Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Saturday morning, May 11, Krakauer and some other clients look for Andy Harris, but can’t find him. The events of the last 48 hours make Krakauer feel almost insane; he’s spent a sleepless night worrying about his teammates, and now it’s becoming clear that many of them are dead. Krakauer’s surviving teammates are exhausted, delirious, and psychologically traumatized.
Now that some of the team has gone missing in the snowstorm, Krakauer and his peers have a difficult task—they have to remain calm and organized, and form a rescue party to find the distressed clients (not to mention their guides, Hall and Harris).
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Around this time, Stuart Hutchinson becomes the de facto leader of the team. Hutchinson is a successful doctor from Montreal, and he has experience with keeping calm in a crisis. He organizes a search group to find Weathers and Namba, and the group finds theim. Amazingly, Namba and Weathers are still alive, even though they spent the night buried in snow. However, Hutchinson realizes that Namba and Weathers will die, no matter what happens next—unpleasant as it is, the best decision is to conserve resources and leave the two bodies in the cold. The search group proceeds back to Camp Four.
Although Krakauer had some misgivings about Hutchinson previously, he also admires him for his calm leadership in a time in crisis—a testament to the many years Hutchinson has spent as a doctor. Hutchinson also has the training to make the tough, callous decision to continue on rather than saving either Weathers or Namba, as both clients are nearly dead. However, Hutchinson’s decision proves to be too hasty, since Weathers later makes a miraculously recovery and walks back to camp unaided.
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Back at Camp Four, Hutchinson confers with the remaining team members about what to do. Taske is adamant about staying to search for Hall. Meanwhile, Beidleman assembles what’s left of Fischer’s clients and orders them to descend. Anatoli Boukreev remains behind to wait for Fischer. Beidleman helps the clients down the mountain, with the help of a group of Sherpas who’ve climbed up to provide assistance. During the descent, wind dislodges some heavy stones from the mountains, and one stone cracks open a Sherpa’s head. Beidleman is able to lead the clients and the injured Sherpa to Camp Two.
The group’s dilemma in this scene is whether to stay behind and look for their teammates, or continue with the descent in order to preserve their own lives. In a time of crisis, many of the climbers instinctively want to help their teammates; but Beidleman makes the tough decision to bring the clients down Everest. Beidleman’s decision isn’t selfish; it’s just logical—he knows that more lives would be lost than saved if they hung back.
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Ironically, Krakauer notes, Rob Hall had been worried that one of the less competent teams would get in trouble, requiring Hall’s team to perform a rescue maneuver. As it turns out, however, Hall’s team is the one in trouble, and the other teams have to rescue them. The members of the IMAX team, including Breashears, generously offer their extra oxygen tanks to Krakauer and his teammates.
This passage illustrates one of the clear advantages of mountain climbing in a large group—if one person (or one group) gets into trouble, another person or group can provide help. Thus, Breashears generously provides extra oxygen for Krakauer and his peers, allowing them to descend quickly.
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While the IMAX team is delivering the oxygen, a figure appears in the distance—it’s Beck Weathers, “risen from the dead.” The night before, Weathers was sitting out in the snow, slowly freezing to death. He remained comatose for more than half a day. But on Saturday, miraculously, he regained consciousness, and summoned the strength to walk back to camp. He walked in the direction of the wind, deducing that camp lay ahead. After an hour of walking, he reached Camp Four, where Hutchinson, amazed, bundled Beck in a sleeping bag and, with the help of Pete Athans, an American guide from another expedition, gave him condensed oxygen. Beck was critically ill—it was unclear whether he’d survive or not.
In spite of Hutchinson’s decision to leave Weathers to die, Weathers survives his time in the storm, and manages to walk back to Camp Four. Weathers’ recovery is perhaps the most incredible part of Krakauer’s book—by all rights, Weathers should have died by the time Hutchinson and the rescue party reached him, and his managing to walk back to camp seems almost miraculous. However, Weathers’ survival, joyous though it is, makes Krakauer feel intensely guilty about leaving his peer behind.
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Around 5 pm on the same day, Anatoli Boukreev goes out on a solo mission to find Fischer. He finds Fischer around 7 pm, with his oxygen tank empty and his gloves off. Realizing that his boss and friend is dead, Boukreev places Fischer’s backpack over his face, collects Fischer’s pocketknife (which Beidleman later gives to Fischer’s son), and turns back into the storm.
Boukreev treats Fischer’s body with great dignity, placing a backpack over his face out of respect, and taking Fischer’s pocketknife as a memento to give to Fischer’s family.
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Back at Camp Four, Krakauer breathes some bottled oxygen and begins to feel better. Together, he and Hutchinson try to reinforce the tents, which are in danger of being blown away in the storm. On May 12, Krakauer, Hutchinson, and the remaining clients pack for a descent, knowing that if they stay longer, they’ll die of hypothermia. Ang Dorje is reluctant to descend without Rob Hall, his boss. However, Hutchinson persuades Ang to join the descending group: Krakauer, Fischbeck, Kasischke, and Taske. The group is preparing to leave without Beck, whom everyone assumes is dying or dead, when Krakauer discovers that Beck is alive and speaking. He spent the previous night alone in his tent, screaming for help. However, the storm was so loud that nobody heard him. When Krakauer realizes that he and his teammates have let Beck down twice, he almost cries.
Many of the clients are unwilling to descend without Rob Hall. However, Hutchinson, pragmatic as ever, is able to persuade his peers that their own best chance at survival is to descend immediately—if they stay any longer they’d just be endangering themselves. The passage also shows how the group ignored Beck Weathers yet again. Krakauer takes Weathers’ suffering particularly hard—he seems to hold himself personally responsible for Weathers’ condition.
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Krakauer tries to decide what to do about Beck Weathers—does he try to carry Beck down, wait with Beck, or go down with the rest of the group? Krakauer radios Dr. Mackenzie, and Mackenzie tells him that he needs to descend immediately, without Beck; Pete Athans and David Breashears will remain behind to take care of Beck.
Krakauer continues to feel a guilty responsibility for Beck Weathers—he even offers to stay behind with him. however, Dr. Mackenzie assures him that Weathers will be in good hands with Pete Athans.
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