Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Highs and Lows

I really enjoy reading survival stories.  My favorite in this genre is Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado, which is a first-hand account of the plane crash in the Andes (see my review for this on my blog).  I couldn't put that book down because Parrado's writing is simple and illuminating, unflinching and emotional.  In 1996, Jon Krakauer, a writer and mountain climber, was sent by Outside magazine to write an article focusing on the increasing commercialization of Mt. Everest, and to do so, he would have to attempt the summit to the top of Everest with one of the respected groups, led by Rob Hall.  At the time, there were several different outfitters and guides that would take groups on the Everest ascent, some which charged over $60,000 (I am not sure what the figure is today).  What Krakauer of course could not know when he accepted the assignment was that he would be part of one of the deadliest years of Everest summits, in which fifteen people lost their lives.  His memoir, Into Thin Air, captures his harrowing experience. 
What is it that compels people to risk high altitude, well below freezing winds, and essentially their lives, to conquer a mountain?  There are parts of Krakauer's book that focus on this particular and unique drive which I found the most interesting, as well as how people make decisions on the mountain.  However, for me the book was too bogged down in detail, and not rich enough on the internal decision making and emotional landscape of those who take on a nearly inhuman challenge, which is the part of survival stories that interest me the most. 

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