Study Guide

Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air Introduction

In a way, it's almost as if Jon Krakauer's life were always leading up to Into Thin Air.

After all, Krakauer had already established himself as a premiere journalist and non-fiction writer with the publication of Into the Wild. Thing is, Krakauer was more than just a writer: He was a former mountaineer, too. After spending his twenties obsessed with climbing, Krakauer eventually gave up his passion to focus on his family and career.

That is, until opportunity knocked on his door. In 1995, Krakauer was assigned to write a brief piece about Everest for Outside magazine. He was supposed to stay at Base Camp and report from there, but somehow, Krakauer convinced his editors to fork over the extra dough so he could really climb Everest, and a year later, he found himself at the base of the tallest mountain in the world. And because of this, we find ourselves with a book on our hands instead of simply an article.

Unfortunately, here's where things go wrong. Although the early days of the climb are all smooth sailing, the growing number of climbers on Everest (mostly inexperienced, we might add) makes a serious calamity all but inevitable. Still, it doesn't go down like anyone expects. Through an awful confluence of factors—aided by the freak appearance of a nasty snowstorm—Krakauer ends up witnessing one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history.

Though it sounds like a huge bummer of a story, Into Thin Air, which Krakauer published in 1997, is actually anything but. Yes, there are plenty of heartbreaking moments strewn throughout this real-life tale, but that's just part of the story. Though it depicts a deadly disaster, Into Thin Air at its core is an ode to the power of determination, community, and—most importantly—friendship. So take a deep breath and get going.

What is Into Thin Air About and Why Should I Care?

If you're anything like us, then the mere thought of climbing Mount Everest scares you more than an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. Seriously guys, it's hard to read a single page of this thing without feeling some minor vertigo. Even if mountaineering isn't your cup of tea, however, you can still gain a lot by reading Into Thin Air.

You have dreams and ambitions, right? Maybe you want to be the hottest rapper since Kendrick Lamar. Maybe you want to become a scientist with the power to change the world. Or maybe you're just really excited to binge-watch Empire during your next school vacation. No matter what you aspire to, we can all get tunnel-vision, keeping our eyes on the prize to the point where other things (like, say, bathing, eating regular meals, remembering to call our moms) can fall by the wayside.

In Into Thin Air, we witness countless people experience this very thing as their vision narrows to the point that their goal—the summit of Mount Everest—is all that they can see. And while keeping your eyes glued to the television for days on end might leave you with some serious B.O. and snarls in your hair, keeping your eyes glued to the peak of Everest is pretty freaking dangerous.

As you'll learn by reading the book, laser-like focus can hurt people in a number of ways. Even if your Empire marathon isn't quite as dangerous as Mount Everest, this is still something worth considering as you grow into the person you've always dreamed of becoming.

Into Thin Air Resources

Websites

An Interactive Tour of Everest
This website, created in part by David Breashears (who's featured in the book), gives an amazing perspective into life on Everest, no visit to the Death Zone required.

Adventure Consultants
This is the website for Rob Hall's mountain guiding company, which continues to lead clients to the summit of Everest to this day.

Movie or TV Productions

Everest (2015)
Okay, so this big budget adaptation of Into Thin Air might not exactly be accurate, but it sure makes up for it with CGI avalanches.

Everest Trailer
Don't believe us? Just check out this trailer and prepare for your brain to be melted.

Articles and Interviews

Something Happened
This piece, written by the editor who assigned Krakauer to the Everest article, provides some fascinating insight into the events.

An Interview with Jon Krakauer
This interview with Jon Krakauer touches on many of the more controversial aspects of Into Thin Air.

An Interview with Sandy Hill
In contrast, check out this interview with Sandy Hill (then known as Sandy Pittman), in which she offers a more critical viewpoint toward the book.

Video

Everest's Summit
Want to experience the feeling of standing atop Everest without leaving your house? Praise be to YouTube. Make some hot cocoa and travel from the safety of your couch.

Reinhold Messner on the Anatoli Boukreev Controversy
This fascinating chat with climbing legend Reinhold Messner covers the controversy over Boukreev's decision to forgo the use of bottled oxygen.

Audio

David Breashears on the 1996 Everest Disaster
In this chat with NPR, climber and director David Breashears gives his perspective on the disaster that unfolds in Into Thin Air.

David Breashears on the 2015 Everest Disaster
Here's another account from David Breashears. This time he's discussing the 2015 Everest disaster, which killed over twenty people.

Images

Mount Everest
Wow. That's pretty much all we can say about this one.

The South Col Route
This diagram roughly depicts the route that Krakauer and company took while ascending Mount Everest.