Into Thin Air Summary
Journalist Jon Krakauer is looking to fulfill a childhood ambition by finally climbing Mount Everest. After being assigned to write a brief piece about the mountain for Outside magazine, Krakauer manages to convince his bosses to fund a full-fledged expedition to the top. Bold.
Krakauer is climbing with Adventure Consultants, a commercial group led by experienced climber Rob Hall. The journalist befriends several members of his group, such as Andy Harris, a guide, and Doug Hansen, a fellow client and postal worker back home. In contrast, he has a tense relationship with Beck Weathers, a tough Texan and Rush Limbaugh enthusiast.
Over the next several weeks, the group prepares for their climb. Their chief concern is slowly ascending the mountain in order to better adjust their bodies to the altitude, which is literally an issue of life or death. Although the going is tough, Krakauer keeps plugging away and actually gains respect for Beck Weathers's tenacity.
Then, on May 10, they make their attempt for the summit. Krakauer is one of the first climbers to reach the top, so he hustles back down to the nearest camp as quickly as possible, passing Andy Harris (who's acting really weird) on his way down. Once he finally reaches the camp, he collapses into his tent and enjoys some much-deserved rest.
As he sleeps, however, a disaster is unfolding above him: A freak storm hit soon after he descended, leaving several climbers—Andy Harris, Rob Hall, and Doug Hansen included—dead and several others missing. Although he expected Beck Weathers to be dead, too, Krakauer is (happily) surprised when Weathers somehow manages to find his way back to camp, despite being practically blind. Although Krakauer returns home relatively unscathed, he remains deeply disturbed by the horrifying events that occurred that fateful day.
Everest Summit, May 10, 1996, 29,028 Feet
- Jon Krakauer, our narrator, is standing on the summit of Mount Everest. Wow—that was quick.
- He's chilling (literally) with Anatoli Boukreev, a paid guide from another climbing group, and Andy Harris, a paid guide from his own team. A selfie or two later, the trio begins their descent.
- Then Krakauer drops a bomb on us: By the end of the night, more than six climbers will be dead. Whoa.
- As he descends, the Kraken (good nickname, huh?) realizes that he has a huge problem—his oxygen tank is "almost empty" (1.10). Uh-oh.
- Unfortunately, there are a ton of people trying to reach the top at the moment, so Harris and Krakauer must wait for traffic to clear before descending the Hillary Step, a narrow ridge just below the summit.
- Krakauer asks Harris to shut off his oxygen valve, hoping to conserve some O2 for the long descent. Oddly, however, this somehow makes Krakauer feel more alert. Weird.
- Ten minutes later, he suddenly feels "on the brink of losing consciousness" (1.14). That's when he realizes that Harris accidentally turned his O2 tank on full blast—and now it's empty. Gulp.
- Panicked, Krakauer hustles down the mountain, passing several of his teammates (Rob Hall and Yasuko Namba) as well as Scott Fischer, the leader of Boukreev's group.
- It's now 3:00 (two hours since he left the summit) and Krakauer has reached the relative safety of the South Summit. He looks up and sees storm clouds blotting out the mountain peak. Oh no.
Dehra Dun, India, 1852, 2,234 Feet
- Let's go back in time to 1852. We're in the offices of "the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India" (2.4), and Sir Andrew Waugh, India's surveyor general, has just received big news.
- Mathematician Radhanath Sikdar has just calculated the highest peak in the world—it's Peak XV in the Himalayas, which will later be dubbed Mount Everest in honor of Sir George Everest.
- Everest is located on the border between Nepal and Tibet, which complicates things. Tibet opens their borders in 1921, while Nepal continues to ban foreigners from entry.
- In 1921, Edward Felix Norton ascends to "just 900 feet below the summit" before turning back around. Four days later, George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine go missing after reaching a similar height.
- In 1949, Nepal finally opens its doors to foreigners—which is convenient because Tibet (now controlled by China) decides to shut theirs one year later.
- In 1953, a British team becomes "the third expedition to attempt Everest from Nepal" (2.16). Then, on May 28, the scrappy duo of New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzig Norgay make their way to the top of the mountain.
- After an exhausting climb—aided by bottled oxygen—the two men become the first humans to ever reach the summit of Everest. This amazing feat shocks the world and becomes a huge news story.
- In 1963, two Americans—Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld—attempt to reach the top of Everest from its western route, which is considered the most "daunting" (2.27) approach to the mountain.
- They make it, but are too tired to make the descent. With no other options, the pair huddles up in bivouacs (small shelters) on the top of the mountain. Though Unsoeld loses a few toes, the men somehow manage to survive this insane ordeal.
- As it happens, young Jon Krakauer actually knew Unsoeld; he was a friend of Jon's dad. And that's pretty much all the kid needed to spark a lifelong obsession with mountain-climbing that reached its peak during Krakauer's twenties.
- Like many of his diehard peers, Krakauer once scoffed at Everest because the climb requires few technical climbing skills, which means that even amateurs can do it with enough determination.
- This "snobbery" (2.34) is rooted in the controversial ascent of one Dick Bass. A rich-as-sin (but utterly inexperienced) Texan, Bass reaches the peak of Everest thanks to the help of a guide named David Breashears.
