The team climbs up Everest. Altogether there are twenty-six people, including Sherpa staff. Hall plans to climb Everest slowly, allowing his clients to adjust to the altitude. The team will rise from Base Camp to Camp One for a few days, then back to Base Camp, then on to Camp Two for a longer period, and so on. On April 12, Krakauer’s birthday, the team prepares its climbing equipment. Krakauer learns that most of his teammates haven’t been able to do much climbing in the last few years—while they’re all in excellent shape, they’ve exercised in gyms, not on mountains. Privately, Krakauer worries that, without recent mountain training, his teammates won’t be able to climb Everest.
Hall’s careful, gradual climbing regimen is designed to give his clients’ ample time to adjust to the thinning atmosphere. But Krakauer is still worried about the other people on his expedition. Some these clients seem to be naively confident—they think that, because they’ve paid a lot of money, they’ll be able to reach the summit—another serious problem with the commercialization of Everest.
The expedition will lead the team past the notorious Khumba Icefall, arguably the most dangerous part of Mount Everest. There are huge blocks of ice called seracs in the Icefall, and the challenge of navigating the area is to avoid getting crushed by a collapsing serac. Because the Icefall route is so dangerous, Hall and the other professional mountaineers have agreed that one designated team each year should be responsible for carving out the route for everyone. In 1988, an American team carved out a route through the Icefall, and then demanded that all other climbers pay 2,000 dollars to use it. Hall was furious with the Americans’ demands, but eventually came to see the logic of “treating the Icefall as a toll road,” and in the early 90s charged his own fee for carving a route.
This passage is an apt example of how commercialization has changed the way mountaineers climb Everest. Initially, Rob Hall is angry that other climbers would dare charge him a toll for navigating through the Khumba Icefall; but eventually, he accepts the toll system, and begins to profit personally from it. One could say the same of the Nepalese permit system: while many professional climbers find it outrageous that the Nepalese government would charge 65,000 dollars to climb Everest, some of them have found a way to benefit personally from the new rules.
On April 13, the team begins to travel across the Icefall. Krakauer has traveled icefalls before, but none as dangerous as the Khumbu. The climbers proceed separately (in less dangerous icefalls, where the climbers know each other better, climbers would be tied together with rope to prevent an accident). Krakauer begins breathing heavily from the effort of climbing, and realizes that his body hasn’t fully adjusted to the thin air. Eventually, he and the rest of the team reach Camp One. After a short time, the team returns to Base Camp, so that they’ll have time to adjust to the altitude.
In this passage, we can see the importance of altitude adjustment. While it might seem silly to climb up and down the Khumba Icefall more than once (since it’s so dangerous), Krakauer and his teammates need plenty of time to adjust to the thinning air. If they were to proceed from Base Camp directly to Camp One and Camp Two, some of the clients would probably collapse from exhaustion and respiratory failure.
Back at Base Camp, Krakauer and the other climbers talk about their strengths and weaknesses. Krakauer has noticed that Frank Fischbeck, the Hong Kong publisher, is a particularly talented climber. Stuart Hutchinson, on the other hand, is too eager to finish first—on the trek through the Khumbu, he started first, but wound up tiring himself out. Beck Weathers and Yasuko Namba seem especially amateurish—they didn’t know how to use their crampons (traction devices attached to boots). However, Andy Harris proved to be a good guide, and helped Weathers and Namba proceed safely.
Right away, it becomes clear that the clients on Hall’s expedition have varying levels of talent. The problem with having such a range of ability on the same expedition, as Krakauer will demonstrate, is that the faster climbers are often forced to wait around for the slower climbers, wasting energy in the process. In retrospect, it seems clear that less experienced climbers should be discouraged from climbing Everest, no matter how much money they paid.
The next morning, Krakauer receives a phone call from Linda, his wife, to the Base Camp line. Linda tells Krakauer she misses him, and that saying goodbye to him at the airport was the hardest thing she’s ever done. Krakauer and his wife have been married for fifteen years, and Linda used to be a talented climber, but suffered a back injury that prevented her from climbing again. Linda tells Krakauer to be careful, and Krakauer tells her, “I’m not going to get killed. Don’t be melodramatic.”
The final words of this passage foreshadow the May 10 disaster—since, we now know, Linda is being realistic, not melodramatic, when she brings up the possibility of death.