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Book Review: “Into Thin Air” – Post #2

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Image Mount Everest Climbing Photos

I wrote about “Into Thin Air” last month and finally got around to finishing it the other day. There’s a few things I learned that I wanted to share:

1) It’s cold as hell

The summit of Everest is 29, 028 feet. To give you an idea how high that is, most commercial planes fly around 30,000-40,000 feet (the air is thinner, therefore, more fuel efficient).

“…searched for a protected place to escape the wind, but there was nowhere to hide. Everyone’s oxygen had long since run out, making the group more vulnerable to the windchill, which exceeded a hundred below zero.”

100 degrees below zero!! Unreal. I felt -7 one time in Boston and I couldn’t imagine being outside when it’s an extra 100 degrees colder.

2) You climb at night

I never thought of this before, but time is a major issue. Your body needs to get acclimated to the different altitude levels and it needs to do so periodically but quickly. If you stay at a high altitude for too long, your body can’t handle it, kind of like deep sea diving but on a massive mountain.

These mountaineers climb at night with headlamps (with severe storms your visibility can be reduced to just a few feet) in order to keep moving.

3) Getting to the summit is the easy part

“Reaching the top of Everest is supposed to trigger a surge of intense elation; against all odds, after all, I had just attained a goal I’d coveted since childhood. But the summit was really only the halfway point. Any impulse I might have felt toward self-congratulation was extinguished by overwhelming apprehension about the long, dangerous descent that lay ahead.”

I know this may sound obvious, but before reading this book I thought of climbing to the top of the mountain as the end goal — it’s not. Getting back down is even more difficult: you’re incredibly fatigued, you run the risk of running out of oxygen in your tank (most people carry oxygen tanks because it’s so hard to breathe in the high altitude) and the cold temperature creates all sorts of problems. Once you get to the top it’s basically a race against time.

Mountaineering, in some ways reminds me of martial arts. It’s a small club of people and it’s hard to explain to outsiders exactly why you do it; why you put yourself through the physical pain time and time again.

Krakauer’s got a nice take on it:

“I’d always known that climbing mountains was a high-risk pursuit. I accepted that danger was an essential component of the game — without it, climbing would be little different from a hundred other trifling diversions. It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”

I’ll say it again: this is a great adventure book. Totally worth your time.

UPDATE: 4/23/10


LINKS: HistoryShots Conquest of Mount Everest

Mount Everest Climbing Photos

BUY IT ON AMAZON Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Categories: BOOK REVIEWS Tags: ,
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