All Talk and No Action Friday, June 4, 2010

Ever since my humble attempts at mountain climbing in Maharashtra, I hunted for articles and personal accounts of mountaineers.

That is how I landed at Jon Krakauer's write up for Outside magazine.

Jon, a seasoned climber and sports journalist, had always harbored dreams of conquering Everest. So when he received a chance to be a part of, and cover a guided expedition to Everest in 1996; he felt he had been gifted the only real wish he ever had.

Little did he know that it would come to be known as the worst season in Everest History.

Dis-satisfied with having to squeeze a lifetime worth of experience in a magazine article, Jon set out to write a book on his Mount Everest Conquest.

Into Thin Air is Jon's account of the horrifying proportions the journey assumed - with 8 climbers dead in one day, and 15 in the whole season, the event attracted world-wide criticism on the commercialisation of Everest.

The book adopts a factual, fast paced, non-biased narrative, which grips the reader from the word Go.

Where his Outside article raced through the tragedy, the book is carefully penned; building up on speed while detailing out every person on the tour, the preparation that went into the conquest and the small mistakes that finally snowballed into the tragedy.

One gets a good look at what an ordinary Sherpa's life is, how the Himalayan region has benefited from mountaineering expeditions and also how commercialisation has affected, the once pristine Everest.

Every chapter begins with a passage from books/personal accounts/articles written by Mountaineering Legends - men who have conquered Everest, The North and South Poles, and undertaken other such journeys that ordinary mortals can only dream about. These passages add an intriguing dimension to such people - people who cannot be pinned down with adjectives, who would give up their lives, fight natural disasters and physical ailments - only to conquer an ideal which appeals to their souls - however lofty, radical and insane it may sound to others.

At a philosophical level, Jon shares what motivates a mountaineer and why such people are either highly admired or strongly detested for what they represent. After all, an Everest Climb requires one to be very comfortable with the idea of Death, the idea of letting go and never getting back to one's loved ones. Some people also equate climbing mountains to an intense spiritual activity - both exercises require one to suspend all mundane thoughts and dwell within, for all answers.

The book very poignantly showcases the best and the worst a human being is capable of. In fact, worst is not the right word here, for, in disasters like these, one can never judge the actions of the people involved.

Though the expedition had a tragic end, the book also showcases some miraculous escapes - escapes that gave me goose bumps while reading.Needless to add, but I still will, what the human mind is capable of - is beyond most of us can ever fathom.

A favourite thought here - When your legs take you no far, when you feel the last drop of energy sucked out from you, when your mind appears to have given up, it is then you should know that you are only mid-way through.

Into Thin Air is one of the most stirring reads ever and highly recommended for one and all.

Once you are done with the book, I suggest you watch Dr. Ken Kamler's account of the tragedy - he was the only doctor present, when the blizzard struck.

Arjun Vajpayee's Everest conquest didn't attract the appreciation it should have, owing to the Mangalore crash.

However, one must acknowledge the gumption, sacrifice and grace that go into such expeditions.


ARJuna said...

What happened with Arjun is somewhat unfortunate. All he got was a small article on Page 2 whereas the 14 year old braniac who cracked the IIT-JEE got a front page coverage!
I think Arjun's feat was on par with the braniac's and that is saying the least!

Anonymous said...

sounds like a nice read :)

All Talk and No Action said...

@ARJuna - Yes, he is every bit a hero. and his feat was tougher and potentially fatal too when compared with all Entrance exams' toppers.Pity, Indians only idolize "padhaku" people.

@allthecrap - Indeed it is :)

nisha said...

This is an excellent thought provoking post.