Study Guide

Into Thin Air Suffering

By Jon Krakauer

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"Are you not feeling good, Jon?" he mocked. "This is only Camp One, six thousand meters. The air here is still very thick" (8.6)

Yeah, we get it Ang—you're completely unfazed by low-oxygen environments. Stop rubbing it in already. For everyone else, every moment spent at such high altitudes is like a moment spent on a bed of hot coals. In other words: It hurts. A lot.

By the time he arrived at the tents late that afternoon Ngawang was delirious, stumbling like a drunk, and coughing up pink, blood-laced froth. (8.23)

Higher on the mountain, the air gets insanely thin—even by Sherpa standards. For example, Ngawang, who pridefully declined treatment for altitude sickness, dies after succumbing to the nasty medical complications listed above. Seriously: This ain't no walk in the park, people.

The ration of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I'd been on. (10.5)

Here, Krakauer shatters the stereotype that mountain-climbers are thrill-seekers at heart. There are no thrills to be had on Everest, no adrenaline to be pumped—just pain and suffering, with only more pain and suffering to look forward to.

Frank's apparent deterioration came as a particular blow: I'd assumed from the beginning that if any members of our team reach the top, Frank […] would be among them. (11.26)

Even the mighty are not exempt from this brutal suffering. It doesn't matter if you've been climbing mountains since the day you were born—no one makes it to the top of Everest without suffering along the way. Heck, you'll endure plenty of suffering even if you don't reach the tippy-top of this massive mountain.

Above the South Col, up in the Death Zone, survival is to no small degree a race against the clock. (13.4)

This place is known as the "Death Zone" for good reason. As soon as you're above 8,000 meters, your body starts slowly dying due to oxygen deprivation. It's a real nasty bit of business.

I was so far beyond ordinary exhaustion that I experienced a queer detachment from my body […] I imagined that I was dressed in a green cardigan and wingtips. (14.41)

Well, that's one way to manage pain. In fact, this sort of hallucinatory experience is quite common on Everest; deprived of oxygen, the brain goes haywire trying to make sense of its predicament. You've got to give the Kraken some credit for that green cardigan and wingtip combo, though—dude is swagged out.

"By then the cold had about finished me off," says Charlotte Fox. "My eyes were frozen. I didn't see how we were going to get out of it alive." (15.39)

Beidleman's group endures more suffering than anyone else on the mountain. To be honest, we were actually shocked that so many of them made it out alive—we were sure they were goners. This high survival rate can only be described as a miracle.

"We were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality." (18.12)

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common sentiment on the slopes of Everest. Where else on earth would a group of well-supplied people totally ignore such awful suffering?

The Taiwanese climber consented with a broad smile; like a solider displaying his battle wounds, he seemed almost proud of the gruesome injuries he'd sustained. (20.11)

For some, physical suffering is part of the reward. Crazy, we know. Still, Krakauer's comparison of Gau to a soldier is quite fitting: Gau will certainly use this wound to memorialize his death-defying ascent of Everest. Just don't start showing off your "cool" scars at dinner parties, buddy. No one likes that dude.

It can't be stressed enough, moreover, that Hall, Fischer, and the rest of us were forced to make such critical decisions while severely impaired with hypoxia. (21.26)

In the end, Krakauer realizes that it was foolish to think that he and his fellow climbers could endure such suffering through sheer willpower. Willpower will get you a long way, but the physical limits of the human body can stop that forward momentum in a moment's notice.

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