In the months and years following the Everest disaster, Krakauer’s teammates begin to move on with their lives. Lou Kasischke writes Krakauer a letter explaining that, after months of depression, he’s reached the point where he can once again focus on his own life with a “clear perspective.”
In the aftermath of the Everest disaster, many of the clients move on with their lives; however, Krakauer is unable to do so—he’s still too consumed with guilt.
Beck Weathers survives his hospitalization, though the doctors amputate the five fingers of his left hand, along with his nose. Beck doesn’t blame any of his teammates for his suffering. Krakauer notes that Beck and Lou have been able to move on with their lives instead of being “haunted” by their memories of Everest. However, Krakauer has been unable to do the same. After reading Krakauer’s Outside article on Everest, a lawyer from Florida claims that he doesn’t know how Krakauer can live with himself, considering that Krakauer’s negligence was partly the cause of Yasuko Namba’s death. On the night of Namba’s death, Krakauer was sleeping in his tent, less than 400 yards from where Namba was slowly dying.
Krakauer writes an article on the disaster for Outside magazine (the reason he joined the expedition in the first place). The article provokes some strong reactions—and some people agree with Krakauer that he bears some of the blame for the death of Yasuko Namba—since, theoretically, he could have stayed awake, gone outside, and brought Namba back to the camp. This certainly doesn’t help his survivor’s guilt.
Krakauer’s Outside article about Everest prompts other angry responses, especially from relatives of the deceased climbers. Scott Fischer’s sister writes Krakauer a letter in which she attacks him for arrogantly presuming to know when other climbers made mistakes, and when they made the “right” decisions. A young Sherpa man writes that the 1996 Everest disaster was a punishment for the arrogant Westerners who came to “conquer” Everest. And since the 1996 Everest disaster, Anatoli Boukreev has been involved in a bus accident that gravely damaged one of his eyes.
Krakauer’s article (and the full-length book that resulted from it) angered some readers for what they perceived as its judgmental, blameful tone—critics (including the sister of Scott Fischer) accused Krakauer of being too harsh on Namba, Boukreev, and other climbers. However, Krakauer is harshest of all with himself: he blames himself for allowing Yasuko Namba to die. The idea that the expedition was “punished” for daring to climb Everest is irrational, yet in some way, the team was punished for underestimating the danger of the mountain.
The 1996 Everest disaster hurts or destroys many other people’s lives. Sandy Pittman quickly becomes the target of much vitriol, since, it’s suggested, her celebrity status prevented her guides from doing their jobs properly.
Krakauer is sympathetic to Sandy Pittman, whom he sees as being a scapegoat for the disaster—journalists unfairly argued that Pittman distracted the guides from doing their jobs. As Krakauer has shown in his book, Pittman played almost no role in the disaster.
Neal Beidleman continues to suffer from depression. Despite the fact that he saved at least five lives, he blames himself for being unable to save sixth: Yasuko Namba. Krakauer visits Neal Beidleman, and together, they talk about their depression and guilt. Beidleman remembers Yasuko Namba, and says, ”She was so little. I can still feel her fingers sliding across my biceps, and then letting go. I never even turned to look back.”
The book ends somewhat abruptly with Beidleman and Krakauer reminiscing about their expedition, trying to mitigate some of their intense guilt. By all rights, Beidleman should be proud of himself for saving multiple lives—but instead, he hates himself for failing to save Namba. Beidleman’s condition reconfirms the basic irrationality of survivor’s guilt. The only cure for guilt, Krakauer implies, is communication: by talking to another guilty climber, Krakauer can work through some of his own feelings. Furthermore, Into Thin Air, the book we’ve just finished reading, may represent Krakauer’s attempt to “cure” his own guilt.