This began as a comment response to Janelle’s post about the quote from the Japanese expedition passing climbers in danger, but then I kept ranting, so I’m posting in a blog separately.
For your ease of reading, I here repost the quote in question:
“Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality”
And yet, a few pages later in the next chapter, Krakauer reports that the other three more capable expeditions, as soon as they discovered that there was an emergency high up, "immediately postponed their own summit plans in order to assist the stricken climbers." Clearly this statement isn't universally true. There were multiple heroic attempts, both successful and not, very high up on the mountain to help others. I think that all climbers who attempt Everest should be able to afford morality (thus I condemn the tourism side of the story). But the reality of this story is that some could afford morality, others couldn’t, and by the last few chapters of the book I was wishing fervently that that were not the case. I was angry at the actors on the mountain that they gave up, specifically I was angry at those in Camp Four who left Beck Weathers in a tent alone to die. Whether they believed he would die or not, they should not have left him alone. Blame it on hypoxia, bad luck, the storm, human limits, inevitability; that was at least one mistake that could have been avoided. How?
I think that the high-mountain climbers on this expedition failed to pay enough attention to the mental training necessary for their venture, in addition to the physical training. That’s what training is for: when the gloves are off and you’re in a panic, your training kicks in and you act mechanically. Yes, I concede that it was a bad storm and bad luck, and to a certain extent totally unavoidable, but I also think many of those on the mountain were severely underprepared for the mental rigors they underwent. That being said, I again appreciated Krakauer’s attempted frank and comprehensive report of his and others’ memories of those final days on the mountain – even as he was describing his guilt upon discovering Weathers in the tent alive and in need, his report as such allowed me to be angry at him for his failure. This took courage as a writer, and I felt it was in that sense a success as a work of journalism.