Friday, October 11, 2013

Into Thin Air

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.  If you aren't familiar with the book, it's about the 1996 Everest disaster.  Several groups of climbers became trapped in a storm in the "death zone" at the top of the mountain and eight people died.

It's a riveting and enlightening tale, starting with the preparation for the climb, going through the trials and illnesses from climbing in a low-oxygen environment, to the decisions that led to the disaster and the aftermath.  While you read the book, however, one main question comes to mind: what the fuck are they doing up there?
Let's look at the lethal dangers Krakauer mentions:
·       HAPE
Fluid that builds up in the lungs due to high altitude.

·       HACE
Fluid that builds up in the lungs due to high altitude.

·       Hypoxia
Lack of oxygen from, say it with me, high altitude.

·       Frostbite
Part of your body freezes and has to be cut off.

·       Bleeding from your eyes
Low pressure tends to make your capillaries burst.

·       Falling seracs
A maze of dangling glaciers that sometimes crush climbers.

·       $50k
Not a danger, really, just how much you have to pay to try to climb.
Then he tells what happened during the storm, about people being trapped all night in the gale force winds and dying only a few hundred feet from safety.  He talks about people freezing solid in the cold.  He talks about chipping the ice off the faces of dying men and women to determine how alive they still were.
So, quick precis: you pay a shitload of money, climb up in increasingly miserable conditions, your body deteriorates and you lose about 15 pounds, then you stand on the top for a few minutes and climb back down.
Then you die.
Oh, and 1996 was a relatively safe year, if you compare total number of deaths.  On average, one in ten people who climb the mountain die up there.  There are hundreds more of these pictures on the internet.
Which leads us back to the question: why the fuck do people climb Everest?  Answer: because they're stupid.  Because they're blisteringly, mind-bogglingly stupid.  Because they weren't born with the same level of brain power given to the common squirrel (flying squirrels are kinda smart).  Alternately, the may have had basic squirrel IQs, but suffered severe brain damage early in life.
In any case, the book shouldn't have been called Into Thin Air.  It should have been called Into Thick Skulls.

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