Jon Krakauer and that fateful '96 expedition

I’ve seen this mentioned on at least a couple of other boards; thought I’d finally devote a thread to one.

I’ve read Into Thin Air, by far the most fascinating…and disturbing…account of the sport, passion, and madness that is mountain climbing. Seeing how much flack Jon Krakauer seems to have taken since then, I’d like to make the following points.

  • There are few things more utterly contemptible than ragging on and blaming someone who’s been through hell, and I refuse to criticize Krakauer or anyone else who survived that terrible '96. Furthermore, I wasn’t there, so I really don’t have any right to criticize anyway. (I honestly wonder what’s in the souls of the fools who wrote scathing letters to Krakauer.)

  • The reason he didn’t try to save anyone else was that he couldn’t. He’d run out of supplemental oxygen and was barely coherent when he returned to safety. Remember, rule 1 in a crisis is “Save yourself”, and rule 2 is “Save others if you can.” He did exactly the right thing in staying put and not placing himself back in danger.

  • The reason he doesn’t have the greatest opinion of the guide who saved him, Anatoli Boukreev, was due to an unforgivable lapse in judgment. Boukreev made the ascent without supplemental oxygen, which meant that he had to keep moving since he couldn’t deal with the cold (something Krakauer clarifies in the updated version of the book)…and hence, he had to abandon his group and go to the summit alone. It didn’t matter how many ascents he’d made without oxygen before; when he signed on to Scott Fisher’s expedition, he had an obligation to stay with the group and help them, and anything which would require him to act selfishly shouldn’t have even been considered. Only after an emergency was at hand did he come to the aid of others (which Krakauer noted and applauded); while heroic, it doesn’t absolve his prior blunder.

  • There air is thin on Everest, and even supplemental oxygen is of limited help. Therefore, claims that Krakauer “lied” or “misled” others are ludicrous. It’s hard to think with insufficient oxygen. He told the truth as he best saw it (which still wasn’t too good), and it’s up to us to make of it what we will.
    What happened that ill-fated expedition was a tragedy, but spiteful finger-pointing benefits no one. It was a bad situation for a lot of people, and we should be grateful that this was an unusual incident. I appreciate any reasonable comments on the book or the man.

I agree that while Boukreev’s later actions were heroic, he never should have been allowed to act as a guide without using supplemental oxygen. It would be another matter if he were simply another climber, but a guide’s function is to be there to assist the clients in getting up and down the mountain, which he can’t do if he has to get himself up and down quickly because he isn’t using oxygen. Fischer should have insisted he use O2 or find another guide.

Krakauer did make mistakes in his original article which he later corrected in the book, and he admitted that he had made those mistakes–partly through no fault of his own. One vital piece of information he didn’t even get until after the article had been published because one of the individuals involved wouldn’t speak to him while he was writing it, so he had to rely on his own faulty, anoxic memory.

Krakauer was criticized for profiting from the tragedy, when let’s face it, the only reason he was there was to write about it. He was there on assignment for Outside Magazine; it’s just unfortunate that the story turned into one large enough for a whole book.

Besides, his writing is absolutely wonderful. I couldn’t put the book down.

I read Into the Wild on a bus trip across New England, and was utterly enthralled. Should I add this one to my “To Read” list as well?

I certainly recommend it (otherwise known as the second installment of the “Into” series ;)). I think Krakauer is one of the most readable authors I’ve encountered in recent memory. Besides, the story itself is absolutely gripping.

Boukreev also authored a book before he died, entitled The Climb. I don’t have a judgment on who was “right,” but I did enjoy reading both versions. Krakauer’s book got me so interested that I have since read a number of books on mountaineering and Everest…and anyone that knows what a couch potato I am thinks that must have been one compelling book to get me interested in that! :wink:

I’ve read Into Thin Air I don’t know how many times. There is something more than gripping, to me, in reading an account of an actual incident and how it affected those involved…I still cringe while reading the passage about Beck Weathers being left for dead and how he struggled to reach Camp Four, as well as whoever it was (I can’t recall the person’s name at the moment) who came upon the Japanese woman’s body. She was still breathing after an inch-thick sheet of ice was chisled off her face shudder.

Krakauer’s critics somehow forget that, in the passage where he finally reached Camp Four after the reaching the summit, he berates himself for not returning outside to help those in trouble. Seriously, though, in his oxygen-starved state, he would’ve been putting himself AND everyone else in danger had he been part of the rescue team. I’d love to ask the critics what THEY would’ve done in the same situation, and I’d bet anything that they would’ve stayed put as Krakauer did. Freak blizzard aside, it was also poor planning in having all those teams reaching the summit at nearly the same time. That, in itself, set the scenario.

To shift focus on the subject a bit, has anyone read ** Into The Wild**? As far as I know, it was Krakauer’s first book. It’s an account of a college-aged young man who decided to disappear from the comfortable suburban life he had always known into the Alaskan wilderness…


Do you not read the previous posts before you reply?

Good book, if the facts are somewhat questionable. To be fair, he admits his first accounts misidentified a member of his own party coming back down. I think the O[sub] 2[/sub] is only usually dispensed at the equivalent level of 8000m anyway. That isn’t a sea-level partial pressure there. Boukreev’s account is considerably different. Also, he claimed he had a role assigned by Fischer for emergencies. I would assume the guide should be on O[sub]2[/sub]. Viesturs and Brashears both were on the * Everest * IMAX expedition that was lower that day (Camp 2 or so?) and gave of their O[sub]2[/sub] to help. BTW, EXCELLENT film, IMHO.

Hard to say all that happened. Hall and Fischer died on Everest that day, and Boukreev died in an avalanche, last year, I believe.

I read * Into Thin Air * at a higher altitude than they were: a plane from ORD to JFK. So, in my own perversity, I read * The Climb * on my next flight.