Study Guide

Into Thin Air Ambition

By Jon Krakauer

Ambition

Fischer made a number of impressive ascents that earned him a modicum of local renown, but celebrity in the world of the climbing community eluded him. (5.39)

Scott Fischer has got to be one of the most ambitious dudes on the planet. The guy isn't content with being just another climber in the pack—he wants to be the leader of that pack. Though this ambition serves him well for the bulk of his career, it ends up hindering him during the events of Into Thin Air.

I accepted the assignment because I was in the grip of the Everest mystique. In truth, I wanted to climb the mountain as badly as I'd ever wanted anything in my life. (6.45)

Jon Krakauer is ambitious, too, he's just better at hiding it. The dude has been obsessed with Everest since he was a little kid, so he's not going to let an opportunity like this pass him by. That would be like telling super-nerds like us that we could be Avengers for a day. Sigh. We can dream can't we?

When it came time for each of us to asses our own abilities […] it sometimes seemed as though half the population at Base Camp was clinically delusional. (7.6)

Sometimes ambition isn't a good thing, however. Most of the climbers on Everest have oodles more ambition than technical climbing skills, which may end up biting them in the butt in the end. After all, how much is that ambition going to be worth when things start going wrong?

As the junior guide on Hall's team […] Andy was eager to prove himself to his seasoned colleagues. (11.6)

And then there's the estimable Mr. Harris. Given his lack of experience relative to his peers, Andy Harris wants to show the world that he's as skilled as Hall or Fischer. Talk about setting your sights high, kid.

Doug […] spent the entire previous year agonizing over the fact that he'd gotten to within three hundred feet of the summit and had to turn around. (12.16)

Doug Hansen's story is perhaps the most heartbreaking. After coming so close to reaching a goal that has eluded him his entire life, Hansen is now laser-focused on reaching Everest's summit. We're sure that the support he's receiving from a local elementary school makes him want to reach that goal even more.

Lopsang insisted […] that […] he was hauling Pittman […] "because Scott wants all members to go to summit, and I am thinking Sandy will be weakest member." (12.43)

Lopsang's heart is certainly in the right place. Realizing that Pittman's wealth and fame make her the perfect advocate for Fischer's company, Lopsang makes it his personal mission to get her to the summit. After all, successfully doing so could earn them lucrative sponsorship deals and press coverage that could transform their business overnight.

"From the time we arrived at the South Col," says John Taske […] "Yasuko was totally focused on the top—it was almost like she was in a trance." (13.16)

Yasuko has already reached the top of six of the "Seven Summits," which are the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. This drive seems to carry over to her regular life, as well: When she's not climbing mountains, Yasuko is wheeling and dealing as a high-powered business lady.

Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to […] keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. (13.22)

On one hand, ambition is an important part of being a mountain-climber—after all, if you weren't ambitious, you'd still be at home on your couch. On the other hand, you must be able to keep that ambition in check when needed, as it often becomes an issue of life or death. Now that we think about, after reading Into Thin Air, we're perfectly content sitting here on our nice, plush couch.

Hall was profoundly disappointed that five of his eight clients had packed it in—a sentiment […] heightened by the fact that Fischer's entire crew appeared to be plugging toward the summit. (14.9)

The competition between Hall and Fischer is a strong undercurrent throughout the book. While both men respect each other—and have even climbed together in the past—each also wants to be known as the greatest guide on Everest. As the young upstart, Fischer is eager to make his mark in the flashiest way possible, while the more experienced Hall is just holding on for dear life.

Hubris probably had something to do with it. Hall had become so adept at running climbers of all abilities up and down Everest that he got a little cocky, perhaps. (21.21)

First off, it would be silly to blame Hall for the Everest disaster—this thing was just a freak occurrence caused by a whole host of varied factors. That being said, it seems clear that Hall and Fischer became a little too focused on growing their companies, rather than keeping their clients safe.

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