Tuesday, February 19, 2013


            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? 

1 comment:

  1. So I just got out of the Banff Film Festival and it really got me thinking about a lot of what we have talked about in class. First of all Antarctica sucks. There was a short film about a couple of Aussies who walked to the south pole from the coast back. Though it must have been sensationalized to some extent, the visuals that film provided make me think that the journey that Liv and Ann took must have been pretty close to a living nightmare. I am giving them a lot of credit for wanting to go back there.

    However, more so the festival made me think a lot about what it means to have an adventure and find wilderness too. Perhaps even more so it made me think about the obsession that we as humans have with being first. I don't know if it's an American trait, but I am fairly confident that all races and cultures are subject to it. Anyways, more and more I am beginning to think an adventure, at least a modern day one, is about proving something to yourself by doing something that you have never done before. Weather it is the first time that that something has been achieved or if it is something that everybody in the world has done but you it is an adventure. Assuming that you have never been to the top of everest the summit is without a doubt wilderness, but for a guide who has been up there multiple times perhaps not. Wilderness to me still means discomfort and uncertainty which are both subjective things. I feel trying to define wilderness so that it applies to everyone is impossible. But then no two people view any aspect of anything the exact same way.