- After Bass's story goes viral, a host of novices flock to Everest. The Chinese and Nepalese governments jack up prices on climbing permits, but even that doesn't slow the huge influx of tourists
- So let's fast-forward to 1995. Krakauer is working for Outside magazine, a publication that covers mountain-climbing and other extreme outdoor pursuits.
- He receives a call from his editor, Mark Bryant, who wants Jonny boy to write a piece on the commercialization of Everest. Krakauer won't need to climb or anything; he can just chill around Base Camp and get the lay of the land.
- But Krakauer really wants to climb Everest, so he convinces Outside to fork over the money for his permit, and they set him up with veteran guide Rob Hall. The Kraken's dreams are coming true.
- Though he was once an avid climber, forty-year-old Krakauer isn't in the peak climbing shape he once was. Even worse, he's never been at high altitudes before—he's never even been "as high as Everest Base Camp" (2.50).
Over Northern India, March 29, 1996, 30,000 Feet
- Krakauer is cruising above India in a jetliner. To his amusement—and minor panic—he realizes that the plane is currently cruising at the same height as Everest's peak.
- He arrives in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where he's scooped up by a New Zealander named Andy Harris. Harris works for fellow Kiwi Rob Hall's mountain guide company.
- As the two men wait for the arrival of another client, they discuss their respective experience levels. To Krakauer's surprise, Harris confesses that he's never "been to Everest" (3.8) before.
- Krakauer meets Rob Hall himself later that night. The Kraken digs him from the word go.
- Obsessed with climbing since forever, Hall started his career as a gopher for a climbing equipment company, quickly rising in the ranks of the organization through sheer determination.
- It takes him "ten years and three attempts" (3.14) before he finally reaches the summit of Everest in 1990. After this, Hall starts a mountain guide company called Adventure Consultants with his best friend and fellow climber Gary Ball.
- Many in the climbing community aren't happy with this trend of "guided" expeditions, however, since it allows unskilled climbers to reach extremely dangerous peaks.
- Tragedy strikes in 1993 when Ball dies from cerebral edema, which is the "swelling of the brain brought on by high altitude" (3.22). Although Hall is devastated, this tragedy doesn't hinder Adventure Consultants from becoming the most successful guide group on Everest.
- Two days later, Krakauer is sitting in a cruddy old helicopter headed for the base of the Himalayas. From there, they'll trek to Base Camp on foot.
- Krakauer looks around at his fellow clients (who we'll meet individually a bit later). It's clear even from the cursory view that these folks are amateurs. This is going to go swell.
Phakding, March 31, 1996, 9,186 Feet
- After their arrival, the posse begins their long trek (on foot) to Everest. After a few days, they reach Namche Bazaar, the "social and commercial hub of Sherpa society" (4.8).
- The group has dinner together that night, and Krakauer meets Mike Groom, another one of the trip's paid guides.
- He also meets Stuart Hutchinson, John Taske, and Beck Weathers—three doctors and fellow clients. Weathers is so into right-wing politics that he might as well be named Glenn Beck.
- Before we continue, we get some insight into the Sherpa people. Although many Westerners believe that all Nepalese are Sherpa, the Sherpa community actually only numbers around 20,000.
- This relationship began "in 1921" (4.15) with the first attempt on Everest. Due to their strong climbing skills and ability to adapt to low-oxygen environments (like the peak of a mountain), Sherpa workers quickly become integral to countless Himalayan expeditions.
- Naturally, this transforms Sherpa culture. Although many Western climbers long for the days when Sherpa culture was free of outside influence, it's clear that the influx of money is a boon to the community.
- They continue walking. Although the terrain is quite gentle, their high altitude means that even small activities expend a lot of energy.
- Later, they arrive at Tengboche, "the largest and most important Buddhist monastery in the Khumbu" (4.26) to receive the priest's blessing. Can't hurt, right?
- During this trek, Krakauer spends a lot of time with Andy Harris, who won't stop talking about his lady-friend, Fiona McPherson. Krakauer also buddies up with Doug Hansen, an American postal worker who failed to reach the summit of Everest with Hall's group a few years prior.
- A few days later, the group arrives at the base of the Khumbu Glacier, which represents their gateway into Everest. They plan on chilling in the tiny village of Lobuje for a night before undertaking the seven-day walk to Base Camp.
- They're delayed, however, when a Sherpa under Hall's employ named Tenzig falls 150 feet while preparing their Everest route. Deeply concerned about his Sherpa employees—a sentiment not shared by every guide on Everest—Hall rushes off to aid in Tenzig's rescue.
Lobuje. April 8, 1996, 16,200 Feet
- The next day, they receive word: Tenzig is recovering at base camp, where a helicopter will hopefully pick him up soon. Huzzah. With that, the squad prepares to meet up with Hall
- Andy Hall fell ill during their stay, so Krakauer and Helen Wilton, the team's Base Camp manager, help him along. Finally, they arrive at Base Camp, which sits at a brisk "17,600 feet" (5.11).
- Everest Base Camp is actually pretty swanky. The place runs like a mini-city, with Hall's HQ serving as its town hall—the other expedition leaders frequently meet there to discuss strategy.
- One such dude is Scott Fischer. Although Fischer has summited Everest once before, this is his first time leading clients up the mountain.
- Fischer and Hall go way back. Once, they were climbing K2 (a Himalayan mountain that's a hair shorter than Everest) when Hall's companion fell ill—Fischer and his pals aided in the rescue.
