Friday, March 04, 2016

Jaw-Dropping, Mind-Boggling Everest Memoir Intensely Personal, Deeply Affecting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If someone else was footing the bill (which can run in excess of $70,000) and you were given a year to train, would you be willing to make a go at climbing to the summit of Mount Everest?  Keep in mind that topping Earth's tallest mountain (above sea level) takes around two months and requires great skill and strength.  Despite increasing safety measures, people still die every year while trying to reach Everest's top.  They expire because of altitude sickness, exposure, heart attacks, exhaustion, falling, and being caught in blizzards and storms (In 2015, Everest's deadliest year, 21 were killed because of an earthquake-triggered avalanche).  Many of the dead bodies are never found; even when they're located, the difficulty of removing corpses at such high elevation means that many remain on the mountain.  Considering all of this, would you do it?  Would you risk life and limb to try to achieve something only a few thousand people in the world have done?  Would all this be worth it to you, just to be able to say you've summited the highest mountain in the world?

For me, the answer is an unequivocal no way, nuh uh, never, ever, ever.  If your answer is more like, "Heck, yeah, I would," or even, "maybe," may I suggest that you're completely off your rocker you pick up a copy of Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's unforgettable memoir about his experience on Everest?  In vivid, compelling prose, the Seattle journalist describes what happened before, during, and after his life-changing climb.  The elaborate preparation (financial, physical, and emotional) that goes into planning and executing a "normal" Everest summit is mind-boggling all on its own.  Just that would have made for fascinating reading, especially told in Krakauer's engaging style.  But, the writer's trip would turn out to be anything but ordinary.  Krakauer, who was 42 at the time, staggered to the top of Mount Everest on the afternoon of May 10, 1996.  Unbeknownst to him, that day would come to be known as the deadliest in the mountain's history.  On that momentous day, he would lose teammates and friends in a terrible tragedy that haunts him to this day.

While some might romanticize their triumphs over Everest, Krakauer does nothing of the sort.  His account is honest, harrowing, and heartbreaking.  He talks frankly about common Everest issues like overcrowding, trash accumulation, unsafe climbing, and man's ridiculous hubris in the face of nature's supremacy. Krakauer also admits that "...climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain" (140).  In a 2015 interview with a Huffington Post reporter, he stated:
Climbing Mount Everest was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life. I wish I'd never gone.  I suffered for years of PTSD, and still suffer from what happened. I'm glad I wrote a book about it. But, you know, if I could go back and relive my life, I would never have climbed Everest.
Krakauer is forthright about everything he felt on his journey—from excitement to determination to horror to guilt to despair.  Because of that, Into Thin Air is more than just a recitation of facts about the infamous disaster of which Krakauer was an indelible part; it's an intensely personal, deeply affecting commentary that is as mesmerizing as it is memorable.  I watched Everest—the movie version of this book (of which Krakauer is extremely critical, by the way)—in 3D and although it was visually stunning, it's the images Krakauer painted in Into Thin Air that have really stayed with me.  I have zero interest in rock climbing, but this book is truly jaw-dropping and incredible.  It's a must-read for Everest aficionados as well as armchair travelers like me who are fascinated by the mountain's dazzling, deadly allure.

(Readalikes:  I haven't read any other true accounts of climbing Everest, but Into Thin Air reminded me of Bones on Ice, an Everest murder mystery by Kathy Reichs.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, scenes of peril, and a few references to sex and illegal drug use

Note:  Everest the movie, which is based on Into Thin Air, is actually rated PG-13 for disturbing images and scenes of peril.  Surprisingly, it has little—if any—profanity (unlike the book).  

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Into Thin Air at Costco with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

5 comments:

  1. Yeah I'm good staying down low. I hate heights and would never tackle Everest. Sounds like a harrowing read.

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    1. I'm not afraid of heights, I just can't imagine how such an expensive, treacherous, life-threatening adventure could possibly be worth it. It wasn't for Krakauer, especially since his trip was so tragic.

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  2. I read this book a number of years ago and was completely caught up in the story. And I'm not at all a non-fiction lover. That being said, wow. No, I would never climb that mountain. I love mountains, but I love to look at them. I can barely stand going to the top in a vehicle. This story though - the author's emotional experience is so, so vivid. I've not watched the movie (wasn't there another movie before this one?). It couldn't compare. I ought to read this one again.

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    1. I like non-fiction as long as it's written in an engaging, compelling way. This book definitely is. It's mesmerizing. I'm not the adventurous type at all (like you, I love LOOKING at mountains not CLIMBING them), but this book totally swept me away.

      Apparently, there have been a couple movies based on this book. There was a t.v. movie in 1997 called Into Thin Air, then the movie Everest that just barely came out. The latter is what I recently watched in 3D.

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  3. I've heard so many great things about this book, but I've never read it. I also knew nothing about some of the back story! Thanks for the review - this has just moved way up my to-read list!!!

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