Study Guide

Into Thin Air Mount Everest

By Jon Krakauer

Mount Everest

Mount Everest represents different things to different people. For some, it represents the greatest achievement that one can make. For others, like the Sherpa community who've lived in its shadow for countless generations, it represents something even bigger—a goddess.

In Sherpa culture, Mount Everest is also known as Sagarmāthā, the goddess of the sky. Pretty boss, right? To them, the mountain is sacred ground, and much debate rages over whether it was right to open up this holy land to outsiders in the first place—they even wonder if "the climbers […] had angered Everest" and "the deity had taken her revenge" (9.18) on them. Essentially, the Sherpas see Mount Everest as something to be treasured and protected.

Outsiders, on the other hand, have a different take. Most see Everest as a mission that must be accomplished—these are men like Beck Weathers, who applies the same drive that brought him success in his career as a doctor to mountaineering. While most (like Beck Weathers) certainly approach this task in a serious and sincere way, there are certainly some who merely want to "buy the summit of Everest for [their] trophy case" (10.7). In other words, instead of deference, many outsiders bring a sense of conquest with them.

This idea of claiming the mountain is an unthinkable concept to the Sherpa people. Although they love climbing as much as any American or Australian, they do so with respect and gratitude, rather than arrogance and entitlement. No matter your religious beliefs, that's an attitude every mountain-climber should share. And should you forget who's boss, Everest will be more than happy to remind you.

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