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Resiliency as the Way to Survival Essays

Abstract
            Krakauer’s bestselling Into Thin Air originally started as an article in Outside Magazine. Later expanded to 416 pages of printed text, Krakauer’s revelation about the truth and commercialism of Everest disaster has turned into a superb real-life and real-word description of the tragedy of human ambitiousness. Everest is cruel toward trespassers: while the dead are destined to vanish beneath the snows, the living struggle to find the answer to the question “why”. Krakauer’s book is an excellent account of the human journey from self-determination to self-destruction. Into Thin Air is a brilliant combination of ambition, resiliency, death, and survival. In Krakauer’s view, resiliency is the result of the ongoing conflict between human ambitiousness, arrogance, and the irresistible force of nature: when nature physically defeats our ambitions, our arrogance turns into resiliency as the only way to survival.

Into Thin Air: Resiliency as the Way to Survival
            Introduction
            Krakauer’s bestselling Into Thin Air originally started as an article in Outside Magazine. Later expanded to 416 pages of printed text, Krakauer’s revelation about the truth and commercialism of Everest disaster has turned into a superb real-life and real-word description of the tragedy of human ambitiousness. Everest is cruel toward trespassers: while the dead are destined to vanish beneath the snows, the living struggle to find the answer to the question “why”. Krakauer’s book is an excellent account of the human journey from self-determination to self-destruction. Into Thin Air is a brilliant combination of ambition, resiliency, death, and survival. In Krakauer’s view, resiliency is the result of the ongoing conflict between human ambitiousness, arrogance, and the irresistible force of nature: when nature physically defeats our ambitions, our arrogance turns into resiliency as the only way to survival.
            Beck Weathers: ambition vs. resiliency
            Krakauer’s journey to Everest was nothing more but a simple desire to realize his childhood dream. “Secretly, I dreamed of climbing Everest myself one day; for more than a decade it remained a burning ambition. […] It had become fashionable among alpine cognoscenti to denigrate Everest as a ‘slag heap’, a peak lacking sufficient technical challenge or aesthetic appeal to be a worthy objective for a ‘serious’ climber, which I desperately aspired to be” (Krakauer 1998, p. 23). In his ambitiousness and arrogance to tame the nature, Krakauer was more than similar to his colleague and teammate Beck Weathers – a character and a real-life figure, who exemplified determination mixed with boyish ideas about Everest, and reinforced by moral (and later, physical) blindness toward the dangerous potential of nature as such. Despite his huge life experience and his practical medical knowledge, Weathers could not (and did not want to) obey nature. On the contrary, he was driven by the desire to prove his omnipotence to the rest of the world: “Bass showed that Everest was within the realm of possibility for regular guys. Assuming you’re reasonably fit and have some disposable income, I think the biggest obstacle is probably taking time off from your job and leaving your family for two months” (Krakauer 1998, p. 25).
With these words, a long Weathers’ journey from self-determination to resiliency and survival begins. He is not prepared to face the difficulties on his way to the summit, but he does not seem to be afraid of the obstacles that wait for him. Here, and throughout the book, Krakauer (1998) depicts Weathers’ smooth transition from self-determination and hollow ambitiousness to the realization of the nature’s superiority and dominance. Krakauer’s narrative revolves around his and Weathers’ physical weaknesses, but the author seems much more concerned about the moral and ethical weaknesses of his teammates. “Some people don’t understand that an Everest expedition can’t be run like a Swiss train” (Krakauer 1998, p. 28). In this context, Weathers is the only person able to surrender and recognize his inability to cope with nature; to this recognition he owes his life, as this very recognition turns his ambitions into resiliency and a simple human desire to live.
Beck Weathers gradually comes to realize the seriousness of his situation, while his eyesight is failing under the impact of low barometric pressure. “Years earlier, Beck had undergone a radial keratotomy to correct his vision. A side effect, which he discovered on Everest was that the low barometric pressure that exists at high altitude caused his eyesight to fail” (Krakauer 1998, p. 247). In this situation, he is to choose between his ambitions and reason; but still, his ambitions and arrogance seem to win over his fear of death. In the midst of the natural disaster, and in the midst of the serious identity conflict, Weathers has to give up his boyhood dreams and to turn his mind and spirit to the physical need to survive. He appears in the center of the terrible natural turmoil, which does not leave any chance for survival. He is blind in his right eye and is “able to focus his left eye within a radius of only three of four feet” (Krakauer 1998, p. 329), but he is walking right into the wind, trying to find the camp. At this moment he has nothing but to recognize the futility of his manlike ambitions to defeat nature. His ambitions are leaving him, giving place to natural resiliency and flexibility under the growing pressure of the natural force. Being unable to see, to move his right arm, to find his way back, and finally, being officially declared as dead, Weathers no longer cares for the motives, which had brought him to Everest: “…there was my right hand staring me in the face. Then I saw how badly frozen it was, and that helped bring me around to reality. Finally I woke up enough to recognize that I was in deep shit and the cavalry wasn’t coming so I better do something about it myself” (Krakauer 1998, pp. 328-329).
This phrase signifies the critical moment of self-revelation in the face of irresistible and murderous force of nature. This moment paves the way to Weathers’ survival – almost blind, and without his right hand he is one of those few who have been lucky to survive. Weathers’ character exemplifies the smooth but painful transition from ambition to resiliency, and in Krakauer’s (1998) view, this resiliency is the result of the ongoing conflict between our arrogance and the never-ending dominance of nature. Krakauer (1998) wrote: “I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain” (p. 174). Whether he meant physical pain or the moral pain that came out of the need to obey nature is not clear; but it is evident that in the midst of the conflict, resiliency supported people in their striving to stay alive. Resiliency moved them ahead, and in the face of the unavoidable danger, resiliency replaced their ambitious prejudices, giving them the last chance to return home.
Conclusion
Krakauer’s book is a good lesson of the way pride, arrogance and rivalry between people and nature may lead to numerous deaths. Climbing a mountain has never been a risk-free enterprise, but our idealized desires and boyhood dreams tend to lead us to nowhere. Krakauer (1998) is correct, stating that climbers resemble animal species in their lack of prudence (p. 358); yet, Beck Weathers seems to have chosen the right way home – the long and painful journey through the depths of his soul from his ambitious and glorious (but never realized) accomplishments to realistic and resilient striving to survive.

References
Krakauer, J. (1998). Into thin air: a personal account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. Anchor.

 

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