On Friday, April 18th, 2014, an avalanche plummeted down the slopes of Mount Everest, killing thirteen Nepali Sherpas. Three more are still missing.
While this is a tragedy, it is by no means unsurprising. If you want to know what climbing Mount Everest is really like, look no further than “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. This book chronicles the storm that took place in May of 1996, leading to the deaths of eight people, and becoming known as the “deadliest day on the mountain” (As of Friday, there is a new record holder for that title.)
In 2012, when I first picked up this book, I read the entire work in less than 5 hours. It’s an engaging read, as fascinating as it is horrifying. The romance of climbing to the “summit of the world” is not found here, instead, “Into Thin Air” brings us the ugly side of Everest. There are dead bodies and garbage lining the slopes, piles of human feces at Base Camp, and the constant threat of developing altitude sickness, hallucinations, and hypothermia.
This incident will likely not have as much media attention as the 1996 avalanche, mostly because the victims were Sherpas, not wealthy foreign tourists. As you’ll learn in “Into Thin Air,” the Sherpas are the real climbers, and they do almost all the real work. In addition to acting as guides and carrying equipment, they go before the “tourists” and set up good climbing routes, placing ropes and even repair ladders (the victims of Friday’s avalanche were bringing food and equipment up the mountain in advance of a climbing party scheduled for next week).
This book is essential reading for anyone who, like Christopher McCandles or Timothy Treadwell, views nature through the spectrum of rose-colored glasses. When we decide to take on the peaks of our world, we are not always the ones who suffer.