Into Thin Air | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into Thin Air | Chapter 3 : Over Northern India, March 29, 1996 (30,000 feet) | Summary

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Summary

Krakauer begins a chronological account of his expedition experience. On the plane into Kathmandu, Nepal, Krakauer looks out a window and sees the Himalayas stretched out below him. He notes Mount Everest is at the same altitude as the plane. At the airport, Krakauer meets Andy Harris, a guide from New Zealand on Rob Hall's expedition. They discuss their climbing experiences, and Krakauer learns that Harris has never climbed Everest before. When Lou Kasischke, another expedition client, arrives, the trio leave for their hotel.

A poster of Rob Hall and his business, Adventure Consultants, adorns the hallway of the "funky" Garuda Hotel. Hall has a sterling reputation as an expedition leader, and when Krakauer meets him he "liked him immediately." Krakauer writes about Hall's upbringing in a working-class family in New Zealand and describes that Hall became a first-class climber by leading an expedition that summited Everest in 1990; he and his partner, Gary Ball, successfully reached the Seven Summits in just seven months—a feat that boosted their reputation. They then decided to create Adventure Consultants to guide clients up to high-altitude summits. Through the early nineties, the business chalked up one success after another, with most clients summiting Everest.

Their role in the commercialization of Everest drew stinging criticism from Sir Edmund Hillary. His criticism hurt Hall, who wanted to defend his business. However, he could not publicly disagree with a figure as exalted as Sir Edmund.

When Gary Ball died from swelling of the brain due to altitude sickness in 1993, the business floundered. Ball died in Rob Hall's arms high on a mountain, and the experience devastated Hall, but he "resolved to carry on alone with Adventure Consultants." His success returned as well. Hall burnished his reputation by leading 39 climbers to the summit of Everest between 1990 and 1995. Krakauer states Hall's business was justified in being known as "the world leader in Everest Climbing, with more ascents than any other organization." Hall charged a premium rate of $65,000 per client; most customers felt his reputation warranted such a large sum.

Krakauer continues his story by describing the helicopter flight to the town of Lukla (9,200 feet elevation), from where they would walk to the Everest Base Camp. Krakauer then names each of the 26 people on the chopper who were taking part in this expedition. Krakauer notes he didn't feel much affinity for the mostly wealthy clients aboard. However, he took an immediate liking to Doug Hansen, a postal employee who worked two jobs to be able to afford this Everest summit expedition.

Krakauer notes that his fellow expeditioners all seemed "like nice, decent folks," but he still had an uneasy feeling about the expedition. Until this expedition, Krakauer had always climbed with people he knew and trusted—climbers of exceptional skill and hardiness. He had no way to judge the skill level of the team he would be climbing with now. He also had never climbed with such a large group of people, all of whom were strangers and whose skill level was unknown to him. Krakauer explains his disquiet by stating that the welfare of each member of a group depends on all others. A climber must have absolute "confidence in [one's] partners," as the smallest mistake or oversight can have dire consequences for everyone in the group. He ends the chapter with the hope Rob Hall had carefully "weeded out those clients of dubious ability."

Analysis

This chapter fleshes out some of the main characters in the story. Krakauer takes an immediate liking to Hall's expedition guide Andy Harris and, especially, to the amusing and amiable expedition leader and owner of Adventure Consultants, Rob Hall. He gets on well with American postal worker Doug Hansen, a client and climber on Hall's expedition who will become a good friend during the expedition.

The commercialization of Everest is again paramount. After he becomes a professional climber, Rob Hall works hard to drum up business for his company, Adventure Consultants. The "Seven Summits in seven months" was undertaken to gain publicity and sponsors for the company. He sought out and got corporate sponsorship for some of his Himalayan expeditions. Afterward, Hall made sure that his successes were widely covered in the press. "Rob always did have a bit of a flair for publicity," one group member stated. Hall used publicity to gain corporate sponsors, his climbing successes gained him more corporate sponsors, and so on. Hall does not seem to be greedy or overly ambitious, but a lot of money is needed to organize and equip a climbing expedition. When Hall decided that Adventure Consultants would focus on high-altitude climbs, such as summiting Everest, his wealthy clients paid the bills so he no longer had to seek out sponsors. His unparalleled reputation guaranteed Hall a full complement of paying clients for each climb he led.

As Hall became widely known, his commercial climbing business on Everest drew the unwanted attention of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man, with Tenzing Norgay, to summit the mountain. Hillary despised the commercialization of Everest, and he felt that those who exploited it "were engendering disrespect for the mountain." Rob Hall was deeply hurt by Hillary's condemnation, but he would not openly rebut the charges. "Hillary is regarded as a living national treasure ... in New Zealand," so Hall would no doubt have tarnished his reputation—and hurt his business—had he openly challenged Hillary.

The security provided by guide ropes and comradeship are brought to the fore in this chapter. Hall and Gary Ball climbed together using a "rope [that] is designed to sort of attach you together, and you never let go of it." It represents safety, security, and comradeship among climbers. When Gary Ball died on a mountain and "[Hall] had to let [the rope] sort of slip through [his] hands" to let Ball's body fall into a crevasse, Hall was devastated. He was letting go of the rope that bound their close friendship and business partnership together. Letting go of the rope is almost an insult or perversion of what a rope represents and is used for by climbers.

Later in the chapter, Krakauer explores the vital importance of experience, comradeship, trust, and team effort in any undertaking with this degree of danger. Krakauer becomes uneasy when he realizes he hasn't a clue about the endurance and skill level of the people in the expedition with him—the people his life may depend on. Krakauer explains "having confidence in your partners is no small concern ... The consequences of a poorly tied knot, a stumble, a dislodged rock, or some other careless deed are as likely to be felt by the perpetrator's colleagues as the perpetrator." As a member of Hall's group, Krakauer must find it in himself to trust that expedition leader Rob Hall exercised good judgment in allowing only the most qualified climbers to join the Everest ascent. This 1996 ascent would be Hall's eighth expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, and he was hoping to add to the list of 39 successful ascents by climbers on his previous expeditions.

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