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Into Thin Air | Epilogue : Seattle, November 29, 1996 (270 feet) | Summary

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Summary

Krakauer is back home in Seattle. In this chapter, he writes about what happened to surviving climbers and how the friends and relatives of those who died, as well as strangers, reacted to his Outside magazine article about the expedition.

Krakauer describes the amputations and other treatments Beck Weathers had to undergo after he got back to Texas. Weathers will be disabled for the rest of his life. Back in New York, socialite Sandy Pittman "became a lightning rod for a great deal of public anger over what had happened on Everest."

Krakauer tells how Lopsang Sherpa died while guiding a Japanese climber up Everest. As Lopsang and his client climbed from Camp Three to Camp Four, an avalanche swept down the mountain and killed Lopsang and other climbers.

A large part of this chapter contains parts of letters or other communications that were sent to Krakauer after his magazine article was printed or were posted on the Internet in discussion groups about the expedition. Some say Krakauer should feel guilty because he should have done more to help other climbers in trouble. Other letters blame him for seeming to judge the actions of others, especially the lost expedition leaders.

One heartbreaking Internet post came from "a Sherpa orphan" who lost his father on an Everest expedition. The child has left Nepal and swears never to return. He feels his homeland is "cursed": the Westerners' disrespect of the mountain has cursed the Sherpas who make their livelihood guiding their summit expeditions. He feels by taking part in this sacrilege, the Sherpas also share the blame for the tragedies on Everest and the "curse" placed on the region.

Krakauer talks with Neal Beidleman, who says although he tried to get people down the mountain once the weather cleared, they were just too exhausted to move. He saved five people but feels guilty about leaving Namba, whom he couldn't even drag down the mountain.

Analysis

Krakauer cannot control his incessant feelings of guilt about what happened on the Everest expedition, but he is open and honest about the criticism he got in letters and posts. One letter writer from Florida wrote, "I agree with Mr. Krakauer when he said 'My ... failure to act played a direct role in the death of Andy Harris.'" A relative of Scott Fischer's wrote, "YOU ... seem now to have the uncanny ability to know precisely what was going on in the minds ... of every individual on the expedition ... What I am reading is YOUR OWN ego frantically struggling to make sense out of what happened." The writer of this letter castigates Krakauer for attempting to analyze what happened and then assessing others' actions. However, Krakauer admits his guilt and is struggling to come to terms with the unknowable—what exactly happened on the mountain and why it took so many lives.

The whole issue of the commercialization of Everest is made painfully clear in the Internet post from the "Sherpa orphan." After repudiating Sherpas who work for Western expeditions and renouncing his homeland for its acquiescence to this type of tourism, the "orphan" sums up: "I believe that even the Sherpas are to blame for the tragedy of loss on Sagarmatha ... I know the people of the area are doomed, and so are those rich, arrogant outsiders who feel they can conquer the world." This post underscores and curses the arrogance of Western climbers who seek to "conquer" Everest, as well as the Sherpas who have sold their souls, so to speak, to earn money from them.

"Everest seems to have poisoned many lives," Krakauer writes. Not only have those who died been lost forever, but those who grieve for them (and those who knew them on the expedition) will suffer always for what was or was not done to save them. Every aspect of the tragedy seems beyond comprehension, and everyone involved in any way suffers to make sense of what happened. Krakauer ends the book with a quote from Neal Beidleman about Namba:

She grabbed my arm ... [I] dragged her for a step or two, then her grip loosened and she fell away. I had to keep going. Somebody had to make it to the tents and get help or everybody was going to die ... But I can't help thinking about Yasuko ... She was so little. I can still feel her fingers sliding across my biceps, and then letting go. I never even turned to look back."

The anguish the climbers must live with is never knowing if what they did was right. The Death Zone is the realm of the unknowable.

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