- The Jersey-born upstart eventually founded his own company: Mountain Madness. That name is actually a pretty accurate reflection of his climbing style.
- Fischer is quite ambitious as well. Starbucks is sponsoring his current mission and he's eyeing plenty more deals in the future too.
- In fact, Krakauer was originally planning on taking this trip with Fischer's crew, but Hall "offered the magazine a significantly better deal" (5.38). That's C.R.E.A.M. in action, kids.
- Despite Base Camp's many comforts, it's still rough being at such a high altitude—headaches, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing are all part of a day's work. Hansen, the postal worker, seems to have it worse than anyone.
- Hansen's current climb is sponsored by the students of Sunrise Elementary School in Washington, who held several fundraisers in his honor. It's pretty adorable.
- In order to combat altitude sickness, Hall will take the team through an "acclimatization plan" (5.52), in which they'll take trips between the lower camps to adjust their bodies to the harsh altitude.
Everest Base Camp, April 12, 1996, 17,600 Feet
- So here's the plan: The most experienced Sherpas will head up first and set up "a series of four camps above Base Camp" (6.4), lugging up food and oxygen tanks in the process.
- Once that's done, the clients will begin a series of treks between the camps to adjust their bodies to the altitude. Their first trip will be to Camp One, which is about a mile above Base Camp.
- They'll need to traverse the treacherous Khumbu Icefall in order to reach it. Although it isn't steep, the terrain is dotted with tons of nasty crevices that could spell an untimely death.
- Ladders are placed along this route to make traversing these gaps easier. Like most things on Everest, this is done in conjunction between the various climbing parties.
- After passing over a serac (a large chunk of ice with the tendency to fall at a moment's notice), Krakauer finally reaches Camp One. Dude is pooped.
- Only few fellows reach Camp One by 10:00AM, which is their agreed-upon turn-around time. Although plenty of climbers are still mired in the icefall, everyone heads right back home
- Beck Weathers and Yasuko Namba, a Japanese businesswoman, "looked sketchy" (6.33), in particular during the climb, and Krakauer sincerely worries about how they'll fare once they get higher up.
- It takes about an hour to descend. Krakauer gets a pretty nasty headache during the climb and is forced to undergo medical care when they arrive, though he feels better by the end of the night.
- The next morning, he gets a call from his wife, Linda. Although she was a climber when she was younger, too, she's none too happy that her hubby is undertaking such a risky adventure.
Camp One, April 13, 1996, 19,500 Feet
- If Krakauer is being honest, pretty much everyone at Base Camp could be considered "clinically delusional" (7.6). But that's par for the course as Everest goes.
- For example, a Canadian named Earl Denham once snuck his way into Tibet to climb Everest back in 1947. This utterly inexperienced climber even convinced Tenzig Norgay (one of the first two men on Everest) to tag along, though his attempt ultimately failed.
- There's also Maurice Wilson, who hatched the insane plan of crashing a plane into the side of Everest to get a head start. When that plan didn't get off the ground (literally), he attempted the climb via the traditional route. His body was found a year later.
- Though there are plenty of nut jobs here with Krakauer today, there are also many experienced climbers. There's Klev Schoening, former member of the U.S. Olympic ski team, and his uncle Peter Schoening, a "living Himalayan legend" (7.18). There's also Charlotte Fox, who has already reached the peak of two mountains above 8,000 meters. All of these folk are on Fischer's team.
- Oddly, the "noncommercial" (7.23) expeditions are shadier than the commercial ones. The Taiwanese expedition, in particular, seems super inexperienced.
- To tell the truth, though, the worst of the bunch has to be the South African team, sponsored by the Sunday Times newspaper from Johannesburg. The team is led by Ian Woodall, a dude who claims to have fought as a commando for the South African military.
- Woodall started by hiring Andy de Klerk, Andy Hackland, and Edmund February, three extremely talented South African climbers. Edmund February also happens to be black, which is considered an admirably progressive move in post-Apartheid South Africa.
- Woodall also wanted to bring a female climber, but was unable to pick between two candidates: Cathy O'Dowd, a white woman, and Deshun Deysel, a black woman. He decided to bring both, claiming that he'll decide who will join him on the climb after seeing them in action.
- Given this, Krakauer is shocked to see February, Hackland, and de Klerk leaving Base Camp. As it turns out, the trio "resigned […] before even getting to the base of the mountain" (7.34).
- It turns out that Woodall completely lied about his military service, among many other things. Namely, he had only gotten a climbing permit for Cathy O'Dowd, not Deshun Deysel, which has some gross racial connotations. Plus, dude isn't even South African—he's British.
- Upon learning this, the Sunday Times renounces their support for the expedition. Woodall already has their money, though, so it doesn't end up making much of a difference.
Camp One, April 16, 1996, 19,500 Feet
- Hall's team heads out for their second trip to Camp One "just before dawn" (8.3). Krakauer can immediately tell that his body is handling the altitude far better.
- But they won't be heading back down so quickly this time—the plan is to stay at Camp One for two nights, then head up to Camp Two for a three-night stay.
- Krakauer arrives at Camp One to find Ang Dorje, the lead Sherpa climber on their team, digging trenches for their tents.
- Ang Dorje has been climbing for most of his life. While working as a cook for an expedition, Dorje met a Canadian couple who fell in love with him so hard that they supported him financially and put him through school.
