Into Thin Air

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Into Thin Air Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On April 8, Rob Hall learns that Tenzing has been rescued from his fall—he’s still alive. Meanwhile, some of the people on the expedition are suffering from nausea and indigestion—Andy Harris has a horrible attack of diarrhea that leaves him very weak. Nevertheless, he proceeds with the climb.
The clients will continue to suffer from nausea, diarrhea, and other problems throughout the book—a consequence of adjusting to the challenging climbs and thinning air of Everest.
Themes
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The expedition climbs past the Khumbu Glacier, through a cluster of ice pinnacles known as the Phantom Alley. After a long day, the team makes it to the Everest Base Camp, located 17,600 feet above sea level. At the base camp, Rob Hall crosses paths with another team leader, Scott Fischer. Hall and Fischer are friendly rivals in the mountaineering tourism business. Fischer has a reputation for being a bold, risk-taking climber, while Hall is known for being more methodical. Fischer has survived several near-death experiences—on more than one occasion, falling down the side of a mountain and miraculously surviving. He smokes a lot of marijuana, and has lots of female admirers. He’s also attracted a lot of good press for leading expeditions to clean up trash on the side of the mountain. Fischer has had money problems in the past, but his business seems to be improving.
In this section, we’re introduced to Scott Fischer, another professional climber and business owner. Fischer is different from Hall in a lot of ways: he’s bold and risky in his approach, and gives his clients much more freedom to do what they want. Given what we know so far about the disaster of May 10, 1996, Krakauer seems to be implying that Scott Fischer, more than Rob Hall, is in danger of experiencing a serious catastrophe. However, as we’ll find out, it is actually Hall whose group experiences a serious problem near the summit of Everest.
Themes
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Krakauer notes that, in no small part, Fischer is the reason that Krakauer is climbing Everest at all. In 1994, Krakauer met Fischer at a party, and Fischer suggested that Krakauer write an article about Everest. Krakauer met Fischer a few more times, and on each occasion, Fischer brought up Everest. Later on, when Krakauer’s editor at Outside suggested that he write the article, Fischer lobbied Outside to pay the climbing permit and allow him to lead Krakauer. However, in the end, Rob Hall offered Outside a significantly better deal. While Krakauer was initially reluctant to switch from Fischer to Hall, he eventually agreed. Fischer was angry, but when Krakauer meets him at the Base Camp, Fischer seems cheerful.
In this passage, Krakauer conveys the importance of publicity and good press in the mountaineering business. Both Fischer and Hall know that, by getting Krakauer to climb with them, they’ll attract some (potentially) good publicity: Krakauer will write an article about them for a popular mountaineering magazine, Outside. Fischer and Hall are talented climbers, but a crucial part of their job is also working to build up an international brand. Thus, it’s understandable that Fischer would be upset when Hall “poaches” Krakauer.
Themes
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As they spend a few days at Base Camp, the other climbers on Krakauer’s team suffer from diarrhea, dehydration, and headaches because of the altitude. During this time, Krakauer bonds with Doug Hansen. Hansen tells him that he’s been involved with several women, each of whom left him because he’s too committed to mountaineering. In part, Doug was able to climb Everest because the students of the elementary school near his home sold T-shirts to help him. A year ago, Doug tried to climb Everest with Rob Hall, but had to turn back only a few hundred feet from the summit, due to an impending storm. Doug is determined to make it to the summit this time around.
Of all the people on his expedition, Krakauer has the most in common with Doug Hansen. Like Krakauer, Hansen doesn’t come from a wealthy background—he’s not a doctor or a businessman, but a postal worker, and the only reason he’s here is because of the generosity of an elementary school. And like Krakauer, Doug is an uncommonly determined, highly motivated climber; he failed to reach the summit once before, and he refuses to fail again this year.
Themes
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Krakauer worries that his lack of experience with high altitude will prevent him from climbing Everest. But Hall assures him that he’ll be fine.
Krakauer builds up the foreshadowing here, as we already know that everything won’t be fine.
Themes
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The Natural World Theme Icon
Commercialization Theme Icon
Individualism and the Group Theme Icon