I went into this book knowing what happened on Everest during the 1996 season. Or at least, I thought I knew. I had heard some of the stories. I knew which climbers didn't make it back, but until reading this book I don't think I really got it.
While reading this book I could feel Jon Krakauer's confusion, anger, shock and guilt coming through the pages and I feel like I went through many of the same emotions while reading it.
When I read all the small mistakes that added up to a huge tragedy, there were times I was utterly infuriated. Why are people that are clearly NOT qualified to do high altitude climbing putting their lives and the lives of those around them at such great risk? Why didn't the expeditions work together to get the ropes set ahead of their clients? Why did one guide decide to climb without supplemental oxygen? Why did another guide choose not to turn his climbers around at the assigned time? And the questions just go on and on.
Yes, there was a storm on Everest on the day in question, but the reality is that the storm would've been considerably less of an issue if it weren't for all the human error along the way. I'm ultimately left feeling sadness over the loss of life.
I feel like Krakauer did a good job of portraying all the different sides of the people involved as well as the decisions that were made. Despite the fact that Anatoli Boukreev felt he was portrayed as the villain of the book, I did not find that to be the case. He made a few questionable decisions as did many others on the mountain that day (including Krakauer himself) and I don't feel that blame for what happened was placed on any one person. The fact that Boukreev single-handedly saved three lives was featured prominently in the book.
After reading this book, I find myself wondering if anyone should be climbing Everest especially in light of the tragedy that took place on the mountain this year (16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche while fixing the route through the Khumbu Icefall ahead of the western climbers) but I know that people will still climb it and sadly I don't think most climbers learn anything from these tragedies (in the book Krakuaer specifically mentions another expedition in 1996 that went up after the tragedy and also failed to turn around at the standard 2pm cut-off time and lost one of their climbers because of it.)
Overall, an intense read. The fact that I felt so much anger and despair while reading it shows how well-written it is. Definitely a must-read if you have interest in Everest or high altitude climbing.
I'm using this book for W in my A to Z Reading Challenge.