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Into Thin Air | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into Thin Air | Chapter 9 : Camp Two, April 28, 1996 (21,300 feet) | Summary



In their third acclimatization trek, Hall's group climbs from Base Camp to Camp Two. Next, they would climb up to Camp Three for their final acclimatization experience. Hansen feels sick, and Krakauer has cracked and bleeding fingers. The first part of the climb is gentle, but then they're faced with climbing the "vast, tilted sea of ice" that is Lhotse Face. The windchill makes it feel like –40 °F. Snow covers the climbers' goggles with ice; the cold numbs their feet. As the weather worsens, Hall has the entire team turn around and head down.

Back at Camp Two, Hansen has developed "incipient frostbite" in his fingers. His larynx has become partly frozen and quite damaged from breathing in freezing air through his mouth. As the climbers huddle in their tents, an air of "shock and mild depression" settles over them.

Everyone's frayed nerves result in a confrontation between Hall, Makalu, and Woodall about who will set out a mile of rope the climbers need to ascend the Lhotse Face. Previously, it had been agreed among all expedition leaders that each group would send two members to set the rope in place. Now, that agreement falls apart. Makalu, leader of the Taiwanese expedition, and Woodall, leader of the South African expedition, refuse to "donate" their allotted members to the task. When Hall contacts the Taiwanese, they apologize and say they will send a pair of climbers, but Woodall refuses to help.

The life-threatening illness of the Sherpa at Camp Two (now in the hospital) makes the other Sherpas uneasy. They worship Everest and are convinced that climbers having sex ("sauce-making") high on the mountain's slopes has insulted and denigrated the mountain, which the indigenous people consider a god. This disrespectful behavior, they believe, has caused illness, injury, and bad weather.

Krakauer introduces Lopsang, the nephew of the sick Sherpa, and explains how the young man became a Sirdar working for Fischer. The 1996 climb would be Lopsang's third summiting of Everest. He is one of the most respected Sherpa climbers, showing great stamina and strength beginning his climbing career as a young man of 20. Krakauer introduces other highly respected climbers who would be on the Nepalese side of the mountain with Hall's team. These include Anatoli Boukreev, David Breashears and Ed Viesturs (with the IMAX expedition), and guides Mike Groom and Robert Schauer, as well as the legendary climber Pete Schoening.


Unforeseen events drive the narrative in this chapter. The most significant are the drastic changes in the weather that affect the climbers' physical well-being as well as the expedition leaders' schedules. A blizzard of snow blankets the climbers in Hall's group with "a carapace of ice" that hinders their movement and makes visibility impossible with ice-encrusted goggles. The effects of the bitter cold, compounded by freezing windchills, compromise the health of some climbers, particularly Doug Hansen, who suffers from mild frostbite. The terrible weather forces Hall to turn the group around and head back down to Camp Two.

The reversal casts a pall over the climbers, and "morale" is low. The frustration brought by the weather interferes with cooperation among expeditions. The theme of cooperation and comradeship comes into play when most of the expeditions had willingly agreed to have two members from each group set the ropes up the Lhotse Face. However, the theme of cooperation is also shown as its opposite—selfishness and unwillingness to work with and help others. Although the Taiwanese group apologizes for not having their two members ready at the time the rope must be strung, they do agree to participate in the cooperative effort. Woodall, however, refuses to allow anyone in his South African expedition to assist with setting rope up the Lhotse Face. In keeping with what the reader knows of his character so far, Woodall is said to have responded to Hall's request for help "with a barrage of obscenities and insults." Woodall threatens to send a few of his Sherpas to "sort out" Hall's Sherpas "with their fists."

The commercialization of Everest is discussed here from the point of view of the Sherpas. Instead of writing about commercialization directly, Krakauer explains how the Sherpas believe the disrespect the Westerners show the "divine" mountain has incurred the wrath of the god the mountain embodies. Prior to the climb, the Sherpas had built small altars (chortens) to Sagarmatha along the mountain route and strung prayer flags along it. The Sherpas conduct a religious ceremony (puja) to the mountain god when an expedition is about to ascend the icefall for the first time.

The Sherpas are further convinced the mountain god is angry because of the "sauce-making" going on among climbers. They are not prudish, but the Sherpas insist such shenanigans are not to be tolerated high on the mountain. The Sherpas believe that because some climbers have ignored this restriction, Sagarmatha is angry, which is why the god sent such terrible weather.

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