Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On April 16, the team proceeds from Base Camp back through the Icefall to Camp One—this will be their second acclimatization excursion. On his way to Camp One, Krakauer notices that his breathing is more relaxed than it was during his first journey to Camp One. They reach Camp One, where they’ll spend two nights, before journeying up to Camp Two, where they’ll spend three nights before heading down.
Krakauer’s breathing is more relaxed, proving that Hall’s methodical, slow-paced altitude training is working.
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Krakauer reaches Camp One around 9 am. There he finds Ang Dorje, the climbing sirdar—i.e., the head Sherpa climber. Ang Dorje has a reputation for being a strong climber, and he’s worked for Rob Hall for a few years. Krakauer spends time with Ang Dorje until midday, when the last of the team reaches Camp One.
Evidently Krakauer is more experienced and comfortable with climbing than some of the other people on his team. Krakauer’s speed isn’t a problem for now—indeed, he uses his extra time to bond with the Sherpa climbers.
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Two days later, the team prepares to climb to Camp Two. Krakauer feels extremely hot from the exertion of climbing, and tries to prevent himself from getting a migraine by stuffing snow under his cap. He also notices a dead body wrapped in plastic sheeting, which Rob Hall later explains belonged to a Sherpa climber who died three years ago. At Camp Two, the altitude change is so great that Krakauer feels like he has a “red wine hangover.”
As the group ascends the mountain, Krakauer has his first encounter with death on Everest. The body of the dead Sherpa has been lying in the snow for three years, a reminder of 1) the lack of attention and medical care that Sherpas are afforded, and 2) the slow-paced hospitalization and rescue procedures characteristic of Everest.
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On April 22, the group marches back down to Base Camp. There, Krakauer and Andy Harris go to visit the South African team. Harris and Krakauer meet Ian Woodall’s girlfriend, Alexandrine Gaudin, his brother, Philip Woodall, and another team member, Deshun Deysel. Krakauer planned to ask Deysel if she knew that her name wasn’t listed for a permit, but when he sees how cheerful Deysel looks, he decides he doesn’t have the heart to ask her.
Krakauer walks away from the encounter with Deysel feeling more hatred than ever for Ian Woodall, who’s manipulated Deysel into believing that she has a real shot at the summit.
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Krakauer returns to his team, where he finds Hall, Dr. Mackenzie, and Scott Fischer’s doctor, Ingrid Hunt, communicating via radio with people higher up on the mountain, trying to decide how to take care of a patient named Ngawang Topchke. Ngawang is a Sherpa guide who’s suffering from severe altitude sickness. Earlier in the day, Fischer crossed paths with Ngawang, and, noting that Ngawang had some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, ordered him to descend to Base Camp. However, partly because many Sherpas believe that “real men” don’t get altitude sickness, Ngawang disobeyed Fischer and continued to walk up to Camp Two, becoming seriously sick in the process.
Ngawangs’ altitude sickness represents Krakauer’s second encounter with death in this chapter. Ngawang, like many mountaineers, is a strong believer in machismo: even though he’s feeling bad, he refuses to climb down and receive medical attention. At the same time, Ngawang may have rational, economic reasons for refusing medical help right away—if he gets help instead of working, he’ll gain a reputation as a weak climber, and he might find himself laid off in the future.
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Dr. Mackenzie radios the people at Camp Two to give Ngawang Topchke medicines and carry him downhill as quickly as possible. A team of climbers carries Ngawang down the mountain, back to Base Camp. Ngwang’s condition continues to deteriorate. While the mountaineers ordinarily would order a helicopter evacuation, a sudden snowstorm makes such an evacuation impossible.
This passage foreshadows the disaster on May 10, when a storm will prevent helicopters from making emergency evacuations. This is also a reminder of why it’s important for Hall to guide his clients up the mountain slowly—if they move too fast, they could end up like Ngawang.
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Ingrid Hunt, one of the other doctors responsible for taking care of Ngawang Topchke, is young and inexperienced. She’d only lived in Nepal for four months before beginning her work for Scott Fischer. That afternoon, she takes good care of Ngawang, but begins to suffer from stress and altitude sickness herself. She radios for another, more experienced doctor, Jim Litch, to help her—Litch arrives, and is amazed to discover that Ngawang isn’t on oxygen. He determines that Ngawang has a bad case of pulmonary edema, a potentially fatal disease. Later, Hall suggests that, had the patient been a client, rather than a Sherpa guide, he wouldn’t have been treated so haphazardly. Ngawang is transported to a hospital, where his condition continues to worsen. He begins frothing at the mouth, and goes into cardiac arrest. Ingrid Hunt performs mouth-to-mouth, but she’s too late—Ngawang dies, leaving behind a wife and four daughters.
In a crisis, it becomes clear that organization and leadership in the harsh conditions of Everest are tenuous at best. Ingrid Hunt is a good doctor, but she doesn’t have very much experience treating altitude sickness, and indeed, she suffers from altitude sickness herself. Furthermore, it’s likely that Ngawang would have received better medical care (and might still be alive) if he’d been a paying client—another reminder of how Everest commercialization has marginalized the Sherpas and favored wealthy Western tourists.
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At the time of the expedition, there are several climbers who send periodic dispatches to websites. One such climber is the famous socialite Sandy Hill Pittman, who is traveling with Scott Fischer. Pittman raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate sponsors to hire alpinists to guide her up to the top of Mount Everest. Krakauer had never met Pittman before this Everest trip, but he’d heard a lot about her. When he runs into her at Base Camp, he finds her to be energetic and outgoing. Sandy Hill married Bob Pittman, the cofounder of MTV, and in the 1980s, she was a well-known socialite who spent time with various celebrities. In the early 90s, Pittman began her campaign to become the first American woman to climb the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. However, she lost the race in 1994, when another woman succeeded in doing the same. When Sandy climbed mountains, she took a huge bag of gourmet food with her, along with a television and a video player. Many have accused her of being spoiled and entitled. Nevertheless, most of the members of Scott Fischer’s team report that Sandy is generous and fun to be around. For her part, Sandy seems “heedless of the resentment and scorn she inspired in others.”
In some ways, Krakauer portrays Pittman as an unfocused, spoiled, wealthy brat—in other words, exactly the kind of person that commercialized Everest expeditions attract. However, Krakauer also suggests that Pittman isn’t as unlikeable in person as she might be on paper. Even if she’s spoiled, and has overworked her Sherpa guides by making them carry her heavy boxes of food and clothes, Pittman also seems to be a charismatic, generous, and overall pleasant person. In the aftermath of the May 10 disaster, many journalists unfairly blame Pittman for the disaster—and Krakauer wants to make it clear that he’s not one of those journalists.
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