Knowing that Into Thin Air is an account of “the deadliest season in the history of Everest” created an interesting dynamic with the text for me because I already knew the outcome. My previous knowledge about the sudden onset of the storm and some of the names of climbers who were not going to survive the descent created meant I was instantly questioning every decision that the leaders made and found some instances to be quite frustrating.
Krakauer describes what climbing is like when being guided up a mountain rather than on your own expedition, a very different perspective than what we’ve read so far in this class. The first three books we read this semester have all been accounts of unguided expeditions, written by the expedition leaders. It was a striking change to read about the experience Krakauer went through as a participant on a guided expedition, rather than on his own. I was particularly struck by his descriptions of the group dynamics within such a set up. He writes, “I felt disconnected from the climbers around me—emotionally, spiritually, physically…We were a team in name only, I’d sadly come to realize. Although in a few hours we would leave camp as a group, we would ascend as individuals” (213). In light of the past two books we read, which had a greater focus on the importance of group dynamics, I found this particular passage to be especially disheartening. The idea that the experience was all about the summit, and not about the trip itself was apparent throughout the book. But like the other mountaineering books we’ve read so far this semester, the summit receives relatively little attention.
I found it particularly interesting to read about what motivated people to climb, particularly since there were so many different personalities on the mountain. What is it that pulls people to Everest so that it has become commercialized to such an extent? Is it simply the fact that it’s the tallest mountain in the world? Is it the challenge of going up to such a high altitude? Is it just to “bag the summit” or is it to have a wilderness experience? With all the trash and people along the path to the summit, is an expedition to Everest a wilderness experience anymore? The mountain is indeed one of the wildest places on Earth, unpredictable in every sense, but with the establishment of the “yellow brick road to the summit,” does the mountain still qualify as wilderness?