Into Thin Air

Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air



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Into Thin Air is the story of the tragedy that occurred in 1996, when members of three different expeditions simultaneously attempting to climb Everest were caught in a horrific storm. Journalist Jon Krakauer, who was part of the group, painstakingly reports on the adventure that cost a total of 8 lives, as well as providing a wide range of background information and history on the World’s highest peak. His account of this pivotal ascent of Mount Everest led to a general reevaluation of climbing methods and of the commercialization of what was once an all-consuming, solitary sport, representing the ultimate challenge between man and the elements.

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Analysis and key concepts


In March 1996, Jon Krakauer, journalist, and mountaineer, took part in the Everest expedition led by Rob Hall, as a correspondent for Outside magazine. During the ascent on 10th May 1996, eight members of three different expeditions died trying to reach the summit


The highest peak on the planet was identified and certified in 1852, but only 101 years later did humans begin to climb the summit of Mount Everest


The routes taken to climb Everest were closely linked to political conditions: the first expeditions passed through Tibet and aimed for the north side, until 1949, when Nepal opened its borders and climbers shifted their attention to the south side of the peak


In 1985 the myth and mystery surrounding the world’s greatest peak was broken when a rich 55-year-old Texan was ushered to the top by a guide. This opened the floodgates for inexperienced climbers to take on Everest


May 1996: the perfect storm. All the worst possible conditions come together in one night, bringing the expedition to a tragic end


The climb had been carefully organised and meticulously planned. Each stage had been tested, including the phases of adaptation to the lack of oxygen at high altitude


Crowding was believed to be the main factor that caused the tragedy: as well as the two expeditions lead by Hall and Fisher, there were others further up the mountain, and a number of the climbers were inexperienced


The final act: from Camp IV, located on the South Col, the expeditions depart for the summit. Meanwhile, weather conditions leave a really narrow window for any attempt to make the final ascent


The deadline: to enable most of the climbers to reach the summit, Hall fails to avoid the most serious of all mountaineering violations by not ordering the turnaround at the established time, which Fisher had not even specified




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Find out about the history of the highest mountain in the world, and the many who have attempted to climb it.
  • Get a real sense of the adventure and perils of climbing Everest.
  • Learn of the events which caused the tragedy that took place there in 1996.

Journalist and climber Jon Krakauer has written eight books, and received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his ability to combine the “tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of a born writer.” Krakauer told the tale of Rob Hall's Everest expedition in an article for Outside, on which he had been sent as a correspondent, and then again in the first book published on the Everest tragedy of May 1996.

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