Study Guide

Into Thin Air Perseverance

By Jon Krakauer

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Why did veteran Himalayan guides keep moving upward, ushering a gaggle of relatively inexperienced amateurs […] into an apparent death trap? (1.8)

This is a question that haunts the entirety of Into Thin Air. Were the guides too determined to reach the summit at any cost? Were the clients too ambitious in setting their sights on such a lofty prize? Or is the real reason behind this failure something more nefarious altogether?

"Bass showed that Everest was within the realm of possibility for regular guys […] I think the biggest obstacle is probably taking time off from your job." (2.36)

The achievements of amateur climbers like Dick Bass inspire many of the folks on Everest today. After all, if that dude was able to reach the top of the mountain through sheer determination, then what's stopping them? Unfortunately, they'll know the answer all too well when everything is said and done.

Fischer saw no reason to waste […] cash on medical treatment for such a minor injury, so he climbed for the next six months with an open, suppurating wound. (5.24)

Fischer is one tough dude—no one can deny that—but we can't help but question if this is an example of determination or just straight-up foolishness. Regardless, this is a trait that Fischer shares with many of his fellow climbers, for better or for worse. Can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right?

Beck […] was tough, driven, stoic. And what I initially took to be arrogance was looking more and more like exuberance. (10.7)

To be honest, Krakauer is shocked by how tough Beck Weathers actually is. Though he initially dislikes the dude due to Weathers' sometimes icky political comments, even a tree-hugging liberal like Krakauer has to give the guy credit.

"With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill," Hall observed. "The trick is to get back down alive." (11.11)

This comment takes on some seriously ominous undertones after a massive disaster strikes just weeks later. The craziest part is that Hall doesn't even listen to his own advice and instead pushes himself well beyond his physical limits.

By this late stage in the expedition we had all been subjected to levels of misery and peril that would have sent more balanced individuals packing for home long ago. (13.21)

One person's "determination" is another's "mental insanity." By all counts, every single one of the inexperienced climbers on Everest should have packed things up and gone home. But they didn't. Whether you admire them for it or criticize them for it, you have to give them some credit for sticking to their guns.

Fischer simply referred to his affliction as a "liver cyst," told few people about it, and tried to pretend that it was nothing to worry about. (15.16)

Once again, Fischer is too focused on his goals to worry about silly things like physical health. As we see atop Everest, however, you can only do that for so long until you're left running on fumes—or worse. Sadly, Fischer learns this lesson the hard way.

It doesn't seem far-fetched to speculate that because Hall had talked Hansen into coming back to Everest, it would have been especially hard for him to deny Hansen the summit a second time. (17.10)

This is a tough one. On one hand, it's quite admirable that Hall cares so deeply for his clients, even cutting Hansen a deal so he could afford a second expedition. On the other hand, an experienced guide like Hall should have known that they were diving into dangerous waters. As with most things in Into Thin Air, however, we're left with more questions than answers.

One of the Ladakhis was "apparently close to death," the other crouching in the snow. No words were passed. No water, food, or oxygen exchanged hands. (18.10)

This right here is determination in its ugliest form. While it's great to work hard to achieve a goal, that goal isn't worth squat if you step over others (in this case, literally) to reach it. Would it really have taken that much time to send a radio message down to Base Camp?

As the mummy lurched into camp, Burleson realized that it was none other than Beck Weathers, somehow risen from the dead (19.25)

First off, we love that Burleson's first thought is that there's a mummy on Mount Everest. That's awesome by itself. Secondly, Beck Weathers is one tough cookie. The dude might not be the most talented climber in the world, but he more than makes up for it with sheer willpower.

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