29,000 feet

When I was visiting my in-laws earlier this month, I borrowed Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer from my father-in-law. I actually gave to him one Christmas, and he graciously let me take it back. I started reading it Friday morning last weekend, and I finished it Monday night. I haven’t read a book that fast in three years (almost exactly; Harper’s third birthday is next week). I could not put it down. I read until after midnight one night, I read while eating breakfast, and – at least once – I read while standing in the kitchen waiting for Harper to put her shoes on so we could leave the house.

It’s the story (in case you’re like me and were lost in the oblivion of your freshman year of college when this happened) of the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest, when eight climbers were killed in a sudden storm while climbing down from the summit. The way Krakauer tells it, the disaster was caused by a combination of really bad weather and a whole string of bad decisions by a lot of people – the worst of which, perhaps, was the decision to climb this mountain at all.

I couldn’t breathe at times while reading it; it was the adrenaline rush of a really good adventure story coupled with the horror of knowing that it had actually happened. I think Krakauer’s writing had a lot to do with how effective it was. He’s a journalist, so there was a very deliberate attention to detail and an emphasis on getting the facts right. He described the trek from base camp to the summit so clearly that I feel like I’ve been there. But he was also one of the climbers, and was there on the side of the mountain while his friends died. The grief of that comes through, too, as he tries to make some sense of what happened, and as a reader, I grieved with him.

The peak of Everest is 29,000 feet above sea level. There is not enough oxygen up there for anything – anything – to live. There are no plants, no animals. Helicopters can’t fly that high. It’s the cruising altitude of a commercial jet. Humans should not be able to climb that high.

I am utterly hooked. Why in the world do people want to climb this mountain?




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