By Jon Krakauer
This is a fascinating, riveting book that I
found nearly impossible to put down. Bad weather mixed with questionable
human judgment combined for a deadly season on Mt. Everest, the highest
peak in the world. The author witnessed much of the tragedy. Sent by Outside
magazine to write about a guided ascent of Mt. Everest, Jon Krakauer
lost five teammates, two who disappeared and three who froze to death.
Twelve climbers total lost their lives on Everest in May 1997.
Anchor Books, 378 pp, 1997
Besides providing a gripping account of
the tragic expedition, Krakauer also explores the controversies and
culture surrounding Everest. Guided expeditions, which several Everest
veterans despise, including Sir Edmund Hillary, consist of two or three
guides who lead paid clients up Everest. These clients are generally good
climbers who otherwise would have no chance of climbing Everest by
themselves. Sherpas, a local people whose entire economy depends on these
guided expeditions, are paid a measly sum to haul all the food, shelter
and other equipment up the mountain. Guides and clients carry only what
they need for that day, and any other personal and emergency equipment.
Without the Sherpas, guided expeditions would be impossible. In my
opinion, the Sherpas are a brave, heroic lot, risking their own lives to
provide for their families, and often to rescue stranded climbers.
Why do other climbers like Hillary
detest these guided expeditions? They lament the commercialization of what
they feel is a sacred place. Furthermore, Everest, they say, is no place
for amateurs, guided or not.
Krakauer also touches on the history of
Everest, its climbers, and why tragedies are probably inevitable, no
matter how many precautions are taken. The strength of the book, though,
is the story of the disaster that May.