harris New Zealand, guide

  Helen Wilton New Zealand, Base Camp manager

  Dr. Caroline Mackenzie New Zealand, Base Camp doctor

  Ang Tshering Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp sirdar

  Ang Dorje Sherpa Nepal, climbing sirdar

  Lhakpa Chhiri Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Kami Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Tenzing Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Arita Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Ngawang Norbu Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Chuldum Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Chhongba Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp cook

  Pemba Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp Sherpa

  Tendi Sherpa Nepal, cook boy

  Doug Hansen USA, client

  Dr. Seab
orn Beck Weathers USA, client

  Yasuko Namba Japan, client

  Dr. Stuart Hutchison Canada, client

  Frank Fischbeck Hong Kong, client

  Lou Kasischke USA, client

  Dr. John Taske Australia, client

  Jon Krakauer USA, client and journalist

  Susan Allen Australia, trekker

  Nancy Hutchison Canada, trekker

  Mountain Madness Guided Expedition

  Scott Fischer USA, leader and head guide

  Anatoli Boukreev Russia, guide

  Neal Beidleman USA, guide

  Dr. Ingrid Hunt USA, Base Camp manager, team doctor

  Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa Nepal, climbing sirdar

  Ngima Kale Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp sirdar

  Ngawang Topche Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Tashi Tshering Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Ngawang Dorje Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Ngawang Sya Kya Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Ngawang Tendi Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Tendi Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  “Big” Pemba Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa

  Jeta Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp Sherpa

  Pemba Sherpa Nepal, Base Camp cook boy

  Sandy Hill Pittman USA, client and journalist

  Charlotte Fox USA, client

  Tim Madsen USA, client

  Pete Schoening USA, client

  Klev Schoening USA, client

  Lene Gammelgaard Denmark, client

  Martin Adams USA, client

  Dr. Dale Kruse USA, client

  Jane Bromet USA, journalist

  MacGillivray Freeman IMAX/IWERKS Expedition

  David Breashears USA, leader and film director

  Jamling Norgay Sherpa India, deputy leader and film talent