The Mountaineering Grail
Into Thin Air is an in-depth horrifying account of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest by 12 climbers, as narrated by Jon Krakauer. The 12 climbers, including Krakauer, were not professional mountain-climbers. Apparently, Mt. Everest is a very tedious and dangerous mountain to trek. With its soaring height, oxygen becomes very thin; a scenario very dangerous for humans. Acclimatization and physical strength serve as the most difficult opponents in the journey. Because of this, companies which offer assistance on climbing Mt. Everest have sprouted. They provide human guides and training for the inexperienced yet hopeful climbers. Krakauer joined the expedition of the Adventure Consultants agency, guided by a renowned mountain-climber, Rob Hall. Another team was simultaneously participating on the journey was guided by Scott Fischer, the Mountain Madness expedition. Mournfully, eleven of the climbers died, nine of which on just a single night, due to a combination of bad luck and bad weather. Jon Krakauer was the survivor in the team, so he was able to narrate the desperate struggles he and his co-climbers underwent for survival. Evidently, most of these climbers did not have the adequate experience to embark on a dangerous journey on Mt. Everest. Yes, they were trained beforehand by those companies which promise assistance to the mountain-climbing journey, but apparently a month or two training was not enough. The guides, who tried to save the inexperienced in the team, also died. The unfavorable weather, fiery winds and a whiteout storm, contributed to the damnation of the trekkers’ fates. In the book, Krakauer alleged that the safety methods on the journey are somewhat compromised by the rivalry between guiding agencies, in the aim to get more clients.
Jon Krakauer is a Seattle journalist who dreamed of conquering the realms of the highest mountain in the entire world. He has been a mountain-climber since his teenage years. Fortunately, he was able to convince the adventure magazine Outside to fund his trek on Mt. Everest, with a mission of making a report on the commercialization of the mountain. Likewise, his quest is to address the question of whether anybody with enough money and time should be allowed to climb Mount Everest. He initially said that his intention in climbiong the mountain is purely professional, but cheered by the idea of a guided trip and that any reasonably fit person could conquer Mt, Everest, he became more than enthusiastic in fulfilling his long-life dream. Krakauer knew the risks of climbing Mt. Everest, but in his own words, “boyhood dreams die hard… and good sense be damned.” (“ Plot Summary of Into Thin…”). For Krakauer, he is on a mission to fulfill his dream. He was an accomplished outdoorsman and a technical climber, with little experience at high altitudes, who risked his life for a dream.
What the climbers discovered in the journey was that, if it was difficult to climb up, it was even more difficult to get back down (Bryant). The trek to Mt. Everest embodies ambition, greed, fame, and sheer irrational desire (“John Krakauer: Into Thin Air”). In Jon Krakauer’s interview with Mark Bryant, he said that:
Before going to Nepal, I wasn’t thinking, “If I climb Everest, my life will improve in such and such specific ways.” It’s not like that. You simply think that if you can succeed at something that huge, that seemingly impossible, surely it won’t merely alter your life, it will transform it. As naive as that sounds, saying it out loud, I think it’s a pretty common expectation. (1)
Why is it that the wealthy people are so drawn and allured in climbing the world’s highest mountain? Clearly, only the prosperous can avail of the $65,000 fee to be guided up the mountain (“ Plot Summary of Into Thin…”). Perhaps it is because they were propelled by a high ambition, or merely greed to boast something. Whichever reasons the co-climbers of Krakauer had when they decided to take an uncertain journey, they remain unknown. But one thing’s for certain, any person who has conquered Mt. Everest gains a right to be singing his own praises.
According to Krakauer, his teammates had a different perception of their bodily strength. Most of them thought too high of their abilities which turned out to be far off the mark and led to their demise. For instance, one teammate was reduced to a helpless state by his physical frailty and needed extensive help to make it down to the South Col. But in his recollections, he said he was just fine and did not need any help (Bryant). This depicts the big ego of the climbers who attempted for the expedition. They wanted a conquest to fulfill their ego and in the end are not inclined to self-criticism or self-analysis. It was the stubbornness in the human spirit which refuses to cow down even if it’s rational to do so. The 1996 Mt. Everest expedition seemed to be an egoistic odyssey.
On the other hand, Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, is an easygoing book which depicts the life of Ray Smith, a poet and self professed Dharma Bum, as he searches for the Meaning of Life by following the Buddhist Way. Japhy serves as Ray’s company, as well as other poets in San Francisco, in having a generally good-time. They would get drunk, attend poet evenings and celebrate a wild Bohemian lifestyle. Then the friends decided to take a trip to the Matterhorn Peak in California to get in touch with their spiritual side, but Ray eventually returned to the partying and womanizing ways. Although, the type of mountaineering he encountered in Matterhorn Peak inspired him in his next mountain ventures. Japhy was to join a
monastery in Japan, so he and Ray spent the final couple of days together hiking on the Marin Trail to get back to nature. Consequently, Ray spent the summer as a fire look-out in the mountains, specifically for the United States Forest Service. In the mountains, Ray enjoyed the solitary life (Marcel).
The mountains served a significant purpose in the writing of Jack Kerouac. He depicts the mountains to rise above the American landscape as magnificent entities whose peaks are touched by very few enduring and fervent souls, and as symbolic representations of achievement. Likewise, he describes the mountains as the isolation of an individual from the masses of the working class in an industrialized capitalist American society (i.e. Ray working as fire-lookout). The mountains in Dharma Bums signify accomplishment by achieving a connection with nature, far from the lure of materialism (“Importance of Mountains in..”).
Ray Smith’s journey was about personal freedom, while Jon Krakauer’s was about self-fulfillment. Into Thin Air’s Mt. Everest embodies pride, while the Dharma Bums’ mountain embodies solitude. In the two stories, both authors used mountains to illustrate exhaustive journeys. But the purpose and the duration of the journey were far opposite from each other. Contrastingly, the mountain was shown as an edifice that can lead to greed or peace-of mind. On a personal note, the great message conveyed is that it is nobler to have the courage to admit the one’s weakness, turn back and come down the mountain, than go up ahead knowing full well that one can’t do it.
Berkhead, K. “Analysis of “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer.” 13 June 2006. E-cheat Essays.
6 May 2010. < http://www.echeat.com/essay.php?t=29425>.
Bryant, M. “Everest a Year Later: False Summit.” May 1997. Outside Magazine Online. 6 May
2010. < http://outside.away.com/outside/magazine/0597/9705krakauer.html>.
“Importance of Mountains in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and Barthelme’s The Glass Mountain.”
Helpme!com. 6 May 2010. <http://www.123helpme.com/preview.asp?id=15894>.
“John Krakauer: Into Thin Air.” Outside Magazine Online. 6 May 2010.
Marcel, J. “Plot Summary of The Dharma Bums.” AllReaders.com. 6 May 2010.
“ Plot Summary of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. ” 18 March 2007. E-cheat Essays. 6 May
2010. < http://www.echeat.com/essay.php?t=32809>.