Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 01/11/18 11:06 AM

Book review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

This is more  brief take than  review of the book.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Pan Books.

The May 1996 Everest disaster where eight people died in a storm that hit the mountain with force, is well documented in print and on celluloid too. Jon Krakauer`s account is very matter- of- fact, shorn of any hyperbole about the mountain or the men climbing it. A personal account, this book courted as much controversy as Krakauer`s actions back then, but let`s face it, it is such a good read.

Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition became an almost Calvinistic undertaking. The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I`d been on. I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain.

The author tells us of erudite climbers: While tent-bound high on Everest, Mallory and his companions would read aloud to one another from Hamlet and King Lear!

He states that achieving the summit of a mountain was tangible, immutable, concrete, but then wryly adds that Everest in the 80s was termed the Yak Route because so many climbed the mountain indiscriminately.

And this is how he describes the Khumbu Icefall: As dawn washed the darkness from the sky, the shattered glacier was revealed to be a three-dimensional landscape of phantasmal beauty. Crystalline blue stalagmites, sheer rock buttresses seamed with ice pressed in from both sides of the glacier.

Up in a plane, Krakauer looks at That Mountain.  The ink-black wedge of the summit pyramid stood out in stark relief, towering over the surrounding ridges. Thrust high into the jet stream, the mountain ripped a visible gash in the 120-knot hurricane, sending forth a plume of ice crystals that trailed to the east like a long silk scarf. It was precisely the same height as the jet I was in. That I proposed to climb to the cruising altitude of an Airbus 300 jetliner struck me, at that moment, as preposterous or worse.

Well, he goes on to do it, climb to the peak of Everest, in a year that turned hugely disastrous for many others climbing alongside him. Reports say that some lives could have been saved but for his giving wrong information about the climbers` whereabouts. He tells his side of the story here. Believe him or disbelieve him as you may, but do read his book. It`s a compelling account.


Into Thin AirJon KrakauerMount Everest disaster of 1996mountaineeringRob Hall

Sheila Kumar • January 11, 2018

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