Into Thin Air By Jon Krakauer
I really want to do more reading for pleasure during 2016. It's a pledge that I've made to myself for the last couple of years but have, ultimately, been unable to fill. To try and help me start off as I mean to go on, I asked for books as Christmas presents and got three (as well as some other lovely gifts).
First book down was Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is Krakauer's personal recollection of the 1996 Everest disaster, the catastrophic events of 10 and 11 May 1996 that were made into the film Everest (2015). I watched that film following on from a talk in Brighton given by Glenn Freemantle (the film's sound designer). Glenn included a number of details about how the post-sync sound was conceptualised and then put together, and he did it in a way that made me want to watch the film to experience that about which he had talked. I found the film intriguing. However, it does not quite match the billing of the story, and this is even more apparent when one reads Krakauer's account.
In the past, I had read with more than a passing interest a potted history of the mountain and in particular George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine's failed attempt for the summit in 1924. Everest is littered with many tales of tragedy, recklessness and bad fortune, such as the story of Green Boots, or of British mountaineer David Sharp. What Krakauer really brings home to people like me who have never stepped foot on a mountain and likely never will, is the physical and mental madness (or fortitude, depending on which angle you're coming from) of the endeavour. 'Laying siege to Everest' is how Krakauer recalls his lead guide, Rob Hall, describing the practicalities of an Everest summit expedition. The fact that so many people buy into laying that siege seem to bring forth a kind of collective madness or 'cabin fever' amongst those wish to summit. It seems to me particularly the case for those who pay the extortionate amounts (tens of thousands of us dollars) to be guided up the mountain.
Whilst Into Thin Air remains the definitive recollection, for those looking to get a fuller picture of events surrounding the 1996 disaster, other books that tell the tale include, Anatoli Bukreev's The Climb, Matt Dickinson's Death Zone: Climbing Through The Everest Storm and Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard, even Graham Ratcliffe's A Day To Die For. Naturally each contributor has a slightly different version of events, and having started with Into Thin Air, I'm extremely curious to make my way slowly through the list of other accounts.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is published by Pan Books.