It’s March 29, 1996, and Krakauer is sitting on a plane, flying into Kathmandu. His plane lands and he meets up with Andy Harris, one of the guides working for Rob Hall, the leader of the expedition. Harris and Krakauer then meet Lou Kasischke, a lawyer from Michigan who will also be climbing Everest. Krakauer likes Harris’s youthful energy. He learns that Harris has never climbed Everest before.
Krakauer forms an especially close friendship with Harris, which is tragic, since, as we’ll learn, Krakauer blames himself for Harris’s death later that year.
Krakauer and the other mountaineers on the expedition go to a hotel, where they meet Rob Hall, whom Krakauer likes right away. Hall was born into a working-class New Zealand family, and worked for a manufacturer of climbing equipment. While still a teenager, he climbed several mountains, and in 1990 he finally climbed Everest. Hall is known for being a publicity-monger; Hall knows that the more attention he gets from the news, the more clients he’ll attract. Hall also used to climb with his friend, Gary Ball. In 1990, they became the first people to climb the highest mountain in each of the seven continents.
Like so many famous climbers, Hall isn’t just good at climbing—he has a knack for publicity, and knows which expeditions will attract the most international attention. Hall is, in many ways, the typical professional mountain climber of the 90s—a businessman whose priority is attracting some high-paying clients.
Hall and Ball capitalized on their fame by founding a mountaineering company called Adventure Consultants. In his final years, Edmund Hillary criticized Hall and Ball for contributing to the commercialization of Everest. Then, in late 1993, Gary Ball died of a cerebral edema, a condition caused by high altitude. Hall was devastated by his friend’s death, but continued to run the company.
The death of Gary Ball could be said to symbolize the “death” of a certain kind of mountaineering, characterized by close friendships and rugged conditions. Hall’s business symbolizes the “new mountaineering” and, as Hillary argued, it contributed to the commercialization of the sport.
On March 31, Krakauer and the other mountaineers assemble at the airport and prepare to fly to the base of Everest. Krakauer’s teammates include Helen Wilton, a mother of four, Yasuko Namba, a personnel director from Tokyo, Beck Weathers, a pathologist, Stuart Hutchinson, a cardiologist, John Taske, an anesthesiologist, Frank Fischbeck, a publisher from Hong Kong, and Doug Hansen, a postal worker. The team’s medic will be Caroline Mackenzie, who won’t be climbing past the base camp. Krakauer isn’t sure what to think of his fellow clients. They seem like decent people, though very different from the usual “hard-core” climbers he’s met. Krakauer feels that he doesn’t have much in common with any of the clients except for Doug—who’s saved for more than a decade to pay for the expedition. Krakauer has also never been in such a large climbing group—in the past, he’d only ever climbed solo, or with a friend or two. Krakauer hopes that Hall has “weeded out” clients who don’t have the drive to make it to the summit.
The clients Krakauer meets in this scene are representative of the kinds of people who can afford to climb with Hall—in other words, the kinds of people who can afford to take a two-month, 65,000-dollar vacation to the Himalayas. Krakauer is worried about the clients, however, because he thinks that they’re a little too laid-back, and not serious enough about the potential dangers of Everest. Krakauer isn’t saying that there’s anything inherently wrong with paying lots of money to climb a mountain; however, he suggests that escalating permit fees have weeded out a lot of talented, motivated people, leaving clients who are rich, but not necessarily driven.