Study Guide

Into Thin Air Mortality

By Jon Krakauer

Mortality

Because the climbing route wove under […] hundreds of these unstable towers, each trip through the Icefall was a little like playing a round of Russian roulette. (6.12)

So why exactly are people paying tens of thousands of dollars for this? Climbing Everest is like being chased through a minefield by a pack of robotic Velociraptors—you'll be lucky if you walk away in one piece. Not that we're writing a novel about robotic Velociraptors in our spare time or anything.

"Saying good-bye to you was one of the saddest things I've ever done. I guess I knew on some level that you might not be coming back, and it seemed like such a waste." (6.40)

That's some heavy stuff, Shmoop-dudes. Although Krakauer is so laser-focused on reaching the summit that he can't see anything else, his wife is able to see the mountain for what it really is: a gigantic deathtrap. Unaffected by the mountain's allure, Linda seems more aware than most of its potential dangers.

"With so many incompetent people on the mountain […] I think it's pretty unlikely that we'll get through this season without something bad happening up high." (7.49)

Yikes. At times, it seems so obvious that a major disaster is going to happen; in fact, the sheer number of people on the mountain makes a few deaths statistically inevitable. You might think that this would make folks hesitant, but the truth is that it only makes them buckle their boots and clip in their crampons even faster.

The first body had left me badly shaken for several hours; the shock of encountering the second wore off almost immediately. (8.17)

Although Krakauer has never been up-close-and-personal with death before, it only takes him about an hour to become numb to the horrors of mortality. This numbness turns out to be a useful tool on Everest, where meeting death face-to-face is just another day at the office.

Most of us were simply wrapped too tightly in the grip of summit fever to engage in thoughtful reflection about the death of someone in our midst. (11.46)

These words come soon after the sudden death of Chen Yu-Nan, who was on the Taiwanese Team. Even Gau, the team leader, doesn't pay much mind to the news; he basically shrugs his shoulders and keeps climbing. Everyone is still too focused on the prize to worry about its cost.

Upon hearing from Madsen that Yasuko hadn't made it, Beidleman broke down in his tent and wept for forty-five minutes. (15.65)

Beidleman is a different story. After the storm hits, Beidleman is left in charge of a fairly large group of clients, holding their very lives in his hands. So you can understand the immense grief—and guilt—he feels after learning that poor Yasuko Namba has breathed her last.

"I know I sound like the bastard for telling Rob to abandon his client," confessed Cotter, "but by then it was obvious that leaving Doug was his only choice." (17.28)

No matter how many people try to convince Hall to leave Hansen for dead, Hall refuses. That's probably why the guy made such a stellar guide. On a mountain filled with people numbed to the realities of death, Hall is willing to put his life on the line just to give his friend a fighting chance.

Confronted with this tally, my mind balked and retreated into a weird, almost robotic state of detachment. I felt emotionally anesthetized yet hyperaware. (19.4)

Krakauer, on the other hand, can't handle his brushes with death. The dude's a journalist, after all; he's never been through anything like this before. Although his initial instinct is to withdraw from the world, he eventually manages to deal with his trauma—by writing this book, in fact.

I cried for my lost companions, I cried because I was grateful to be alive, I cried because I felt terrible for having survived while other had died (21.3)

Krakauer will never stop second-guessing the decisions he made that fateful way. Could he have saved Andy Harris's life? Could he have assisted in the rescue of Yasuko Namba? In the end, though, these questions are meaningless—there's no way he could've known just how bad things were about to get.

Until I visited the Himalayas, however, I'd never actually seen death at close range. Hell, before I went to Everest, I'd never even been to a funeral. (21.15)

Good grief—that's like learning how to swim by being thrown into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although we're sure that Krakauer has learned a lot about himself as a result of this experience, we'd bet top dollar that our boy won't be heading back to Everest any time soon.

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