- After returning to the Himalayas, Ang Dorje became a highly sought-after climbing guide. Hall has worked with Ang since 1992 and frequently refers to him as "my main man" (8.11).
- After a day spent huddled up in Camp One, the crew heads to Camp Two on the morning of the eighteenth. It's a relatively easy climb up "the gently sloping floor of the Western Cwm" (8.13).
- Though it was cold before, it's crazy hot right now since the sunlight's reflecting harshly off the snow.
- Krakauer passes a corpse on the way up; Hall suggests that it might be a Sherpa who died a few years prior. Yeesh.
- He stumbles across another body a few days later while exploring the area around Camp Two, though he hardly bats an eye this time.
- After returning to Base Camp, Krakauer and Harris visit the South African tent. Deysel is the only one there, but neither man has the heart to tell her that her name isn't on the climbing permit.
- The duo returns to their tent to find Hall, along with Dr. Caroline Mackenzie (Hall's doctor) and Ingrid Hunt (Fischer's doctor) "engaged in a tense radio conversation" (8.21).
- Earlier that day, Fischer was descending to Base Camp when he stumbled across Ngawang Topche, a Sherpa on his team, sitting on a glacier and acting funky.
- Turns out he's been feeling off for the last several days. Although Fischer tells him to descend to Base Camp immediately, Ngawang's pride leads him to trek up to Camp Two instead.
- The poor guy is "stumbling like a drunk" and "coughing up blood" (8.23) by the time he arrives at his tent. This is almost certainly High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, better known as HAPE.
- Because Fischer has allowed his clients to travel freely between camps, there are no guides from his team at Camp Two right now. That's bad, because Ngawang must be rushed down A.S.A.P.
- This leaves the burden on Klev Schoening and Tim Madsen, a ski patrolman from Aspen. They give Ngawang some basic medical treatment, but nothing seems to work.
- Finally, the pair begins "dragging Ngawang laboriously down the mountain" (8.27). Neil Beidleman, a guide from Fischer's team, meets them halfway and helps Ngawang to Base Camp.
- Fearing the cost, Fischer decides not to hire a helicopter to evacuate Ngawang. The poor guy isn't getting any better, though, so the team requests that a doctor be rushed to Base Camp.
- Because Fischer has other responsibilities, Ngawang's life is thrust upon Ingrid Hunt's shoulders. Hunt is capable but overworked, and this is a tense time for everyone involved.
- When the doctor arrives, he immediately requests a helicopter evacuation. It takes a few days for this to happen (until April 24), but Ngawang is finally brought to lower ground. Unfortunately, it's not enough—he's brain dead when he arrives and will be dead by June.
- Nobody at camp is aware of this, however. In fact, people on the outside know more about the situation because they're able to read "Internet sites […] posting dispatches" (8.41) from Everest.
- The most notable reporter behind these dispatches is Sandy Hill Pittman, a wealthy socialite who is a client of Fischer's.
- Pittman is kind of notorious. She showed up two years ago to climb Everest, but brought along her nine-year-old son as well as his nanny. Mom of the Year, right here, folks.
- (Pittman's husband is Bob Pittman, "the co-founder of MTV" (8.46), BTW.)
- Pittman has already climbed six of the notorious Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents). And what's missing? Everest, of course.
- This lady is also known for climbing in style. She's brought a portable television, a satellite phone, gourmet food—the works.
Camp Two, April 28, 1996, 21,300 Feet
- It's 4:00AM and Krakauer is currently preparing to make the trek to Camp Three, which sits at a brisk 24,000 feet.
- In order to reach Camp Three, he'll need to ascend the Lhotse Face, a "vast, titled sea of ice" (7.7). Should be easy peasy, right?
- Wrong. Krakauer considers turning back out of fear of frostbite, but before he can, Rob Hall buzzes over the intercom and tells everybody to turn back around for Camp Two.
- Turns out that Krakauer isn't the only one who's struggling. John Taske, a doctor from Australia, is actually beginning to suffer from minor frostbite.
- Hansen is even worse. His toes—damaged from his previous Everest attempt—are particularly susceptible to frostbite and other nasty maladies. And that's not even getting into his throat illness, for which he had surgery mere weeks before coming to Everest.
- Given all of this, the mood at Camp Two is gloomy. Plus, it doesn't help that Hall is currently beefing with "the leaders of the Taiwanese and South African teams" (9.14).
- Two days earlier, Ang Dorje (along with other guides from Hall's and Fischer's teams) was supposed to install fixed rope lines up the Lhotse Face with Sherpas from the Taiwanese and South African teams. Those dudes didn't show up, though.
- The leader of the Taiwanese team apologizes profusely. Woodall, however, chooses instead to cuss Hall out and accuse Ang Dorje of lying. Charming.
- To add to this, the Sherpas are upset that two clients from Fischer's team are having sex on the mountain, which they consider offensive. They also adorably refer to this act as "sauce-making" (9.19).
- Of course, it's totally acceptable to get down while at Base Camp—there's even a blossoming romance happening between a Sherpa guide and a woman attached to an IMAX film crew. This is explained to Krakauer by Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa, the lead climber on Fischer's team.
- Lopsang is actually the nephew of Ngawang Topche, and is understandably shaken by his uncle's status. Still, he'll need his focus: Lopsang is one of the top four climbers currently on Everest.
- He's the LeBron of climbing. After climbing professionally for three years, the guy had already reached the summit of Everest three times without using supplemental oxygen. Like a boss.
