Study Guide

Andy Harris in Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer

Andy Harris

Andy Harris's death hits Jon Krakauer the hardest. In part, this is simply because the two men bond a great deal in the weeks leading up to their summit attempt. But there's something else going on here, too: Krakauer feels an immense amount of guilt for not doing more to save his friend's life.

The two men feel a kinship immediately. In many ways, Krakauer sees his younger self in Harris, as both men are "very similar in terms of physical ability and technical expertise" (14.17) and share an equally fiery passion for mountaineering. Plus, Harris hasn't been to Everest before, either. Despite their friendship, however, there remains a notable distinction between the two men: Harris is the guide and Krakauer is the client.

This distinction leads to disaster atop Everest. Krakauer notices Harris acting irrationally but simply keeps climbing down, assuming that the guide knows what he's doing. Later, with the full benefit of hindsight, Krakauer is able to see clearly that his friend was suffering from oxygen deprivation—a condition that surely led to his death. Krakauer is haunted by this failure because he realizes that had they been "equal partners, it's inconceivable […] that [Krakauer] would have neglected to recognize his plight" (14.17). It's a major bummer for our author.

In the end, however, there's no way to say if Krakauer could have done more to save Harris. We could go over a million hypothetical scenarios, but the fact of the matter is that no one knew just how crazy things were about to get. With this in mind, the best way for Krakauer to honor Harris's memory is to keep living with that same passion that both men shared.

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