Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: Into Thin Air

In last month's Outside magazine I read an article about a 13 year old boy from Southern California who was preparing to climb Mount Everest with his dad and step mother. I thought it was a fascinating article about a very motivated kid. His parents were heavily involved with his training, but they made it very clear that they were doing it to support him. Prior to his interest in summiting large mountains (which started at age 9), he was interested in being the next Steve Irwin, so they were fully supportive of him in that regard by surrounding him with opportunities to interact with all kinds of reptiles and animals. They said if tomorrow he wanted to be an NBA basketball player, they would be at the gym that day helping him train to attain that goal as well.

I'm getting off point, but I had to kind of give an idea of what prompted me to read this book.

I was talking to Alene about the article and how the author mentioned that Everest does so much damage to both your mind and body, that he wasn't sure it was a good idea for a kid to be doing it. Alene then started talking to me about reading "Into thin air" years ago and how she thought I would like it. She ordered it for me the next day and once I got it, I could not stop reading.

To summarize the book, it's about a group of 3 summit teams that got lost and stranded on the mountain during their descent in 1996. 8 people died and a few others suffered serious injuries.

The book took me on a journey that fascinated me and pulled me in much like the book "Lone Survivor" did. I don't read as much as I would like to, so when I read a book I make sure it's going to be a good book. I loved the accounts and history of those that had attempted to summit and those that did. I also felt like I gained more of an appreciation for anyone that attempts to summit Everest. The toll it takes on your body is so harsh. I thought we lived at a decent altitude, but knowing that the closest city from their basecamp was at the same level as the highest peak in Utah, it just blew me away.

I remember hiking to the summit of Timpanogos and while I was out of shape, I also noticed feeling a bit light-headed at the top at 11,749 feet. I wasn't sure if it was from being out of shape, or from the altitude. I can't imagine being almost twice as high in the air, which is where Everest is. I do remember the small joy of being up on that mountain and feeling like I had accomplished something against myself. Then I turned around and saw two younger kids and their parents and I didn't feel as special. It was still tough and I'm anxious to do Timp this year and maybe fit in Nebo, then attempt Kings Peak the next summer.

The author was very brutally honest about most of the situations that happened and about those he climbed with. He himself was a mountaineer and had spent a lot of his life on high mountain expeditions, but nothing close to the magnitude of Everest.

The book made me want to climb something higher. I'm not sure why though. Is it the macho man in me that wants to do it? Is it for bragging rights? I think ultimately its my competitive spirit. I've always been competitive in things I do, whether its arguing a point or playing a sport, but I've never been one of those that are so competitive that I whine or get in fights about things not going my way. Lately, with the running I've been doing, I've found a more challenging aspect of competition for me is competing against myself and I've been doing that with running. How scary and nuts it would be to see what you could do on a mountain like that.

I'm confident I would never do Everest because it costs a lot of money (about $40-$60k) and because it's too dangerous and I have people that depend on me. However, this book definitely motivated me to push myself a bit more and get out and see what I can do. It also taught me about not judging people for their actions in tough times. Some of the deaths could have easily been avoided, but it's not my place to point out faults and weaknesses of others. Nobody knows how they'll respond at that altitude (they say often times that your thought process diminishes to that of a 4-5 year old) and in those deathly circumstances.

It's a great book and a fast read and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Oh, by the way, I found out 2 days ago that the 13 year old boy made it to the summit and back safely.