Lhotse Face, April 29, 1996, 23,400 Feet
- On the 29th, Hall's team (minus Hansen) makes another attempt at Camp Three. Though the going is agonizingly painful, Krakauer successfully makes it.
- Along the way, he finds himself impressed by his inexperienced colleagues, namely Beck Weathers. Although the two men's political differences drove a wedge between them at first, Krakauer finds himself respecting Weather's fearless pursuit of his goals.
- Unlike Camps One and Two, Camp Three is precariously perched on the side of the mountain. In other words, "the vista was primarily sky rather than earth" (10.18).
- Despite his pride, Krakauer is a little freaked out—he worries that he has High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is when one's brain is deprived of oxygen and begins swelling painfully.
- Hall's posse descends back to Base Camp over the next several days. This is a momentous occasion, as it marks the final acclimatization trip—they'll be heading for the summit on May 10.
- Fischer's team will be attempting the summit the same day, and the other teams are supposed to make their own attempts on the days before and after.
Base Camp, May 6, 1996, 17,600 Feet
- On the morning of May 6, Hall's team leaves Base Camp to begin their ascent. Anybody feeling butterflies yet?
- After arriving at Camp Two, they spend the next day resting. Oddly, Fischer looks a little out of whack, having been exhausted by his constant shuttling between camps.
- Fischer is also beefing with Boukreev. Boukreev is an insanely talented climber, but shows little interest in actually helping clients. He even refuses to take supplemental oxygen, which is controversial—a lack of oxygen will place an inevitable strain on his valuable mental faculties.
- While climbing to Camp Three, Andy Harris is struck in the chest by a falling boulder. Although he's a little woozy, he seems okay.
- That night, the guides hand out supplemental oxygen to the clients: "for the remainder of the climb" they will "be breathing compressed gas" (11.27).
- Though this has always been a controversial practice, it wasn't until 1978 that Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler completed the first supplemental oxygen-free ascent of Everest. Before this, many doubted if it was even possible.
- The next morning, an accident happens: As Taiwanese climber Chen Yu-Nan crawls outside of his tent, he trips and falls 70 feet down the slope before getting stuck in a crevasse.
- Although he's "battered and badly frightened" (11.41), he seems okay. The Taiwanese team decides to leave him behind and go for their own attempt at the summit, which is funny because they agreed to wait until after Hall and Fischer to make their climb.
- But Chen's condition worsens and he dies. Oh man. The Taiwanese team leader seems rather apathetic, though, and continues to climb.
Camp Three, May 9, 1996, 24,000 Feet
- Krakauer begins his ascent on the morning of the 9th. There's a long line of climbers ahead of him, which is bad because it's quite dangerous to unclip your rope and pass someone.
- He arrives at Camp Four in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather is looking nasty, which is scary because Hall's team is going for the summit "in less than six hours" (12.13). Gulp.
- Krakauer is sitting in his tent when somebody begins yelling outside the door. When he opens it, he's met by Bruce Herrod from the South African team, and dude looks seriously messed up.
- Doug Hansen is in similar shape. Although the poor guy has hardly slept or eaten for days, he seems dead set on reaching the top of Everest this time around.
- Though Krakauer is feeling better, it's not by much: He's been coughing like a fiend since he arrived at Everest and it's only getting worse.
- Around 7:30 that night, the storm "abruptly ceased" (12.19). This is crucial: If the storm hadn't stopped, everyone currently chilling at Camp Four would be forced to turn back around.
- Hall's Mountain Madness team leaves for the summit just before midnight. Fischer follows a bit later, tailed by Makalu Gau (the head of the Taiwanese team) and two Sherpas.
- A bit into the climb, two members of Hall's team—Frank Fischbeck and Hansen—break from the line and decide to head back down. Two down, a bunch to go.
- Time is of the essence now. The climbers must reach the summit early in the day or turn around otherwise—reaching the summit too late leads to a much more deadly descent.
- Cruising at the head of the line, Krakauer sees an odd sight: Lopsang Jangbu dragging Sandy Pittman using a technique known as "short-roping" (12.32). This technique is usually only used when a climber is injured or incapacitated, neither of which Sandy is.
- Krakauer waits for his companions to catch up; Hall decreed that the group must stay together. Once he starts moving again, he passes by Lopsang puking in the snow, which is quite shocking.
- Lopsang has good reason to be tired, though—he's been forced to lug Pittman's "satellite phone" (12.39) all the way to Camp Four just so the lady can continue to update her blog.
- Oddly, however, Pittman never asked Lopsang to short-rope her—he simply latched on and started dragging. Krakauer suspects Lopsang wants to ensure Pittman reaches the top in order to generate more publicity for Fischer, whom Lopsang respects a great deal.
Southeast Ridge, May 10, 1996, 27,600 Feet
- Now that they've left Camp Four, the climbers are above 8,000 meters, which is known as the "Death Zone" (13.4). The human body slowly dies every second it's at such high altitudes.
- And they're running into problems already. Because no one has reached the summit thus far this season, there's no fixed rope installed at the area near the summit. For some reason, the lead guides didn't wake up early to install this fixed rope, which is an even bigger problem.
- The reasons behind this aren't entirely clear, though it might have to do with a longtime beef between Ang Dorje and Lopsang. Since Lopsang is still dragging Pittman up the mountain, Beidleman helps Ang install the ropes.
