Into Thin Air | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into Thin Air | Quotes


Attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility.

Jon Krakauer, Introduction

Krakauer thinks summiting Everest is irrational in two ways: the altitude causes foggy, irrational thinking due to the thin air, and the entire enterprise is so dangerous it is itself an irrational undertaking. People who want to summit Everest are not using their common sense to weigh the risks and comprehend the terrible danger involved. Instead, they are allowing their desire to trump reason.


Traditionalists were offended that the world's highest summit was being sold to rich parvenus.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 2

Krakauer is originally hired to report on the commercialization of Everest and on the proliferation of expedition businesses that attract wealthy Western (and often inexperienced) clients to the mountain. To the indigenous people of the area, such commercialization is sacrilegious because they view Everest as sacred. For a different but related reason, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first Westerner to reach the summit, was appalled by this commercialization.


One climber's actions can affect the welfare of the entire team.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 3

A group of climbers on an expedition are like teammates who must look after each other. As in all sports, the action of one person on the team can have significant effects on all the others on the team. This quote refers mainly to the various levels of climbing experience among expedition members.


Experience is overrated. It's not the altitude that's important, it's your attitude.

Scott Fischer, Chapter 5

This is a rather arrogant, if now largely incorrect, statement made by a freewheeling expedition leader. This statement will be proven to be incorrect as inexperience and other factors, especially altitude sickness, lead to tragedy on the mountain.


My inner voice ... was screaming that I was about to die.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 6

Here, Krakauer describes the inner voice, or intuition, people have that warns them of potential danger. Other climbers felt uncomfortable about the safety of summiting and abandoned their climb. This statement foreshadows the terrible events to come.


The recent proliferation ... of [so many] marginally qualified dreamers [on Everest] provoked strong criticism.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 7

Krakauer describes how the commercialization of Everest, in which high-priced expeditions provide gear, gas, and other supplies, attracts wealthy climbers who are really too inexperienced or unfit for the grueling climb to the summit. Inexperienced climbers endanger themselves and others.


[There's] an unspoken agreement on the mountain to pretend that these [bodies] weren't real—[we didn't] acknowledge what was at stake.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 8

While climbing the mountain, expedition members pass the frozen, desiccated bodies of other climbers who have died in the attempt to summit and return down the mountain. They avoid acknowledging the bodies because the remains remind them of how dangerous, even lethal, the task is.


Hall's easygoing facade masked an intense desire to ... [get] as many clients as possible to the summit.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 11

There is intense competition among expedition leaders to attract clients to maintain and grow their businesses. Much of this success is based on getting as many clients to the summit of Everest as possible, compelling expedition leaders to climb even if conditions are dangerous.


We were a team in name only ... Each client was in it for himself or herself.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 12

Although there is team spirit among climbers and almost all climbers help each other out, in truth each climber is in it for themselves. The typical client and climber is not there principally for the team but to experience the summit and, above all, to survive.


They were climbing ... like slices in a loaf of bread ... We spent a lot of time waiting.

Stuart Hutchison, Chapter 13

This image aptly applies to the bottlenecks that form along the rope at particularly dangerous stretches of the route. Climbers who are ascending or descending often have to wait, sometimes for hours, for the numerous expedition clients to pass by. So much waiting wastes precious time and can leave climbers stranded in dangerous conditions.


In order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you're too driven you're likely to die.

Jon Krakauer, Chapter 13

A climber must be highly motivated to endure the pain, hardship, and exhaustion summiting Everest entails. However, Krakauer recognizes this drive to reach the summit is the same attitude that may cause climbers to do things or make decisions that lead to their death.


If you don't hear from me again, it means everything's fine.

Rob Hall, Chapter 15

When he says this via radio, Rob Hall is stranded just below the summit at the height of the blizzard. The statement reflects his optimism but at the same time is paradoxical; if he's not heard from, it may also mean he has died.


[We] talked about the impossibility of being rescued from the summit ridge ... You might as well be on the moon.

Jan Arnold, Chapter 17

This statement is made before the climb to the summit. Hall is describing how nearly impossible it is to be rescued if a climber is stranded on the summit ridge. The statement foreshadows what happens later, when Doug Hansen and Hall are stranded in the blizzard on the summit ridge. It indicates they will likely die there (and they do).


In my view, staying at twenty-six thousand feet longer than absolutely necessary is asking for trouble.

Neal Beidleman, Chapter 19

Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, at high altitudes has increasingly debilitating effects on the mind and body of a climber. This statement presages the terrible consequences of being stranded at this or higher altitudes for climbers who become too weak or disoriented to continue their descent.


Remember that getting to the summit is the easy part; it's getting back down that's hard.

David Breashears, Chapter 21

Most climbers who died or were seriously injured on the mountain had reached the summit. It was the blizzard late in the day that trapped them and left them stranded on the mountain as they tried to get back down to Camp Four. A climber must not become too exhausted or mentally impaired to make it safely down the mountain.

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