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Into Thin Air | Chapter 10 : Lhotse Face, April 29, 1996 (23,400 feet) | Summary

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Summary

Krakauer begins the painfully slow and exhausting ascent of the "immense slant" of the Lhotse Face. Climbers must inch their way up the rope for hours in freezing temperatures. Krakauer describes the experience as "agonizing." He describes climbing Everest as an exercise in "enduring pain," not in enjoying an adrenaline rush. However, he admits that some climbers summit Everest for the "bragging rights."

Krakauer describes Beck Weathers, the doctor from Texas, whom Krakauer mistakenly thought was a dilettante. Watching him climb has changed Krakauer's mind. He recognizes Weathers's exuberance and optimism in facing the mountain's challenges.

Another climber in Hall's group, John Taske, tells Krakauer he loves mountain climbing for "the challenge, the camaraderie, the sense of mission." The optimism and enthusiasm of these climbers gives Krakauer pause when he considers he's there as a journalist. He is recording the words and actions of climbers who did not sign up for such levels of scrutiny.

Krakauer is exhausted when he reaches Camp Three, about halfway up the Lhotse Face. The camp is "spectacularly exposed" to the elements. Krakauer feels "woozy" and hopes it's just from the intense sunlight. Krakauer discusses HAPE and HACE, the high-altitude sicknesses that may lead to death on the high mountain. At very high altitudes everyone is susceptible to fluid accumulation in the lungs or the brain. Krakauer describes the effects of HACE on one of Fischer's clients whose mind was so disoriented he could not dress himself.

Krakauer resumes his narrative, reminding readers he and the other climbers are more or less sleepless because of the altitude. Groggy, they leave Camp Three on May 1 and head for Base Camp. Krakauer feels confident that Hall's plan for acclimatizing his clients is working. The summit climb is still planned for May 10, a time before the monsoon hits that should provide excellent climbing weather.

Krakauer ends the chapter with an explanation of weather patterns over Everest and why early May is in the short window that should afford the best weather for summiting. Krakauer reveals that most of the other expeditions on the mountain had promised not to attempt the summit on May 10 so as not to interfere with Hall's group. The Taiwanese agreed to this timetable. However, Woodall said his group would summit any time they felt like it, probably on May 10.

Analysis

Krakauer deals with a confluence of themes when he discusses how other members of his and the other teams reacted to his role as a journalist, observing and reporting on the expedition. Some have a degree of trust that Krakauer, as a teammate, would be objective and fair in his reporting on the people and events during the climb. Others perceive Krakauer's presence as an added degree of self-consciousness. Some climbers felt being observed put a type of pressure on them to act, or perform, in a certain way. They lost a type of control they might otherwise have had in determining their own behavior or being honest about their shortcomings. It's likely team leaders were especially vigilant about how their expedition was being run because Krakauer was reporting on their business. Krakauer's report on the expedition for publication in a magazine is also a type of commercialization of Everest; Outside magazine would be making money on—or commercializing—Krakauer's experience on the climb through his article.

Krakauer explains how lack of sufficient oxygen can cause climbers to come down with HAPE or HACE, which can be fatal. Both conditions arise from hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen at high altitudes. HACE is an extreme and life-threatening condition causing disorientation and irrationality, which results when fluid accumulates in the brain due to hypoxia. However, Krakauer also reports feeling that Hall's acclimatization regimen is actually working. He says, "After three weeks on the mountain, I felt that the air at Base Camp seemed thick and rich and voluptuously saturated with oxygen" compared to how he felt before he was acclimated to the altitude.

Cooperation among expeditions becomes a crucial issue at the end of this chapter. Except for Hall and Fischer, most of the other expedition leaders had previously agreed not to summit on the same day. Based on this agreement, only Hall's and Fischer's expeditions would be summiting on May 10. However, Ian Woodall refuses to agree to schedule his group's summiting on a day that will not interfere with other expeditions. When asked to reconsider, Woodall declared "the South Africans would go to the top whenever they dam well pleased, probably on May 10, and anyone who didn't like it could bugger off."

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