- As a traffic jam grows, Krakauer worries about their appointed turnaround time. It's already "mid-morning" (13.20) and Hall had stated that they must reach the summit by 1:00 or 2:00PM. Meanwhile, three more members of the team (Kasischke, Taske, and Hutchinson) concede defeat and turn around.
- Krakauer reaches the Hillary Step and is once again forced to wait for the ropes to be fixed. He decides to help the guides to make it easier for everyone.
- Then, just after 1:00PM, Krakauer reaches the summit. This honor is shared with Boukreev, Beidleman, and Harris.
Summit, 1:12PM, May 10 1996, 29,028 Feet
- Krakauer stays on the summit very briefly before heading back down. As he descends, he can see some nasty storm clouds gathering around the peak. Hmm…
- After descending the Hillary Step, Krakauer waits for the other climbers to pass. He helps Harris by chipping some ice out of his oxygen tank; in return, Harris turns down the flow on Krakauer's. As we learned in the first chapter, however, Harris actually turns it on full blast, emptying Krakauer's tank in a matter of minutes.
- Due to oxygen deprivation, the next few minutes are a blur. Kraken can remember seeing Sandy Pittman, Charlotte Fox, Lopsang Jangbu, and Yasuko Namba, but that's about it.
- He also runs into Hall, who tells him that Beck Weathers has turned back around. To Krakauer's surprise, Hansen is still attempting the climb and passes by some time later.
- His path finally clear, Krakauer hustles to the South Summit. He sees Harris rummaging through "a pile of orange oxygen bottles" (14.12) that were stashed previously, but the guide claims they're all empty.
- Luckily, Mike Groom arrives and gives Krakauer his oxygen tank. They also realize that the bottles are actually full. That's weird.
- Although Krakauer doesn't realize it at the time, it's clear in hindsight that Harris is starting to suffer cognitively due to the high altitude.
- Meanwhile, the weather is worsening. Mike Groom heads up to help Yasuko navigate her descent, while Harris and Hall are aiding Doug Hansen. Krakauer continues his descent alone.
- Around 5:00PM, Krakauer stumbles across Beck Weathers on the Southeast Ridge. It turns out that Weathers's vision has been deteriorating, so he's waiting here for Hall to come down before descending to Camp Four.
- Krakauer tries to convince Beck to come along, but fails, and with that, he heads down "toward the South Col, 1,600 feet below" (14.33), where Camp Four is located.
- The storm has now escalated into a full-on blizzard. Luckily he's missed the worst of it, but with his oxygen tank empty once again, Krakauer better keep hustling.
- By 6:30, Krakauer is right above Camp Four. He'll just need to descend a "bulging incline of hard, glassy ice" (14.42) to reach it, which is a lot easier said than done.
- As he sits to gather his strength, Krakauer notices Andy Harris approach him from behind. After a few frantic words, Harris starts sliding down the slope without a rope—which is crazy.
- Naturally, he loses his balance and hits the bottom hard. He actually seems okay, though: Krakauer sees him get up, wave, and then trudge toward camp.
- Krakauer finally makes his own descent, though his is tons safer. He reaches his tent and collapses inside to enjoy a much-needed rest.
- Unbeknownst to our sleepy climber, however, stuff is seriously going down up above.
Summit, 1:25PM, May 10, 1996, 29,028 Feet
- As the title states, we're going back in time a few hours to see how the rest of the climbers fared.
- Neil Beidleman arrives at the summit a few minutes after Krakauer departs. He waits for Fischer and the rest of the team for nearly an hour, but no one shows.
- Unfortunately, Beidleman has no radio and can't get in touch with Fischer. Though nervous about "the advancing clock" (15.11), he decides to wait for more climbers to arrive.
- Pittman and Lopsang arrive next—Pittman is running low on oxygen and dead tired. They're followed by a bunch of people we've met already: Charlotte Fox, Tim Madsen, Lene Gammelgaard, Hall, Groom, and Namba. Phew. They send the good news back to Base Camp
- But there are two friendly faces missing: Fischer and Hansen. Hall decides to stay behind for Hansen, who should be there in mere minutes but doesn't actually arrive until 4:00PM.
- Fischer's absence is more conspicuous. Though we've already mentioned the "physical and mental strain" that the expedition is taking on him, there's another thing that might be hindering him—a "mysterious disease" that causes "intense sweating" and shaking "spells" (15.16-17).
- Around 3:10, Beidleman decides to lead the group down, despite the fact that Fischer has not yet arrived. They pass Fischer about twenty minutes later, and he's looking quite unwell.
- Not as bad as Pittman, however. The poor lady has basically passed out and must be dragged down the mountain.
- Meanwhile, Groom and Namba are about "500 feet below" (15.27). They notice Martin Adams heading in the wrong direction, but quickly point him toward Camp Four.
- That's when Groom stumbles across Weathers, who's still shivering in the snow. Weathers and Namba are too weak to move, so the trio waits for Beidleman to catch up and joins the large party.
- As the weather explodes into a "full-blown hurricane" (15.33), Beidleman decides to take an indirect, but safer, route to Camp Four. They get lost pretty quickly
- The storm gets so bad that they can't see an inch ahead of them. Eventually, the group gives up and forms a desperate huddle, frantically trying to keep one another warm.
