I was astonished at how different the ‘adventure narrative’ was when told from a journalism perspective. This time, for the first time, we’re not getting the story from the leader(s) of an expedition, we’re getting it from a climber / client / journalist. This time, we got a small look into everyone else’s minds during the expedition. Krakauer, although he did concentrate on his own experience because it was the one he knew best, also delivered to the readers many of the other myriad details of his and other accompanying expeditions. The result was a rather well rounded story instead of a one-sided look into an adventure. I was endlessly fascinated in particular (so far – haven’t finished yet) by the group dynamics created by the other expeditions on Everest, and how that caused considerable strain on Hall’s expedition. Especially having incompetent climbing groups on the mountain seemed to have a serious impact on the success of the climb overall. Hall and Fischer, as two of the more competent leaders, felt a responsibility towards everyone on the mountain in terms of safety, not just their own clients and Sherpas. Thus when the other groups inevitably got themselves into trouble, Hall and Fischer took it upon themselves to provide help, in spite of the danger that doing so posed to their own climbs’ success. The report of this from Krakauer’s perspective is surely very different from what it would have been from Hall’s or Fischer’s. In this instance I was grateful for the journalistic approach, and felt confidant that I was getting a more accurate report of reality.
In addition, a lot of history was delivered throughout Into Thin Air, making it very educational and again providing a more all-encompassing account of the adventure. I found that Krakauer’s book gave me a new understanding of the Sherpas’ goals and responsibilities where Blum and Herzog saw only through their own eyes. Krakauer, in his pursuit of writing this book, took the time to interview the Sherpas about the climb individually, something that I highly doubt Herzog or Blum had much interest in doing. Krakauer’s inclusion of climbing history also gave me a new look at the minds of climbers from a fairly removed position. Whereas before I had an image of a highly driven and focused person as a good climber, now I also understand that a good climber knows when to admit defeat and turn around, despite his/her desires and regrets. This gave me a deeper appreciation for good climbing guides and for climbing in general – it truly is a test of the self. Can you want it enough to give it all you have, and can you distinguish that fine line between the need for a little more effort to achieve success and the slip into irrational narrow-mindedness that leads to destruction? Krakauer was able to articulate that difference for me, as well as the cost that both cases can reap.
I found Herzog’s book to be somewhat exasperating, Blum’s to be a little mystifying, and Bancroft’s and Arnesen’s to be uplifting. But Into Thin Air was sobering, and while it wasn’t my favorite read thus far, I really appreciated the frank gravity of the telling of the events, largely born, I believe, from Krakauer’s initial understanding that he was going as a journalist, and that his book was meant to be a journalistic approach to the reporting of a climb. The absence of a leadership role and its accompanying stresses allowed Krakauer to produce an entirely different story.