Into thin air – the Everest disaster

There are actually two things that brought me onto this book. First, or what chronically actually is second as I will explain shortly, it showed as related content on Amazon when I was looking for Into the wild, which I have written about here as Jon Krakauer is the author of both.

But actually I heard about the book about a year earlier, but then forgot about it. A week in to my month long trip to Myanmar I was doing a 3 day trek with 7-8 others. One of the guys who I ended up getting to know rather well, was in the midst of reading it and gave it quite a lot of praise. His descriptions made it seem like a rather interesting but also grueling story. As he had just spend some weeks in Nepal trekking, he was really able to relate to the descriptions in the book. Sadly I totally forgot about it, but was luckily reminded later.

I won’t give the entire story away, but it describes the run-up to the expedition and all that happens on the mountain, from the authors point of view and at some points also accounts from others who were on the mountain either as part of the same expedition or one of the other that made a summit attempt at the same time.

Having basically no prior knowledge about what it takes to climb Everest, it was really interesting how much work goes into it. How many weeks you spend on the mountain in preparation for the final stint to the summit. I was very surprised at how hard climbing Everest actually must be. My ignorant impression was that just about anyone with relatively good health could just pay a good amount of money and then within a couple of weeks find themselves at the top of Everest.

There is a lot of discussion about guided tours, use of supplemental oxygen etc. but I am left with quite a bit of respect for people who reach the summit, and just as much for those who choose to turn around just before the summit. Having spend so much time on preparation, dealt with grueling weather for weeks, having told everyone you are going to climb Everest and spend quite a fortune on it – only to turn around close to the top for health or safety concerns – what a brave decision!

The very last part of the book is used to somewhat defend some of the content. There is a guide from another expedition, who’s not described as having made the best decisions based on his function as a guide. Apparently he later wrote a book called The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest that strikes back at Jon Krakauer and challenges his projection of him (the guide). As totally unaware of this beef between the two, it seems rather unnecessary, and you could easily skip it.

Finally, what will perhaps answer a question a reader of my blog post on Into the wild asked. You do hear quite a lot about the author himself. I agree that in Into the wild, it’s perhaps not that relevant to add the content describing his own accomplishments, but given the fact that this book describes an expedition that he himself was a part of from his point of view, though as well as others – it’s quite fair that we hear quite a lot about him. You can’t say he misses the opportunity to mention him being in front of the other climbers on numerous occasions, but in my opinion you can easily ignore it and just be inspired by an incredible story of what it takes to climb this amazing mountain and especially the risks involved. I learned so much about the sacrifices people make in order to stand on top of the world and how climbing it has not changed all that much since the first climbers reached the summit. Very much worth a read.

You can grab your copy here: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

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Into the wild – Christopher McCandless aka. Alexander Supertramp

I stumbled upon this story in a quite unusual way. Usually I find interesting documentaries, movies and content in general from blogs, people I follow etc. I almost never watch TV or consume, what could be called random content – it’s almost always a deliberate choice, which has both up- and downsides, but that’s a topic/discussion for another day. But this story I surprisingly bumped into some random night watching TV.

The story about Christopher McCandless or Alexander Supertramp as he called himself, is described both in a motion picture and a book by the same name: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. As described above, I first encountered the motion picture version. And I was almost blown away by it. It may have something to do with the fact, that I at the time, had just returned from my month of Solo-travel in Myanmar and here I was back in Denmark watching a movie that described a lot of the same feeling I had both before and during my trip. It made quite an impact on me.

I started a little research about the guy Christopher McCandless, which the movie was based on and soon found out that there was a book written about his endeavor as well. I had to read it.

Without spoiling too much, the story in short is about a young guy who sells all his belongings to pursue a dream of living in the wild, without any help from modern day conveniences. It could be just another naive, semi-stupid guy getting lost in his own identity, but he is a very inspiring young guy with so much energy and passion for living.

You can surely get away with reading the book or watching the movie in any order, but the book includes a lot more details than the movie and has a lot of references to people who has or could have inspired Christopher McCandless. If you like the thought of leaving everything behind, maybe just for a short while the story sure will make an impact on you.

I would like to just bring a quote from the book, which is actually not by Christopher McCandless but by a guy called Everett Ruess. He lived way before McCandless even was born, but as McCandless he was a young guy who went out into the wild to explore both nature and himself. This is a letter he wrote to his brother that is just so incredibly philosophical:

As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think. I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities. Do you blame me then for staying here, where I feel that I belong and am one with the world around me? It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty…

Even from your scant description, I know that I could not bear the routine and humdrum of the life that you are forced to lead. I don’t think I could ever settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.

The book is filled with interesting people who pursued the dream of a more ”natural” and simple life. And the story about Christopher McCandless is just so inspiring. Some people write him of as being a naive young kid with a death-wish. But read or watch and judge for yourself – it’s definitely not the impression I ended up with. Whether you pick up the bookor watch the movie I can’t ever imagine you being disappointed about the story.

After having finished it I picked up another book by the same author called Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, about an Everest expedition that went terribly wrong, as with Into The Wild, this is a very interesting read – but I will save the final verdict and details to another blog post.