Current Date: 5 October, 2022
Into Thin Air

Book 4 d week : Into thin air

Author : Jon Krakauer

If you are of Blood group M (for Mountain) as Makalu Gau says this one is for you. Written by the author of the brilliant ‘Into the Wild’, this book summarizes the 1996 Everest disaster. Jon Krakauer was part of Rob Hall and Gary Ball’s ‘Adventure Consultants’ and were ascending the Mt Everest almost simultaneously with Scott Fischer’s group ‘Mountain Madness’. This book details out the trauma that one goes through as an Everest climber. In his own words “Until I visited the Himalaya, however, I’d never actually seen death at close range. Hell, before I went to Everest, I’d never even been to a funeral. Mortality had remained a conveniently hypothetical concept, an idea to ponder in the abstract”. Jon Krakauer was to go as a reporter to do a story about the commercialization of Everest. Instead he let his childhood dreams take over and prepared for over a year to be part of the expedition. He feels the safety of clients had been sacrificed to make sure they were one up on their competitor. As the veteran American guide Peter Lev told ‘Climbing’ mag after the disastrous events on Everest “We think that people pay us to make good decisions, but what people really pay for is to get to the top”. For experts like George Leigh Mallory the Everest might be something to climb “because it is there” but plain logic would suggest otherwise. Climbing the Third Pole (South Pole, North Pole and then the Everest) is a real test of strength and character.

“He turned his attention to Beck who lay twenty feet away. Beck’s head was also caked with a thick armor of frost. Balls of ice the size of grapes were matted to his hair and eyelids. After clearing the frozen detrirus from Beck’s face, Hutchison discovered that the Texan was still alive, too “Beck was mumbling something, I think, but I could tell what he was trying to say. His right glove was missing and he had terrible frostbite. I tried to get him to sit up but he couldn’t. He was as close to death as a person can be and still be breathing”.

And left to die Beck Weathers amazingly survived and got back to safety.

There are couple of points I would be unsure on the accuracy, one being Jon Krakauer’s version on Andy Harris death and the other being his questioning the integrity of a seasoned climber and guide, Anatoli Boukreev on whose team incidently there were fewer casulaties. Boukreev’s rejoinder in the ‘Outside’ magazine where ‘Into thin air’ first appeared and his version of the facts as written by De Walt as ‘The Climb’ should be interesting read in the context. So also Beck weather’s ‘Left for Dead’ and Robert Birkby’s ‘Mountain Madness’ – biography of Scott Fischer. makalu Gau’s ‘Prayer Flags’ should be interesting read as well as he refutes Jon Krakauer claim that he gave an interview which Krakauer refers to in ‘Into thin air’.

After the article about the disaster in which 8 people were killed was published in the ‘Outside’ mag one of the letters Jon Krakauer got from a lawyer was particularly nasty and maybe rightly so. All I can say is that I agree with Mr.Krakauer when he said  “My actions – or failure to act – playesd a direct role in the death of Andy Harris”. I also agree with him when he says “He was a mere 350 yards away, lying inside a tent, doing absolutely nothing…” I don’t know how he can live with himself.

Krakauer seems to have already bailed himself out of this in his book with an incident he quotes – “We didn’t know them. no, we didn’t give them any water. We didn’t talk to them. They had severe high-altitude sickness. They looked as if they were dangerous”. Shikegawa explained “We were too tired to help. Above 8000meters is not a place where people can afford morality”.

Also a letter from Scott Fischer’s sister and a Sherpa orphan’s letter are scathing and Jon Krakauer did well to include it in his book. The book exposed me to various facts* about mountaineering and about the Everest in particular.

Useless trivia : The highest peaks on each of the continents are Mt Everest 29028ft Asia, Aconagua 22834ft South America, Mckinley or Denali 20320ft North America, Kilimanjaro 19340ft Africa, Elbrus 18510ft Europe, Vinson Massif 16067ft Antartica, Koscuisko 7316ft Australia. Dick Bass was the first to climb all seven. Patrick Morrow claimed he was the first to climb all seven summits because the highest point in Oceania, the group of islands that includes Australia, is not Koscuisko but the much more difficult summit of Carstenz Pyramid 16535ft in the Indonesian province of Irian Barat.

The highest peak in South India at 8842ft is Anamudi in Idukki District. I have almost got to the top of that one. The highest peak in Coorg at 5742ft is Tadiyandamol. That done I am all set for the next J.

The kind of books I am reading and the movies I am watching are sure dangerous in my current frame of mind. Any of you out there with Blood Group M?

Also remember watching, a roadside screening on a cloth screen, a movie on K2, Kanchenjunga during my childhood days in Sanjaynagar, Bangalore. Those were the days.

* Western cwm / koom  : Welsh term for valley.

Hillary Step : The last and most dangerous point to negotiate before reaching the summit.

Radhanath Sikhdar 1st to put Mt Everest at 29002ft the highest.

To Tibetans Jomolungma : mother of the world, Nepalis : Deva dhunga or seat of god, Sagarmatha : Goddess of the sky.

Dzopkyo, dzom, naks :  Cross between Yaks n cattle.

Sherpa is not a written language.

Belay : a climbing term that denotes the act of securing a rope safeguard ones companions as they climb.

Gamow bag : an inflatable plastic chamber about the size of a coffin in which the atmospheric pressure is increased to simulate a lower altitude.

HACE : High Altitude Cerebral Edema.

HAPE : High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.

Jumar : also known as a mechanical ascender is a wallet sized device that grips the ropes by a metal cam. The cam allows the Jumar to slide upward without hindrance, but it pinches the rope securely when the device is weighted. Essentially ratcheting himself upward, a climber thereby ascends the rope.

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first to ascend Mt Everest without artificial Oxygen “by fair means” as they called it.

Carotid pulse : The last pulse you lose before you die.

Devout Buddhists believe in ‘Sonam’ – an accounting of righteous deeds that, when large enough, enables one to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth and transcend forever the world of pain and suffering.


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