Finished reading Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer. A very interesting, but hauntingly true story. Krakauer is journalist (and mountaineer) who accompanies a group on a climb to the summit of Mount Everest—a very challenging and dangerous assent into very cold and very thin air. Originally Krakauer was on the trip to write about the commercialization of Mount Everest, but Krakauer ended up being part of a major disaster. Five of sixteen of his fellow climbers—3 of them guides—perished on the upper mountain during their May 10, 1996, assent. Wikipedia has a fairly good summary of what happened. There’s also the made for TV movie available on YouTube, made not long after the event, and there’s a fairly good documentary on Youtube worth watching if you’re interested.
I think this quote of Krakauer’s probably best captures the theme of this human tragedy:
Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die. Above 26,000 feet, moreover, the line between appropriate zeal and reckless summit fever becomes grievously thin. Thus the slopes of Everest are littered with corpses.*
* Of the 300 people who’ve died while climbing on the slopes of Mount Everest over the decades, about 150 of those bodies still remain on the mountain to this day. As Krakauer says, being up that high is like being on the surface of the moon. If something goes wrong, you’re largely on your own. It’s too high for a helicopter rescue and bringing a seriously injured climber or dead body down the upper reaches of the mountain is a perilous task. Thus many frozen corpses remain on the upper slopes.