- Back at Camp Four, Krakauer is still sleeping. Apparently, Hutchinson tries to get the Kraken's assistance for a rescue mission, but Krakauer is too delirious to respond.
- The storm breaks around midnight. Beidleman gathers everyone who can walk (himself, Schoening, Gammelgaard, Groom, and two Sherpas) and heads for help, leaving Pittman, Fox, Weathers, and Namba, who are all in dire straits. Madsen decides to stay behind, as Fox is his girlfriend and leaving her to die would certainly land him in the doghouse.
- Beidleman and Co. run into "a very worried Anatoli Boukreev" (15.46) about twenty minutes later. Boukreev was the first to descend to Camp Four and is now frantically searching for his clients.
- Krakauer sees this as a wrong move, as he believes that guides should stay behind to help their clients, while Boukreev argues that it was better for his client that he was at Camp Four.
- At 12:45AM, they arrive at Camp Four looking haggard. Mike Groom in particular seems close to death.
- Unfortunately, the bad weather prevents a real rescue mission from being undertaken. Finally, Boukreev heads out alone—and although it takes hours (and several trips), he finally locates the five remaining survivors.
- It's a bad scene. Madsen is doing okay, but struggling; Pittman, Fox, and Weathers are in another world; and "Namba appeared to be dead" (15.60). Dang.
- Boukreev is only able to take one person at a time, so he starts with Fox. While Madsen is waiting for the guide to return, Beck Weathers abruptly walks away and disappears into the storm.
- Finally, Boukreev returns and lugs Sandy Pittman back to camp; Madsen follows behind.
- Beidleman "broke down in his tent and wept for forty-five minutes" (15.65) after learning that Yasuko had died.
South Col, 6:00AM, May 11, 1996, 26,000 Feet
- Stuart Hutchinson arrives at Krakauer's tent with odd news: Harris is missing. This is decidedly strange to Krakauer, as he had watched Harris descend to Camp Four with his own eyes.
- After exploring the area around Camp Four, Krakauer notices "a single set of faint crampon tracks leading" (16.6) toward the edge of a cliff and assumes they belong to Harris.
- When Krakauer wrote his initial article about the Everest disaster, this was the story he told about Harris's death. Unfortunately, it's dead wrong.
- The man who Krakauer thought was Andy Harris was in fact Martin Adams—in their oxygen-deprivation stupor, they both hadn't realized that they were talking to one another. That still doesn't explain the footprints, though...
- Whoa. So what happened to Harris?
Summit, 3:40PM, May 10, 1996, 29,028 Feet
- We're going back in time once again. Great Scott! Where's Doc Brown when you need him?
- Fischer reaches the summit around 3:40PM to find Lopsang waiting. Fischer is looking crazy out-of-sorts, so he heads down a few minutes later, soon after the arrival of Makalu Gau.
- That leaves Hall alone on the top of the mountain, still waiting for Hansen to arrive. It's actually shocking that he hasn't told Hansen to turn around, as it's now hours past their agreed "turn-around time" (17.8).
- Finally, Hansen arrives. The two men hustle down the mountain, but it's too late: Hansen, now completely out of oxygen, collapses onto the ground.
- Hall radios down for some oxygen, but Harris is still convinced that the bottles on the South Summit are empty. Harris finally realizes his mistake an hour later and begins climbing up to the two stranded climbers.
- Meanwhile, Fischer is being assisted by Lopsang "a few hundred feet below" (17.19). Lopsang forces Fischer to wear an oxygen mask, as Fischer ripped his own off soon after leaving the summit. Still, Fischer is now straight-up refusing to move.
- That's when the storm explodes above them. Makalu Gau emerges from the snow above and huddles up as well. Lopsang stays there for several hours, but finally heads to Camp Four to get help.
- Lopsang gets lost and overshoots Camp Four, forcing him to climb up the Lhotse Face to reach the camp. Krakauer suspects that he mistook Lopsang's footprints for Harris's.
- Meanwhile, Hall has been in radio contact with Base Camp all afternoon. The people down there try to convince him to head down and leave Hansen behind, but Hall refuses.
- The next details are a bit hazy. Apparently, Harris reached Hall and Hansen a few hours earlier, but he is now nowhere to be found. Hall also reports that Doug Hansen "is gone" (17.36).
- Two Sherpas head up to rescue Hall the following morning, but are forced to turn back around due to weather. They're able to reach Fischer and Gau, however, though Fischer has already succumbed to the elements.
- At 6:30PM, the folks at Base Camp are able to patch in a call to Hall from his wife. The two share a tender moment.
- Hall's body is found twelve days later.
Northeast Ridge, May 10, 1996, 28,550 Feet
- Meanwhile, there's an equally heartbreaking disaster happening on the north side of the Mountain.
- On May 10, a group of climbers from India are also attempting the summit. Although half of the team turns back as the day wanes, three men continue to the top of the mountain.
- By this time, the storm is in full-force. Thinking that they've reached the top, the men head down "around two hours below the actual summit" (18.5). None of them return to their tents that night.
- The next morning, a Japanese team ascends by the same route. They pass by one of the climbers along the way, struggling badly, but pass without offering aid. Which is cold. Literally.
- They pass by the other two climbers closer to the summit. Again, the Japanese climbers offer no assistance and don't even say a word. They finally reach the summit and descend safely.
- The bodies of the three Indian climbers are found "on the morning of May 17" (18.15).
