Praise for Jon Krakauer’s INTO THIN AIR
“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.”
—SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
“Every bit as absorbing and unnerving as his bestseller, Into the Wild.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES
“A searing book.” —OUTSIDE
“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.”
—SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“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.”
—THE NEW YORK OBSERVER
“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.”
—LOS ANGELES TIMES
“[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.” —THE TENNESSEAN
“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.”
—ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
“Astounding … honest … eloquent.… Through objective and thorough research and in sparkling prose, Krakauer tells a story that arouses fury, disgust, admiration and tears.”
—THE TIMES-PICAYUNE (NEW ORLEANS)
“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.”
—NASHVILLE BOOK PAGE
“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.”
—THE PLAIN DEALER
“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.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“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.”
—ACADEMY AWARD IN LITERATURE CITIATION FROM THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS
ALSO BY JON KRAKAUER
Iceland Eiger Dreams Into the Wild
Under the Banner of Heaven
JON KRAKAUER INTO THIN AIR
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
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
Cover Other Books by This Author About the Author Title Page Copyright Dedication Epigraph Map Introduction
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 Postscript Selected Bibliography Acknowledgments
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 Seattle November 1996
DRAMATIS PERSONAE 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. Seaborn 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 Ed Viesturs USA, climber and film talent Araceli Segarra Spain, climber and film talent Sumiyo Tsuzuki Japan, climber and film talent Robert Schauer Austria, climber and cinematographer Paula Barton Viesturs USA, Base Camp manager Audrey Salkeld U.K., journalist Liz Cohen USA, film production manager Liesl Clark USA, film producer and writer Wongchu Sherpa Nepal, sirdar Jangbu Sherpa Nepal, lead camera Sherpa
Taiwanese National Expedition
“Makalu” Gau Ming-Ho Taiwan, leader Chen Yu-Nan Taiwan, climber Kao Tien Tzu Taiwan, climber Chang Jung Chang Taiwan, climber
Hsieh Tzu Sheng Taiwan, climber Chhiring Sherpa Nepal, sirdar Kami Dorje Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Ngima Gombu Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Mingma Tshering Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Tenzing Nuri Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Dorje Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Pasang Tamang Nepal, climbing Sherpa Ki Kami Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa
Johannesburg Sunday Times Expedition
Ian Woodall U.K., leader Bruce Herrod U.K., deputy leader and photographer Cathy O’Dowd South Africa, climber Deshun Deysel South Africa, climber Edmund February South Africa, climber Andy de Klerk South Africa, climber Andy Hackland South Africa, climber Ken Woodall South Africa, climber Tierry Renard France, climber Ken Owen South Africa, journalist and trekker Philip Woodall U.K., Base Camp manager Alexandrine Gaudin France, administrative assistant Dr. Charlotte Noble South Africa, team doctor Ken Vernon Australia, journalist Richard Shorey South Africa, photographer
Patrick Conroy South Africa, radio journalist Ang Dorje Sherpa Nepal, climbing sirdar Pemba Tendi Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Jangbu Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Ang Babu Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Dawa Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa
Alpine Ascents International Guided Expedition
Todd Burleson USA, leader and guide Pete Athans USA, guide Jim Williams USA, guide Dr. Ken Kamler USA, client and team doctor Charles Corfield USA, client Becky Johnston USA, trekker and screenwriter
International Commercial Expedition
Mal Duff U.K., leader Mike Trueman Hong Kong, deputy leader Michael Burns U.K., Base Camp manager Dr. Henrik Jessen Hansen Denmark, expedition doctor Veikka Gustafsson Finland, climber Kim Sejberg Denmark, climber Ginge Fullen U.K., climber Jaakko Kurvinen Finland, climber Euan Duncan U.K., climber
Himalayan Guides Commercial Expedition
Henry Todd U.K., leader Mark Pfetzer USA, climber Ray Door USA, climber Michael Jorgensen Denmark, climber Brigitte Muir Australia, climber Paul Deegan U.K., climber Neil Laughton U.K., climber Graham Ratcliffe U.K., climber Thomas Sjögren Sweden, climber Tina Sjögren Sweden, climber Kami Nuru Sherpa Nepal, sirdar
Swedish Solo Expedition
Göran Kropp Sweden, climber Frederic Bloomquist Sweden, filmmaker
Ang Rita Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa and film crew member
Norwegian Solo Expedition
Petter Neby Norway, climber
New Zealand-Malaysian Guided Pumori Expedition
Guy Cotter New Zealand, leader and guide Dave Hiddleston New Zealand, guide Chris Jillet New Zealand, guide
American Commercial Pumori/Lhotse Expedition
