By Joshua Muller
On May 10, 1996, two climbing teams successfully summited the top of Mt. Everest with Outside magazine journalist and famous author Jon Krakauer. Krakauer, famous for his book Into the Wild, joined an expedition with the Adventure Consultants team led by climbing guide Rob Hall who partnered with a long time friend and fellow climber Scott Fischer and his Mountain Madness team who would help each other reach the summit. Krakauer at the time was a journalist for Outside magazine and was sent to cover the commercialization of Everest. An experienced climber himself Krakauer admits, “… I wanted to climb the mountain as badly as I’d ever wanted anything in my life.” The excited journalist’s dream turned into a nightmare as he recounts his deadly ordeal in his book Into Thin Air.
Krakauer was given the opportunity by Outside to join a fee-paid expedition to the top of Everest that would take almost two months to achieve. The journalist recalled in his book that he spent most of the time on the mountain going through the grueling process of “acclimatization” that had climbers go up and down the mountain multiple times to adjust the body to the thin air. Hall assured Krakauer, “With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill…The trick is to get back down alive” (Krakauer 153). Once at the final camp near the summit climbers would make their final ascent breathing bottled oxygen to help them remain conscious while climbing at 29,000 ft. Krakauer’s ascent to the top would be proven to be only half the battle when a storm suddenly hit the summit late afternoon with climbers still on the top descending down to the nearest camp.
Krakauer luckily made it down to camp just in time as the storm began to worsen. Tired and deprived of oxygen Krakauer passed out in his tent and woke up the following day to find out that six climbers from the two teams never made it back to camp, which included guides Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. Later in the day Beck Weathers, one of the missing climbers on Hall’s team, walked into camp “somehow risen from the dead”. Weathers spent the entire night in sub-degree temperatures not realizing the predicament he was in. “Initially I thought I was in a dream…Finally I woke up enough to recognize the cavalry wasn’t coming so I better do something about it myself” (Krakauer 264). In the confusion of the storm Weathers had collapsed from exhaustion and was presumed dead by other climbers. The climbers mistaken analysis of Weathers left him with severe frostbite on multiple finger, both feet, and nose which were amputated as soon as he got off the mountain.
Krakauer and the other surviving climbers would make their way down the mountain while a helicopter rescue transported Weathers to the nearest hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. The remaining survivors made it down the mountain safely on May 13 under their own power. Strucken with survivor’s guilt confessed, “… I cried because I was grateful to be alive, I cried because I felt terrible for having survived while others had died” (Krakauer 279).
May 10 1996 would be the deadliest disaster in Everest history claiming eight lives from three climbing teams and claiming another four later on in the season. Krakauer’s article of the expedition was later published in September and received a lot of criticism from readers and family members of the deceased who were offended by his judgments on the decisions made that could have caused the fatalities. In response, the author wrote Into Thin Air to give his personal account of what he witnessed to give more clarity of the expedition. After his deadly experience on the mountain Krakauer came to the conclusion that the outcome of that day “was in many ways simply business as usual”.