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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

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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, unbiased and honest narration of the fateful expedition.

This book review is written and submitted by Neelima.

0 18 September, 2009 Books September 18, 2009

6 comments

  1. Ashwin Baindur

    The whole business of why we climb – ‘because the mountains are there’ – no longer holds true today. People climb for fame, achievement, setting records, collecting records and because its the done thing!

    The pits were reached when a dying Indian mountaineer in arly 2000s was passed by some foreign climbers intent on materialising their desire and their ilm crew intent on recording it.

    Mountains are inhabited not only by trash but also dead bodies. Quite a few on each popular mountain.

    The Army Engineers Nandadevi expedition of 1993 (see my post “Sarson Patal”) brought back all the garbage it took and a ton more besides. They also cleaned all the campsites.

    Jon Krakeur’s book really exposed the commercialisation of Everest climbing as none before.

    Reply
    1. Neelima

      Exactly Ashwin! I was shocked while i was reading the book. I didn’t expect these sort of issues at all. Yes, i remember the thing about dead bodies too! It all added a creepy angle to the glorified mountaineering.

      Nepal Govt. has also conducted expeditions along with the tour operators to bring back some trash i believe.

      Reply
  2. Linda J LeBlanc

    To see the story from the other side–that of the Sherpa porters who make reaching the summit possible, read Beyond the Summit by Linda LeBlanc.
    Sherpas are the true heroes of Everest. Without their assistance, very few would reach the summit. Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

    Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to http://www.beyondthesummit-novel.com

    Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

    Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
    Richard Blake for Readers Views.

    A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest. EverestNews.com

    A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

    LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

    LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

    A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there. USABookNews.com

    This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
    – John (college professor)

    Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialog. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

    This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

    Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
    By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

    Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders, amazon.com, Chesslerbooks.com, and the web site

    Reply

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