In 1977, at age 23, Krakauer, lured by the challenge of climbing a dangerous mount, decides to climb Devils Thumb alone. He is convinced that the experience will change his life.
Krakauer’s youthful vision of climbing Devils Thumb mirrors Chris’ Alaskan dream, creating a narrative alignment between Chris and Krakauer.
To reach the summit, Krakauer must cross the Stikine Ice Cap during a snowstorm. Barely able to see, Krakauer slips through a crevice in the ice, but the cross-shaped poles strapped to his body save him from a fatal fall.
Through this close call, Krakauer highlights the risk and danger of the journey ahead. Death lurks around every corner and any step could be his last. Krakauer is making the point that he survived (to eventually become a famous writer) and Chris did not, but that these different endings don’t actually say anything about their relative merits—it was just luck.
Nearly out of food, Krakauer anxiously waits for days at the base of Devils Thumb for a plane to drop off supplies. But heavy snow delays it. At first sight of the plane, Krakauer frantically waves it down. The supplies arrive just in time for Krakauer to continue on his hike.
In contrast to Carl McGunn, Krakauer has the foresight to arrange for a plane, but the plane’s delay demonstrates that timing is an equally crucial and even more uncertain factor in the face of nature’s fury.
As Krakauer climbs higher up a sheer wall of ice, he shifts into a kind of happy trance. But his focus breaks when he can’t secure a foothold in the ice with his pick-ax. Startled by the ice’s thinness, Krakauer descends, decides to stop.
On Krakauer’s climb, nature nurtures a transcendent state of mind. Yet it also rears it head against Krakauer by becoming a slick and uncertain surface upon which to climb, underlining its untamable quality.