This chapter begins Krakauer's chronological narrative. He flies to Kathmandu, staring down at the Himalayan peaks. Krakauer sees the neighboring peaks first, and then Everest comes into view. If he summits, he will be nearly as high as he is right then, on the airplane. On the ground, Krakauer meets Andy Harris, one of the guides in his expedition. Harris is from New Zealand and they compare their climbing experiences. This is to be Harris's first attempt at Everest as well. They pick up another member o f the expedition, Lou Kasischke and go to their hotel, a place where many famous climbers, including their leading guide Rob Hall, have stayed over the years. Krakauer meets Hall, a likable, funny man also from New Zealand. Hall first began climbing i n the Himalayas at age nineteen and first summated Everest ten years later, with Edmund Hillary's son, Peter. Rob Hall and his climbing partner, Gary Ball ascended the highest summit on each of the seven continents in a mere seven months, receiving ex traordinary financial support and media attention. The two climbers worried about losing funding after having completed that remarkable feat, leading them into the arena of guiding. Hall and Ball began to guide expeditions in 1992, when they successfully brought six clients to the top of Everest. The next year, they brought seven to the top. Unfortunately, in opposition to their success was a strong statement by the first man to reach the top of Everest, Edmund Hillary, denouncing Hall's involvement in th e business of guiding people up the mountain, calling it disrespectful. Immediately after that, Hall's partner, Gary Ball, died of an altitude-related brain edema.
Hall decided to keep going, and continued guiding people up the mountain. He studied and applied the best way to acclimatize his clients as they climbed the mountain. In five years, Hall guided thirty-nine clients to the top. Hall claimed that his company was the "world leader in Everest climbing" and charged $65,000 per person for his services. Hall's reputation as a guide made him Outside Magazine and Krakauer's easy choice as the person to lead Krakauer up the mountain. Two days after arriving a t Kathmandu Krakauer's expedition flies by helicopter to the road leading to Base Camp. Krakauer reflects on his fellow clients, slightly put off by their collective lack of experience. He strikes up a friendship with Doug Hansen, a postal worker who atte mpted to summit Everest in 1995 with Rob Hall, but turned back just before he reached the top. Krakauer begins to wonder if climbing with such a large group of people, especially strangers, is safe. If one member of an expedition is weak, the entire group can go down like dominoes. Trusting one's climbing partners is important, and Krakauer has never climbed with anyone other than trusted friends. That is one of the main differences in climbing with a guide service—instead of trusting one's climbing partner, everyone trusts the guide. With no choice but to trust Hall, Krakauer hopes that trust isn't misplaced.
Krakauer is always looking for ways to give us new perspective on exactly how tall Mt. Everest is. In this chapter, he juxtaposes his height in the plane (30,000 feet) with the summit of Everest (29,028 feet). Krakauer meets Andy Harris, one of his guides , and learns that this will be Harris's first time climbing the mountain. Instantly, there is yet another element of dangerous to this already deadly experience—Krakauer and the others are supposed trust this guide who has no personal experience on the mountain. Krakauer relates with Harris as a fellow mountain climber: "Andy's palpable hunger for climbing, his unalloyed enthusiasm for the mountains, made me wistful for the period in my own life when climbing was the most important thing imaginable& #133;" (37). The history and myth of Everest is evident in their hotel. The climbers who stay there undoubtedly picture themselves on the wall with the other famous climbers, and think about staying in that hotel as being part of a legacy.
Krakauer hasn't yet set foot on the mountain, but it is evident that he has been drawn in by manifestations of the Everest myth. Hall's resume is impressive—he began climbing at age fifteen and first started climbing in the Himalayas when he was 19. He has experience climbing on Everest, and has climbed the highest mountain in each continent in seven months. His experience is impressive, and from Krakauer's description he sounds like the perfect guide. Thus far, Hall is the one part of the trip that sounds as close to a safe bet as possible. However, Hall is also a media climber—part of his motivation for guiding is due to the fact that being unable to top the seven summits in seven months would result in a lack of sponsorship and funding. His love of climbing sounds sincere enough, but the interjection of money and profit ads an element of doubt. On the one hand, guides should be qualified, because they do take money to lead people safely up and down the mountain. On the other hand, someone w ho charges $65,000 to do it appears concerned not only with climbing and safety, but with profit.
Krakauer juxtaposes descriptions of love for climbing and love for money to introduce the controversial aspect of money and commercialism. Krakauer comments on the money aspect by emphasizing that he feels immediately closest to Doug Hansen, who raised mo ney for the trip by working two jobs. There is a sincerity and trustworthiness in having worked long and hard for the money: "Because I'd earned my living as a carpenter for eight years before becoming a writer—and because the tax bracket we shared set us conspicuously apart from the other clients—I already felt comfortable around Doug in a way that I didn't with the others." Money is controversial not only in terms of commercialism and the amount guides make to lead expeditions, but in terms of the clients, too. The commercialism on the mountain makes it such that climbers who are otherwise not skilled, experienced or strong enough can climb to the top of the world. They make up for their lack of ability with money. Considering that, perhaps $65,000 per person isn't too much to ask when a guide's responsibility becomes navigating a group of climbers who wouldn't be anywhere near the Everest if they didn't have a mountain of money.
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