Into Thin Air

Ever notice how one bad decision can snowball into about 15 more? Now put that theory to test on Everest at over 29,000 feet in the middle of a blizzard. That’s this book.

Jon Krakauer tries to make sense of the tragedy on Everest in 1996 with this book. That task alone is complicated by the fact he was in the middle of it at 29,000 feet above sea level where the mind and body are not just taxed to limit but beyond it. Every minute above 25,000 feet is a minute closer to death. The body begins to destroy itself, the brain is deprived of precious oxygen and decision making is confounded by both cold and confusion.

Krakauer wrestles with his responsibility on the mountain. He writes the story from his perspective then revisits this perspective later once he’s off the mountain and begins to talk to other climbers who were there. He acknowledges the mistakes that were made but the book isn’t written to blame anyone.

What I got out of the book is how you train is how you will perform. The guides on Everest trained their climbers to trust their judgment only, no arguing, just follow orders. They trained their clients to be passive on the mountain, only listening to their guide. They didn’t train their clients to read the ‘signs of the mountain’ for themselves. The clients were not trained HOW to climb Everest, they were trained to follow their leaders.

While some of this mentality is understandable, what happens when the leaders are in trouble? What happens when the leaders are suffering from hypoxia and can’t think straight? There were no alternate plans if things went wrong or markers for the climbers to know when their leaders were in trouble.

For those of us in ministry – that lesson is directly applicable. Train your leaders in HOW to minister to youth – not just follow the leader. Sure, there is a place for ‘follow the leader’ but training them all to be able to read the signs of trouble and doing ministry in community with mutual accountability is a much better way to tackle the mountain of student ministry.

Quite honestly, it’s a miracle that more of them didn’t die on that mountain. Due to the quick thinking and courage of a few men, more walked off that mountain than probably should have.

I missed this book when it first came out. I’m sorta glad I did because in the years that followed it, there were corrections and additions made by the author as well as a book that came out disagreeing with it and finally the author answered those critics. All of this was included in this version of the book I read.


7 thoughts on “Into Thin Air

  1. i love krakauer (in a purely non-homosexual manner – not that there annything wrong with that – sienfeld reference). “into thin air” was great. since you liked it you should consider picking up “under the banner of heaven” & “into the wild.”


  2. I’ve got a Harvard case study done on this incident by folks at Harvard Business School. I’ll have to send it to you. I’d be interested in how the book differs from the case study.


  3. This was a great post. It’s cool when you read a book (or watch a movie) and can extract some dynamic life principles. I will surely remember the lesson you described here about training those around us, not simply asking them to follow us around…


  4. I remember when that incident happened. Karen was the administrator for the plastic surgeon that did the reconstructive work Dr. Beck Weathers. I have video of the surgery where Dr. Anigian rebuilt his nose from the skin on his forehead. It’s pretty cool – if you like that sort of thing.

    Thanks for the insight.


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