Into Thin Air – Reader’s Guide

Into Thin Air - Reader's Guide“A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

“By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer’s highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber’s death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others’ actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself” (Amazon summary).


Chapter 1:

  • What propels a human to take on the dangers of climbing Everest?
  • What lessons can be learned by taking on this challenge?
  • Why does mountaineering create a fascination?
  • Why do we not heed the impending signs of danger? Warning signs?
  • Metaphorically, how do we squander our oxygen?

Chapter 2:

  • What could have been gained from the failures of climbing Mt. Everest over 100 years ago?
  • How did mountaineering equipment change and improve over the years?
  • What types of tools did Edward Norton use in 1924?
  • What types of emotions would accompany the climbers at the peak?
  • How can knowing harrowing facts hinder desires and even aspirations?

Chapter 3:

  • What emotions would be created by seeing the Himalayas for the first time?
  • In addition to facing the mountain what cultural mores would need adaptions?
  • How do challenges promote and demand more challenges?
  • Does commercialism defeat the challenge of Everest? Why/why not?
  • How does man disrespect mountains?
  • How does creating one’s brand open opportunities?

Chapter 4:

  • Why do loneliness and doubts go hand in hand?
  • How does one efficiently prepare for extremes in weather and temperature?
  • What stereotypes taint our interactions with others?
  • How does modernization and progress change communicates and families for good and bad?
  • What toll does thin air take on low landers?
  • What sacrifices would need to be made to complete a challenge such as climbing Everest?

Chapter 5:

  • How does determination and goals promote us to overcome even the greatest trials?
  • What thoughts would come to mind from the ice cracking?
  • Why would companies like Starbucks sponsor an Everest climb?
  • How can recognition possess a person?
  • How does attitude contribute to success?

Chapter 6:

  • How do you describe euphoria after achieving a difficult challenge?
  • What characteristics would a climbing guide need? How did Hall demonstrates these leadership attributes?
  • How do different circumstances require different tools? Even different usage of the same tools?
  • How did Everest demand different mountaineering skill sets?
  • How can hobbies and passions consume someone?

Chapter 7:

  • What essentiality existed in carefully evaluating one’s experiences/capacities? Against Everest? For life in general?
  • Why does Everest have such a strong pull?
  • What purpose exists in learning about failed attempts?
  • Could different cultures have different climbing techniques?
  • What makes people attempt potentially hazardous even potentially fatal endeavors?
  • How do you prepare for those who are unprepared?
  • What would it be like to meet a friend on the trail?
  • Why do people neglect to follow the rules? Even rules set up for their safety?
  • What is the impact of incompetent climbers on other climbers on the mountain?

Chapter 8:

  • How is giving not taking a part of growing up?
  • Why would a body be disorienting?
  • Why would bodies be left behind instead of carried down and buried?
  • What benefits it there to meeting other teams? Relying on each other?
  • How would the ailing Sherpa impact the morale of the climbing teams?
  • What does life without internet access look like?
  • What attract adventure seekers to Everest?
  • Would packing up extras such a gourmet food be an asset? Why/why not?
  • Would you prefer a positive or negative attitude on the mountain? Why/why not?
  • What are the contrast between the trail and high society? Should there be contrasts?

Chapter 9:

  • Why are there several stops to acclimate?
  • In life, do we have similar parallels where we need to stop and acclimate?
  • Why would Doug attempt an Everest climb after having recent surgery?
  • What can failures teach?
  • How can beliefs – true or false – impact people?

Chapter 10:

  • What is the different between adrenaline experiences and endurance experiences?
  • How do challenges help to mold our opinions of others?
  • Why is it difficult for the author to write about someone he knows?
    Would there be extra pressure in having a reporter/writer along? Why/why not?
  • What are the dangers of illness on Everest?
  • What would be the danger of traffic on Everest summit?

Chapter 11:

  • What causes the swelling of organs at high altitude?
  • What skills would be required of Hall as a trail leader?
  • Why do we tend to appreciate what we don’t have?
  • Why does attitude cause the body to deteriorate?
  • How do cultures approach death differently?

Chapter 12:

  • What difficulties exist when leap-frogging other, slower climbers?
  • What adjectives does the writer use to paint the picture of Everest climbing?
  • Why would deep snow at the summit impede the climb, reaching the summit?
  • Why was sleep more difficult at higher altitudes?
  • How can a person be alone in a group?
  • What physical tolls has the summit taken on climbers?
  • What could be potentially hazardous of waiting for others?
  • How was society and technology both a tether for Pittman?

Chapter 13:

  • How is survival a race against the clock?
  • How can altitude accentuate emotions?
  • Why does the prospect of reaching a goal energize?
  • Why is the line between zeal and recklessness blurred as the summit gets closer? Does such a line exist and get blurry when reaching for other goals?
Into Thin Air - Reader's Guide
See the movie!

Chapter 14:

  • How would the lack of oxygen impact Jon?
  • What dilemmas would the traffic cause on the descent?
  • Why would Andy refuse to believe there was oxygen?
  • Why did Beck keep his vision problems a secret?
  • What complications could derive from hallucinations on Everest?

Chapter 15:

  • What is the purpose of a turn around time? Should individuals implement a turn around tie in normal life?
  • What dangers came from spreading out so widely on the trail?
  • What are your thoughts of using steroids on the climb?
  • What would be the probability of happening upon camp?

Chapter 16:

  • How would you break the news of a death to a loved one?
  • What motivates someone when thinking the end or death is near?

Chapter 17:

  • What would it have taken to deny Hansen?
  • How does a climber budget their energy to assure they have enough to get back down?
  • What does it take to make a rescue on Everest?
  • What are the effects of being above 28,000 feet without oxygen?
  • What would you sacrifice to bring a friend off of the mountain?

Chapter 14:

  • Why didn’t the Japanese help the stranded climbers? Why or why not was this ethical?
  • Why do climbers leave fallen teammates on the mountain?

Chapter 19:

  • How would the reality sink in?
  • How do individuals protect themselves through tragedy?
  • What would it take to leave someone behind?
  • What would it have taken Beck to be able to get to camp?

Chapter 20:

  • What would the climbers have looked like if the climb had been successful as planned?
  • How would the climber feel kneeing they’d left Beck for dead, seeking him come into camp walking?
  • What were the risks of bringing a helicopter to that altitude?
  • How did the plan go so wrong?

Chapter 21:

  • What brought the rush of emotion?
  • How would you have answered the questions of the remaining family?
  • Compare/contrast the emotions of the situation with those of a successful climb?
  • How would these same choices have been made had the climbers not been under such physical demons?
  • Should oxygen be banded? Why/why not?
  • Do we appreciate the risks we face?


  • Was the sacrifice for Beck worth it?
  • How is Beck unconquerable?

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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