Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10


Krakauer wakes up at 4:00am on April 28 at Camp Two, in the middle of the team’s final acclimatization run to Camp Three at 24,000 feet. After a sleepless night, he dreads emerging into the frigid sub-zero air, and reluctantly puts on his gear. The route to Camp Three runs to the top of the Khumbu Glacier before ascending a steep, icy segment known as the Lhotse Face. Despite the effort expended in climbing, Krakauer remains uncomfortably cold, and the unrelenting wind puts the team at high risk of frostbite. Hall decides that continuing in these conditions is unsafe, so he aborts the run. Back at Camp Two, Hansen discovers that he has the beginnings of frostbite in his toes, and his larynx is frozen as a result of gasping frigid air. Morale is made even lower by a dispute between the teams over who has responsibility for setting rope up the Lhotse Face, with the South Africans refusing to do their share. The Sherpas start becoming superstitious about recent bouts of bad luck, saying Sagarmatha—the deity associated with Everest—is angry about an extramarital affair within Fischer’s team. Lopsang, a young and highly accomplished climber who is the sirdar for Fischer’s team, is particularly convinced of this: as Ngawang Topche’s nephew, the news of his illness hit him hard and left him physically tired; nonetheless, Lopsang is extremely loyal to Fischer and remains dedicated to the expedition.

The next day, everyone except Hansen makes another attempt to reach Camp Three. Krakauer discusses how climbing is often misconstrued by non-climbers as a cheap thrill, a simple quest for adrenaline. But serious climbing requires a much deeper, personal purpose to justify the extreme pain and misery that it entails. Krakauer begins recognizing this sense of purpose in his teammates and, however selfish or delusional it might be, he comes to respect them more for it. He starts feeling guilty about his role as a reporter, there to expose the stories of his teammates to the judgment of millions of people, something that none of them signed up for. In future interviews, Weathers would admit that Krakauer’s presence on the expedition added unhealthy stress and pressure on both clients and guides to prove themselves.

Krakauer arrives at Camp Three by late morning and finally begins believing that the summit may be within reach after all. However, he soon feels woozy and fears that he’s experiencing early symptoms of HACE. He describes the terrifying effects of HACE on one’s ability to walk, talk, or perform basic tasks like getting dressed, recounting how Dale Kruse, one of Fischer’s clients, had a serious case at Camp Three just two days earlier. Thankfully, his fears prove unfounded, and on May 1, the team returns to Base Camp having completed their final acclimatization run. Krakauer finds the air back at Base Camp comparatively thick and oxygen-rich, a good sign that his body has adapted to the altitude over the course of 3 weeks on the mountain. However, he has lost a lot of weight, and the cough that he developed back in Lobuje has worsened into a painful hack. Most of the climbers at Base Camp are in a similarly battered shape.

Hall plans May 10 as the date of their summit push from Camp Four, betting on the annual weather pattern that sees the jet stream lift north of the region in early May, leaving a window of clear, wind-free conditions on the summit. Hall calls a meeting of all the expedition leaders at Base Camp to coordinate their plans and avoid bottlenecks at the summit. All of the leaders agree to stagger their attempts between May 3-10 except Woodall, who declares his South African team will go for the summit whenever they feel like it.


Several different explanations—natural, spiritual, mental, and physical—emerge for why the expedition keeps running into obstacles. Hall cites nature for their struggles, confident that high winds and frigid temperatures will subside with a coming shift in the seasonal weather pattern. The Sherpas, however, are convinced the spirit of the mountain is angry at them for sinful behavior. On the individual level, the mental toll of the climb leads Krakauer towards paranoia over coming down with deadly edema, while physically, most of the team is battered and bruised. These reactions to hardship reflect the diverse approaches that each person takes towards summiting the mountain. For Hall it’s a challenge of management, for the Sherpas a challenge of respect, for Krakauer a challenge of self-confidence, and for many others a challenge of endurance. At this point in the narrative, the summit seems achievable for nearly everyone if these forces are controlled and overcome.

Krakauer’s job as a reporter is introduced as a moral question. While earlier in the narrative this role may have not bothered him, his guilt grows as he begins learning more about each teammate’s personal motivations and respecting their sense of purpose. It’s no coincidence that these moral doubts are closely tied to a new feeling of camaraderie, forcing Krakauer to find a difficult balance between his duty to tell a compelling, accurate story, and his duty towards his friends and teammates.