Study Questions


The Book of the Year Committee encourages teachers, book groups, and individuals to utilize the following set of study questions to enrich your understanding and discussions of Into Thin Air. In addition, please also take a look at our Events Associated with the Book, as well as the section on Sherpa Culture.

Into Thin Air

Study Questions

1) (Epigram by Jose Ortega y Gasset) What is Krakauer's purpose in using this quote? What do you think the tragedy in the civilized world is that he refers to? How does the book inform this tragedy?

2) (Chapter One)
a) What were the physical and mental effects on Krakauer of the high altitude by the time he reached the summit?
b) Considering these affects, what assessment would you make of Krakauer's reliability as a narrator, particular in the Death Zone (above 25,000 feet)?

3) (Chapter Two)
a) How did Dick Bass' ascent of Everest in 1985 change climbers' perceptions of ascents on Everest?
b) What did the Nepalese government do as a result of these changes?
c) Who were the first men to ascend Everest and what event did this correspond with?
d) What ascent of Everest was particularly important to Krakauer personally and why?
e) Why did Krakauer agree to climb Everest when he felt such disdain for what the climb had become?

4) (Chapter Three)
a) What was Rob Hall's interaction with Sir Edmund Hillary?
b) What had Hall's climbing accomplishments been prior to founding his company?
c) Why did Hall shift from his personal expeditions to founding an expedition company?

5) (Chapter Four)
a) What have been the changes in the Sherpa culture since their first involvement in mountaineering?
b) How have outsiders both honored and abused Sherpas as the various cultures have interacted?

6) (Chapter Five)
a) How did Rob Hall and Scott Fischer differ in terms of character?
b) What bothered Fischer about his reputation as a climber? How and why had this changed before the climb in 1996?
c) Why had Fischer's and Hall's companies come in conflict with one another over Jon Krakauer?

7) (Chapter Six)
a) What arrangements had the various expeditions made to pass through the Khumbu Icefall?
b) What sort of weaknesses did Krakauer note in the participants of Hall's expedition?
c) How had the relationship between Krakauer and his wife Linda changed as a result of his climbing?

8) (Chapter Seven)
a) What had Maurice Wilson's plan been to ascend Everest in 1933 and how did it turn out?
b) Whom did Krakauer see as the strongest guided climber on Everest in 1996 and why?
c) Which of the expeditions on Everest in 1996 seemed least capable and why?

9) (Chapter Eight)
a) How and did Krakauer's attitude about encountering dead climbers rapidly change?
b) How did Scott Fischer and Ingrid Hunt share in their collective responsibility for Ngawang Topche's eventual death?
c) How and where does Krakauer show his disdain for Sandy Hill Pittman?

10) (Chapter Nine)
a) How had Doug Hansen's physical condition deteriorated and why?
b) What seemed to be the underlying cause(s) for the bickering among Rob Hall the Taiwanese, and South African teams over fixing ropes up the Lhotse face?
c) Describe the Sherpa beliefs about Everest, sex, and nature in general?

11) (Chapter Ten)
a) What does Krakauer reveal in this chapter about his role as a writer that goes well beyond what Outside magazine had hired him to do?
b) How does Krakauer's attitude toward Beck Weathers change and why?
c) How has Krakauer's physical condition deteriorated by the time of his return to Base Camp?

12) (Chapter Eleven)
a) What was the source of the evolving friction between Scott Fischer and Anatoli Boukreev?
b) How had Reinhold Messner's ascents on Everest in the late 1970's and early 1980's substantially altered elite climbers' views about summiting the mountain?
c) What factors make a summit bid on May 10, 1996 increasingly problematic at this point?

13) (Chapter Twelve)
a) What factors had caused Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa to push himself to exhaustion both below and above Camp Four?
b) As Krakauer waited in the night at Camp Four for his summit bid, what were his thoughts about his relationship both to other members of his own expedition, as well to others who would make summit bids the next day?
c) What does Krakauer write is being done about the approximately 1,000 discarded oxygen canisters that littered Camp Four?

14) (Chapter Thirteen)
a) What were some of the factors that lead to the bottlenecks between Camp 4 and the summit?
b) Why was Krakauer critical of Boukreev in this section of the climb?
c) Describe Krakauer's feelings about his climb both before and at the moment of his summit.

15) (Chapter Fourteen)
a) What transpired at the South Summit amongst Krakauer, Andy Harris, and Mike Groom that Krakauer later feels guilty for?
b) What mistakes did Beck Weathers make that he would later regret?
c) What mistake did Krakauer make with Beck Weathers that he too would later regret?

16) (Chapter Fifteen)
a) What logistical error had Fischer made with his team that impacted their ascent on the summit day?
b) What is Krakauer's critique of Boukreev on the summit day?
c) What heroic efforts did Neil Biedelman, Stuart Hutchinson, and Anatoli Boukreev make to save the climbers in the huddle?

17) (Chapter Sixteen)
a) What factors do you think lead Krakauer to misidentify Martin Adams as "Andy Harris"?

18) (Chapter Seventeen)
a) What does Krakauer suggest is the likely scenario with Rob Hall, Doug Hansen, and Andy Harris?
b) Which of the deaths of the two leaders strikes you as most tragic and why?
c) What became of the rescue efforts to save the two leaders?

19) (Chapter Eighteen)
a) What do you think of the Japanese climbers' claims that above 8,000 meters is not a "place for morality"? Do you see their actions as justifiable?

20) (Chapter Nineteen)
a) What happened to Rob Hall's team in the absence of leadership?
b) What did the other expeditions do to assist in aiding the climbers in trouble?
c) In the midst of the ongoing disaster, how did the climbers handle their grief and shock?

21) (Chapter Twenty)
a) How did Beck Weathers' injuries compare to Makalu Gau's?
b) What was amazing to Krakauer above Weathers' descent?
c) What was so unusual and difficult about Weathers and Gau's rescue?

22) (Chapter Twenty-One)
a) In retrospect, whose deaths did Krakauer feel most responsible for?
b) What does Krakauer see as the causes of the disaster?
c) Why does Krakauer thinks such tragedies are likely to happen again?

23) (Epilogue)
a) Do you think Lisa Fischer-Luckenbach makes some apt points about Krakauer?
b) Considering some of the abuse of Sherpa culture described in the book and the letter by the Sherpa in the epilogue, what do you think Westerners should or should not be doing in Nepal?
c) Do you think the reaction to Sandy Hill Pittman was warranted? Why or why not?