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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.