Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air is the story of an ill-fated trip up Mount Everest; I had to read an article about the 11 May 1996 disaster for my management class, and this book is another telling of the article, written by one of the members of the expedition, Jon Krakauer.

The main point of the book is that the commercialization of Everest was eventually going to lead to a disaster, and in 1996 it happened.  People have been paying upwards of $65,000 to be led up to the top of Everest, and the guides had been taking any “reasonably fit” people and assured them that they would be able to reach the top.  This arrogance, on both the part of the guide and client, helped lead to the disaster.  Rob Hall, the leader of the group of which Krakauer was a part, knew that some day there would be a disaster on the mountain; he thought that his skill, however, would allow him to bring the people back alive.

The arrogance of the clients, too, lead to the disaster.  Doug Hansen, one of the clients, had tried to reach the top of Everest before, and couldn’t bear failing a second time.  He pushed on even though others knew that he probably should not attempt the summit; his larynx had frozen lower on the mountain, and while he was able to recover, he probably should have been sent down at that point.  Rob Hall, the guide, felt bad that Hansen had failed the year before, and wanted him to be able to reach the summit this time.

The commercialization of Everest has also had environmental impacts.  Thousands of oxygen tanks litter the ground at Camp IV; groups have tried to help clean by offering a price for each empty oxygen tank brought  back down.  The sheer number of people tramping up the slope has had an impact as well, especially on the lower parts of the mountain where the ecosystem is very fragile.  High up on the mountain, there is really no ecosystem to speak of.

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