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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer
Anchor Books, 378 pp, 1997

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.

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.

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