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Some people just do it all, you know? In Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer pulls double-duty: On one hand, he acts as our narrator and details the events of a fateful day with journalistic clarity; on the other hand, he's very involved in the proceedings, climbing Everest himself. And here we thought our older sisters were show-offs.
Though he doesn't want to admit it, Krakauer has always dreamed of reaching the top of Mount Everest. Remember: Originally, "the editors simply wanted [him] to remain in Base Camp and report the story" (2.44), but Krakauer convinces them to shell out the extra dough so he can have a shot at reaching the mountain's lofty summit. Even his wife's ardent protestations don't make him waver from this goal.
Despite his soft-and-chewy journalistic exterior, Krakauer is a wild man at heart. He was a die-hard mountaineer during his twenties and actually achieved some seriously impressive ascents, though he never reached altitudes as high as he does on Everest. Though he loved climbing, he gave it up to focus on the usual suspects: his wife, his career, and his health. So in a way, this climb represents a way for him to reconnect with those long-gone experiences: We see him becoming "wistful for the period in [his] own life when climbing was the most important thing imaginable" (3.7) after witnessing Andy Harris's passion for the sport.
So in one aspect, Krakauer is acting purely as a climber in this book. The dude is actually quite skilled and regularly leads the pack—he even helps the guides install rope lines to the mountain's summit. The one thing he does lack is experience at high altitudes. Although that might not seem like a big deal to inexperienced (or completely non-experienced) climbers like us, it's actually a really big deal. To put it simply, it's the difference between swimming in a pool and swimming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In reality, though, he's not just another climber—he's a card-carrying journalist. In a way, this is great because he's able to document the disaster like only a seasoned journalist could. In another way, however, his presence actually contributes to the disaster, however slightly: Weathers, for example, gets "the sense that having a reporter along put extra pressure on Rob Hall" (10.15). It's a question well worth considering, and we have to give Krakauer credit for even bringing it up.
That's not the only criticism that can be launched Krakauer's way, either. For example, he is largely absent from the rescue efforts, though, in his defense, the dude is more spaced out than a Grateful Dead fan after completing his own bone-breaking ascent. It's hard to blame him for that.
Krakauer's bigger failing actually relates to his journalistic account of the disaster. He makes some pretty significant errors in his initial retelling of the events for Outside Magazine, most notably falsely attributing the actions of another climber to Andy Harris. This incorrect information causes a great deal of pain among the surviving loved ones of those who died, and Fischer's sister rightly chews him out, saying "no amount of […] analyzing, criticizing, judging, or hypothesizing will bring the peace [he is] looking for" (E.15). Burn.
Although Krakauer feels guilty about this, he doesn't shy away from bringing up these issues in Into Thin Air. This is perhaps the most respectable part of the book. Although Krakauer is certainly not above calling out his fellow climbers for their parts in the disaster, he's also more than willing to investigate his own role in the proceedings. It'd be really easy for him to ignore these issues and whitewash his own role, so the guy deserves props for being so willing to expose himself to criticism. In fact, we'd be willing to argue that Krakauer only ends up finding his "peace" while writing the pages of Into Thin Air.