Every year, climbers attempt to reach the peak of Mount Everest, the highest point on the planet. Back in 1996, John Krakauer agreed to join an expedition climbing the mountain as a representative of the magazine, Outside. He’d had mountain climbing experience, but nothing as challenging as Mount Everest. As he found out, no matter how many mountains you’ve climbed, one unexpected storm can be deadly.
I listened to this story as an abridged audiobook read by the author, in my car, all 360 minutes of it. I cannot imagine the agony of listening to the unabridged version. As Jon told his story, I could hear the wind howling in my mind, see the swirling snow, and feel the deadly cold creeping around me. He described the gradual mental deterioration of all the climbers, even the native guides accompanying them, until they were moving slowly in a stupor, or even unable to walk. It was a constant struggle to breathe in enough oxygen for their minds to work normally.
Although the story is fascinating, why anyone would go through such a miserable experience is beyond me. It was a time commitment of about six weeks, during which time they tried to get their bodies gradually used to higher altitudes and less oxygen. Some people fared better than others, but even the most talented climbers struggled with altitude sickness. They risked their lives just getting up to the top, and going back down was even more difficult. A number of them did not survive the experience, and those that lived to tell about it suffered from “survivor’s guilt”. Some mountains are just not meant to be climbed.