South Col, 7:30AM, May 11, 1996, 26,000 Feet
- It's the morning after the disaster and Krakauer is trying to make sense of what happened. Of course, spending another "night at 26,000 feet without supplemental oxygen" (19.8) doesn't help either.
- Meanwhile, Hutchinson has really stepped up to the plate after the disaster. In fact, he has just organized a search team to locate the bodies of Weathers and Namba.
- To his shock, they're both alive—but barely. Unfortunately, it's clear that they would die on the trip back to Camp Four, so the search party heads back to think of a new plan.
- The next morning, Beidleman slowly leads Fischer's clients down to Camp Three. A Sherpa is struck by a falling boulder (and luckily survives), which freaks everyone out.
- The folks down at Camp Three heard about the disaster yesterday and have been doing their fair share to help. In particular, David Breashears (the director of the Everest IMAX film) has helped a great deal, shuttling up oxygen and spare batteries to Camp Four.
- That morning, they see someone approaching Camp Four. And holy smokes, it's Beck Weathers.
- Despite being blind as a bat and "barely alive" (19.27), Weathers somehow weathered the storm and made it back to camp. Dude's a warrior. They give him help, but no one honestly expects him to survive the night.
- That's about when the two Sherpas return with Gau in tow. After hearing that Fischer is still up on the mountain, Boukreev rushes to rescue his friend.
- But it's too late. After grabbing a few mementos to give to Fischer's family, he covers his friend's face and heads back to Camp Four.
- That night, a crazy storm tears through Camp Four. Along with their shrinking stores of oxygen, this is the last straw: Hall's remaining crewmembers must leave A.S.A.P.
- The next morning, Hutchinson and Krakauer gather Groom, Taske, Fischbeck, and Kaischke, and begin their descent. Ang Dorje is already down, having been convinced to descend by Hutchison after Hutchinson found the poor dude "sobbing uncontrollably" (19.35) over Hall's death.
- Krakauer stops by Weathers's tent, expecting him to be dead. He's wrong, though: Weathers is still alive, but his tent collapsed overnight, nearly suffocating him. No one heard his cries over the storm.
- After getting assistance for Weathers, Krakauer rushes to join the group for the descent. After all, he might end up in a similar state—or worse—if he waits any longer.
The Geneva Spur, 9:45AM, May 12, 1996, 25,900 Feet
- The group is weary as they descend from Camp Four. Hutchinson is so out of it that he almost heads down without securing his safety tether—a mistake that could only end with a splat.
- They reach Camp Two after midnight and see Lopsang Jangbu, who is still devastated by Fischer's death, and Gau, who is being rushed into medical care.
- Later that afternoon, Krakauer learns from Breashears that Weathers is alive and currently being helped down the mountain. To Krakauer's surprise, he sees Weathers approaching on foot.
- A helicopter evacuation is planned for the next morning and Krakauer is given the unenviable task of finding a safe spot for it to land. Breashears, who has a lot of experience in this field, helps him big-time.
- Unfortunately, the helicopter is only able to take one person at a time. Given that Gau "could no longer walk or even stand" (20.24), he gets the first ride.
- Thirty minutes later, the helicopter returns and lifts Weathers to safety.
Everest Base Camp, May 13, 1996, 17,600 Feet
- Krakauer and Ko. pass the Khumbu Icefall on the morning of May 13, and with that, they've finally made it to safety.
- A memorial service is held the following day. Over the next several days, the badly wounded are airlifted to safety while those who are relatively unscathed leave camp on foot.
- Krakauer returns to civilization only to be met by a "swarm of print and television reporters" (21.7). After enduring their questioning, Krakauer holes up in a hotel room and consumes marijuana to ease his emotional agony.
- He returns to the United States on May 19. Krakauer is absolutely guilt-ridden, constantly questioning whether he could have done more to help his friends. The sad truth is that he probably couldn't.
- Unfortunately, those who remained on the mountain weren't quite as self-reflective. For example, the IMAX team continues its plans for the summit despite the disaster—and luckily survives unscathed.
- Others aren't so lucky. An Australian dies on the north side of the mountain just two days after Krakauer leaves Base Camp, while Bruce Herrod of the South African team dies after reaching the summit on May 24.
- Herrod's death marks "the twelfth casualty" (21.52) of the Everest climbing season.
Seattle, November 29, 1996, 270 Feet
- Everyone is readjusting to life in their own way. Lou Kasischke is trying to look on the bright side of things, having been inspired by the example of Beck Weathers.
- Weathers's "right arm" (E.5) required amputation and his face a great deal of plastic surgery; he doesn't even know if he'll be able to practice medicine again. Still, he seems remarkably optimistic given his ordeal.
- Krakauer is still shaken up, though. Much of this has to do with the magazine piece he wrote about the disaster immediately after returning. Although that piece provides the foundation for the book we're now reading, there were many facts that he got wrong—namely, the status of Andy Harris.
- He received plenty of angry letters about these mistakes, but none were quite as heartbreaking as the scathing words he received from Lisa Fischer, sister of Scott.
- There are plenty of tragedies, too. Sadly, Lopsang Jangbu dies in an avalanche while climbing Everest later that year, and Boukreev gets into a crazy bus accident.
- Even Neal Beidleman, who was instrumental in the survival of five people, is haunted by the experience. To this day, he can still vividly remember the feeling of Yasuko grabbing his arm as he left to get help.