Dan Mazur USA, leader Scott Darsney USA, climber and photographer Chantal Mauduit France, climber Stephen Koch USA, climber and snowboarder Brent Bishop USA, climber Jonathan Pratt U.K., climber Diane Taliaferro USA, climber Dave Sharman U.K., climber Tim Horvath USA, climber Dana Lynge USA, climber Martha Johnson USA, climber
Nepali Everest Cleaning Expedition
Sonam Gyalchhen Sherpa Nepal, leader
Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic (in Pheriche Village)
Dr. Jim Litch USA, staff doctor Dr. Larry Silver USA, staff doctor Dr. Cecile Bouvray France, staff doctor Laura Ziemer USA, assistant
Indo-Tibetan Border Police Everest Expedition (climbing from the Tibetan side of the mountain)
Mohindor Singh India, leader
Harbhajan Singh India, deputy leader and climber Tsewang Smanla India, climber Tsewang Paljor India, climber Dorje Morup India, climber Hira Ram India, climber Tashi Ram India, climber Sange Sherpa India, climbing Sherpa Nadra Sherpa India, climbing Sherpa Koshing Sherpa India, climbing Sherpa
Japanese-Fukuoka Everest Expedition (climbing from the Tibetan side of the mountain)
Koji Yada Japan, leader Hiroshi Hanada Japan, climber Eisuke Shigekawa Japan, climber Pasang Tshering Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Pasang Kami Sherpa Nepal, climbing Sherpa Any Gyalzen Nepal, climbing Sherpa
* Not everyone present on Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996 is listed.
EVEREST SUMMIT MAY 10, 1996 • 29,028 FEET
It would seem almost as though there were a cordon drawn round the upper part of these great peaks beyond which no man may go. The truth of course lies in the fact that, at altitudes of 25,000 feet and beyond, the effects of low atmospheric pressure upon the human body are so severe that really difficult mountaineering is impossible and the consequences even of a mild storm may be deadly, that nothing but the most perfect conditions of weather and snow offers the slightest chance of success, and that on the last lap of the climb no party is in a position to choose its day.…
No, it is not remarkable that Everest did not yield to the first few attempts; indeed, it would have been very surprising and not a little sad if it had, for that is not the way of great mountains. Perhaps we had become a little arrogant with our fine new technique of ice-claw and rubber slipper, our age of easy mechanical conquest. We had forgotten that the mountain still holds the master card, that it will grant success only in its own good time. Why else does mountaineering retain its deep fascination?
Eric Shipton, in 1938 Upon That Mountain
traddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet. I understood on some dim, detached level that the sweep of earth beneath my feet was a spectacular sight. I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care.
It was early in the afternoon of May 10, 1996. I hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours. The only food I’d been able to force down over the preceding three days was a bowl of ramen soup and a handful
of peanut M&Ms. Weeks of violent coughing had left me with two separated ribs that made ordinary breathing an excruciating trial. At 29,028 feet up in the troposphere, so little oxygen was reaching my brain that my mental capacity was that of a slow child. Under the circumstances, I was incapable of feeling much of anything except cold and tired.
I’d arrived on the summit a few minutes after Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian climbing guide working for an American commercial expedition, and just ahead of Andy Harris, a guide on the New Zealand–based team to which I belonged. Although I was only slightly acquainted with Boukreev, I’d come to know and like Harris well during the preceding six weeks. I snapped four quick photos of Harris and Boukreev striking summit poses, then turned and headed down. My watch read 1:17 P.M. All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.
A moment later, I paused to take another photo, this one looking down the Southeast Ridge, the route we had ascended. Training my lens on a pair of climbers approaching the summit, I noticed something that until that moment had escaped my attention. To the south, where the sky had been perfectly clear just an hour earlier, a blanket of clouds now hid Pumori, Ama Dablam, and the other lesser peaks surrounding Everest.
Later—after six bodies had been located, after a search for two others had been abandoned, after surgeons had amputated the gangrenous right hand of my teammate Beck Weathers—people would ask why, if the weather had begun to deteriorate, had climbers on the upper mountain not heeded the signs? Why did veteran Himalayan guides keep moving upward, ushering a gaggle of relatively inexperienced amateurs—each of whom had paid as much as $65,000 to be taken safely up Everest—into an apparent death trap?
Nobody can speak for the leaders of the two guided groups involved, because both men are dead. But I can attest that nothing I saw early on the afternoon of May 10 suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down. To my oxygen-depleted mind, the clouds drifting up the grand valley of ice known as the Western Cwm* looked innocuous, wispy, insubstantial. Gleaming in the brilliant midday sun, they appeared no different from the harmless puffs of
convection condensation that rose from the valley almost every afternoon.
As I began my descent I was extremely anxious, but my concern had little to do with the weather: a check of the gauge on my oxygen tank had revealed that it was almost empty. I needed to get down, fast.
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