by Jon Krakauer
Villard Books, 1997
In 1996 Jon Krakauer, on assignment with Outside magazine, joined an expedition led by experienced climbing guide Rob Hall, a New Zealander, to summit Mt. Everest. Krakauer’s assignment was to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain. Novice climbers were paying sums greater than the annual income of many Americans to be led to Everest’s summit. Most would fail to reach it.
Hall’s expedition in May 1996 joined with another led by Scott Fischer, an American. Krakauer succeeded in reaching the summit, but during his descent the weather turned foul, and the two expeditions turned into disaster. Both Hall and Fischer perished, along with several clients. Beck Weathers, another client, survived, and his story borders on miraculous.
There is a controversy surrounding Krakauer’s account. He judges quite harshly the conduct of Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian guide employed to assist with Fischer’s expedition. Others, meanwhile, consider Boukreev a hero who risked his own safety to save the lives of others. The irony is that the truth may never be known. Everyone present on the summit at that time, including Krakauer, suffered from exhaustion, hypoxia, dehydration, hypothermia – or all of the above. No one present was clear-headed enough or in any condition to see the whole picture objectively. (Boukreev died in an avalanche in the Himalayas several years later.)
All of that said, Into Thin Air is a gripping story, brilliantly told by Jon Krakauer, whose talent for writing is truly impressive. For me, the Boukreev controversy serves to illustrate how elusive “truth” can sometimes be.