"I'd been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, I just couldn't summon the energy to care."
As one of the opening lines of the book, this quote sends an important message about the experience of extreme mountaineering. At the top of the world, where one would expect to feel triumphant and awestruck, Krakauer doesn't have the energy to care or feel any emotion at all. The line immediately dispels any romantic notions about climbing Mt. Everest, replacing it with the reality of pain and suffering that remains constant throughout the story.
"Having stumbled upon a tolerable career, for the first time on my life I was actually living above the poverty line. My hunger to climb had been blunted, in short, by a bunch of small satisfactions that added up to something like happiness."
This quote offers a small window into Krakauer's motivations to climb Mt. Everest, and by extension to those of the wider community of mountaineers. While a stable, well-paying job and a happy marriage had the effect of blunting his hunger to climb, the word choice in this quote--"small satisfactions" and "something like happiness"--indicate that this is still not the life he seeks to live. We can see that mountaineering is not a hobby, but rather a necessity for Krakauer to achieve true happiness and feel that his life is complete.
"I believe 100 percent I'm coming back.... My wife believes 100 percent I'm coming back. She isn't concerned about me at all when I'm guiding because I'm gonna make all the right choices. When accidents happen, I think it's always human error."
This quote demonstrates Fischer's sense of optimism and confidence. These traits are critical to overcoming the mental obstacles of mountaineering and help explain why Fischer has been so successful despite his unorthodox style. At the same time, however, we can see how overconfidence may have contributed to bad decisions on the mountain.
"When it came time for each of us to assess our own abilities and weigh them against the formidable challenge of the world's highest mountain, it sometimes seemed as though half the population at Base Camp was clinically delusional. But perhaps this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Everest has always been magnet for kooks, hopeless romantics, and others with a shaky hold on reality."
This quote is more proof that the decision to climb Mt. Everest is rarely a well thought out or logical one. When faced with the incredible physical and mental challenge of summiting the world's tallest mountain, only delusional dreamers are able to look past the obvious risks. This is the one trait that unites many of the diverse teams and climbers at Base Camp.
"The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I'd been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace."
This quote exposes one of the central ironies of the story. Achieving the summit of Everest--a goal that drives a passionate sense of ambition in each character--is in reality a painful and entirely miserable experience. And while the physical and mental toll of the ascent is a very tangible, immediate experience, the payoff is abstract and unclear. Here, it is compared to a "state of grace," or the condition of being free from sin.
"With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill.... The trick is to get back down alive."
This quote foreshadows the tragedy that would strike the teams and shows that Hall was always aware of the risks of the descent. It also reveals the danger of being driven by ambition, where a person's judgement can quickly be clouded by a perception of the summit as the ultimate goal.
"In this godforsaken place, I felt disconnected from the climbers around me--emotionally, spiritually, physically--to a degree I hadn't experienced on any previous expedition. We were a team in name only, I'd sadly come to realize. Although in a few hours we would leave camp as a group, we would ascend as individuals, linked to one another by neither rope nor any deep sense of loyalty."
This quote reveals that, despite the mutual respect that developed among the Adventure Consultants climbers, they were never able to form the bonds of trust and loyalty that are so important in mountaineering. On the most demanding day of the expedition, Krakauer feels entirely alone. This is a worrisome confession ahead of a task that requires mental strength just as much as physical strength, and is one of the multiple reasons why the day turns to tragedy.
"Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you're too driven you're likely to die."
This quote explains how ambition can be both a desirable trait and a fatal flaw. On one hand, excessive ambition is absolutely necessary to endure the extreme pain of summiting Mt. Everest. On the other, too much ambition leads to overconfidence and a dangerous underestimation of risk. The problem of being "too driven" is clear in characters like Fischer and Hansen, who continue to push themselves despite warning signs that they should give up.
"We didn't know them. No, we didn't give them any water. We didn't talk to them. They had severe high-altitude sickness. They looked as if they were dangerous.... We were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality."
This quotes shows how perceptions of morality and moral behavior can change in extreme circumstances. Although the Japanese climbers clearly know that what they did in ignoring the dying Ladakhis was morally wrong, they are not bothered by it. Morality is presented here as a calculation against the odds of reaching the summit and, more importantly, of survival. The conditions on the summit forced many characters to make difficult choices about what path was most important to them.
"Safe now, the crushing strain of the preceding days lifted off my shoulders, I cried for my lost companions, I cried because I was grateful to be alive, I cried because I felt terrible for having survived while others had died."
In this quote we see the full impact of the tragedy hit Krakauer for the first time. At the height of chaos on the mountain, instinct and mental impairment blunted his assessment of reality. But here he is at last able to safely look back on the pervious days and is emotionally overwhelmed by the moment. The three distinct and powerful emotions he experiences--relief, grief, and guilt--remain with him through the end of the book.
"I'd always known that climbing mountains was a high-risk pursuit. I accepted that danger was an essential component of the game--without it, climbing would be little different from a hundred other trifling diversions. It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them."
This quote illuminates how Krakauer's views on death evolved from the beginning of the book to the end. In the context of his emotional struggle to make sense of the tragedy, we see how he once was excited by the risk of death. His perspective now is the exact opposite, and his experience with death on Mt. Everest may be the one thing that forever scars his love and passion for climbing.
Into Thin Air Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Into Thin Air is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
They generally like and respect Hall. The Garuda Hotel is a popular base for Himalayan expeditions and has hosted many famous mountaineers. Krakauer spots a poster of Rob Hall, his expedition leader and the owner of Adventure Consultants guiding...