Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Everest! ...Everest?

It took me a little while to realize it, but this is it – we’ve reached Everest, the highest of the high peaks, the Holy Grail of the mountaineer. And with the added mythos surrounding this peak comes the added danger. Into Thin Air brought a lesson from “The Devil’s Thumb” back for me, the lesson of expectations. Just by reading the back cover I knew there would be no avoiding the fact that this is a tragedy, but there was still a little thrill of excitement because we were reading about Everest, and who hasn’t seen some documentary or heard some adventurer utter that name reverentially? Surely, I thought, disaster or no disaster, if anything evokes the sublime, it must be Mt. Everest.

And then I started reading. How can you access the sublime and exceed the known limits of your mind when you look out at the vastness of the Himalaya and can’t “summon the energy to care” (7)? The team has already been pushed to their physical and mental limits, I came to realize, to the point where the sublime could no longer be applied. Unless the sublime can be cast in a hallucination caused by oxygen-deficiency, the climbers of Into Thin Air were probably out of luck.

Disenchanted from the start, I read on. It’s time to reevaluate my assumptions of Everest.  


  1. I think you make a really good point about the expectation of mountains in opposition to their reality. I, too, expected many of the texts of this course to be like re-treads of Shelley's "Mont Blanc" ("and above it stood Mont Blanc in all its awful majesty"). But what's interesting about the notion of the "sublime," particularly in regards to Shelley, is that he never climbed the mountain he was so in awe of. And here we are, "armchair adventurers," expecting a sublime, awe-inspiring experience, and what we are instead left with is drudgery at best and death at works. Which of course begs my favorite question-"Is it worth it?"

  2. I definitely felt the same way. It seems like Krakauer didn't get much out of his adventure. At least some of the others on his expedition had a new found appreciation for life. It didn't feel to me like Krakauer had anything positive to say, despite the anticipation for the climb he describes in his first few chapters. I know it's wrong to assume authorial intent in any way, but do you think maybe this was Krakauer's attempt at discouraging a climb up Everest? He never comes out and blatantly says do or don't, so I feel we have to look for other clues within the text. Maybe this is evidence of his being on the side of don't?