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Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Author: Jon Krakauer
Rating: 8/10
Last Read: March 2016

Quick Summary: A retelling of a tragic Everest expedition which claimed the lives of multiple experienced mountaineers and clients.

Key Takeaways

Ego will get you killed.

Mountains are dangerous places.  Even experienced mountaineers make mistakes, which cost them their lives or the lives of others. Altitude does not make decision making easier.

Climbing at altitude is not fun, in the traditional sense.

There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

My Highlights

The staggering unreliability of the human mind at high altitude made the research problematic. --loc 146

There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument. --loc 158

The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time. --loc 160

As I gazed across the sky at this contrail, it occurred to me that the top of Everest was precisely the same height as the pressurized jet bearing me through the heavens. That I proposed to climb to the cruising altitude of an Airbus 300 jetliner struck me, at that moment, as preposterous, or worse. My palms felt clammy. --loc 622

There was loneliness, too, as the sun set, but only rarely now did doubts return. Then I felt sinkingly as if my whole life lay behind me. Once on the mountain I knew (or trusted) that this would give way to total absorption with the task at hand. But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind. --loc 763

The more improbable the situation and the greater the demands made on [the climber], the more sweetly the blood flows later in release from all that tension. The possibility of danger serves merely to sharpen his awareness and control. And perhaps this is the rationale of all risky sports: You deliberately raise the ante of effort and concentration in order, as it were, to clear your mind of trivialities. It’s a small scale model for living, but with a difference: Unlike your routine life, where mistakes can usually be recouped and some kind of compromise patched up, your actions, for however brief a period, are deadly serious. A. Alvarez The Savage God: A Study of Suicide --loc 1221

Eighteen days earlier she’d broken into tears when she’d taken me to the plane to Nepal. “Driving home from the airport,” she confessed, “I couldn’t stop crying. Saying good-bye to you was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. I guess I knew on some level that you might not be coming back, and it seemed like such a waste. It seemed so fucking stupid and pointless.” --loc 1373

Ms. O’Dowd walked to the team’s Sherpa leader, Ang Dorje, and said audibly: “This is Ken Vernon, one of the ones we told you about. He is to be given no assistance whatsoever.” Ang Dorje is a tough, nuggety rock of a man and we had already shared several glasses of Chang, the fiery local brew. I looked at him and said, “Not even a cup of tea?” To his credit, and in the best tradition of Sherpa hospitality, he looked at Ms. O’Dowd and said: “Bullshit.” He grabbed me by the arm, dragged me into the mess tent and served up a mug of steaming tea and a plate of biscuits. --loc 1605

I doubt if anyone would claim to enjoy life at high altitudes—enjoy, that is, in the ordinary sense of the word. There is a certain grim satisfaction to be derived from struggling upwards, however slowly; but the bulk of one’s time is necessarily spent in the extreme squalor of a high camp, when even this solace is lacking. --loc 1636

worst of all is the feeling of complete helplessness and inability to deal with any emergency that might arise. I used to try to console myself with the thought that a year ago I would have been thrilled by the very idea of taking part in our present adventure, a prospect that had then seemed like an impossible dream; but altitude has the same effect on the mind as upon the body, one’s intellect becomes dull and unresponsive, and my only desire was to finish the wretched job and to get down to a more reasonable clime. --loc 1642

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. Joan Didion --loc 1933

Now I dream of the soft touch of women, the songs of birds, the smell of soil crumbling between my fingers, and the brilliant green of plants that I diligently nurture. I am looking for land to buy and I will sow it with deer and wild pigs and birds and cottonwoods and sycamores and build a pond and the ducks will come and fish will rise in the early evening light and take the insects into their jaws. There will be paths through this forest and you and I will lose ourselves in the soft curves and folds of the ground. We will come to the water’s edge and lie on the grass and there will be a small, unobtrusive sign that says, THIS IS THE REAL WORLD, MUCHACHOS, AND WE ARE ALL IN IT. --loc 4074

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