Monday, January 09, 2006

Into Thin Air

Of late I've been reading one of my Christmas gifts, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is his account of his experience as a climber on the Adventure Concepts expedition to climb Mt. Everest in 1996. Four of the climbers in his group died on the mountain, including the man who led the expedition, Rob Hall. It's a gripping and personal recounting of the climb and how things went wrong in the Death Zone, more than 5 miles up.

I guess I have trouble comprehending why a person would be willing to do what it takes to climb Everest, given the odds are about 1 in 4 the mountain will kill you. That's with modern equipment and the fifty years of experience gained since Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay climbed it first in 1953. The danger starts even before you reach the base camp, with the possibility of dying from altitude sickness. Then the mountain gives you warnings on the way to the intermediate camps on the route to the summit in the form of bodies of those who have died on the mountain in previous expeditions, all the while the risk of serious illness or death just from the altitude continues to increase. Then there's the chance of a fall, or being crushed by an avalanche before getting to the last camp at 26,000 feet, from which the climbers make the final ascent (usually with supplemental oxygen). The climbers can be trapped and/or blinded by storms at the peak, and incipient hypoxia makes decision making in the event of emegency a bit dodgy at best. I just fail to comprehend what drives people to do it.

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