What happened on the mountain to trigger the disastrous events?
This questions plagues Krakauer throughout the book. There is no definitive answer—any theory is at least in part speculative and uninformed. However, the most likely explanation is that a combination of events contributed to the death of so many climbers. Krakauer says: "[O]n Everest it is the nature of systems to break down with a vengeance" (358). The breakdown of trust, common sense, control and foresight all cause mistakes that negatively impact the expedition. Each person in some way does or says something that begins a chain of events that initially seem inconsequential but later carry much import. As an overarching cause, Krakauer points to the inherent nature of the expedition—a number of inexperienced clients who do not know each other and who invested large sums of money to get to the top. Even Hall himself says that some kind of disaster on the mountain is inevitable. This raises the possibility that humans' arrogance in believing that they can pay money and climb to the top of the world bears responsibility for the tragedy.
What is the significance of the Sherpa's belief in Sagarmatha, the goddess of the sky?
Whether or not the reader buys into the theory of a Buddhist deity being responsible for the tragedy, the fact that the Sherpas on the expedition believe it is significant. The Sherpas believe in the aspects of the climb that they cannot control. They know that no matter how many precautions they take, they cannot ensure their safety of the safety of anyone else. Instead of actively worrying about these elements beyond their power, they attempt to appease the deities by showing respect. To them, the best way to decrease the chance of bad "luck" or adverse conditions on the mountain is to show sincere respect. Thus, they pray, light incense and construct altars throughout the climb. Strangely, a number of Sherpas die or are injured in unusual ways—one comes down with what is thought to be altitude sickness, but the typical remedies do not have any effect. Another Sherpa is struck in the head by not one, but two falling rocks. The explanation that the anger of Sagarmatha caused these events is every bit as likely as the explanations offered by Krakauer or the other climbers. The main difference between the theories of people such as Krakauer and the Sherpas centers on the concept of respect. Krakauer blames human error—arrogance, failure to adhere to safety regulations and failure to exhibit foresight. However, in all of the different manifestations of human error he cites, Krakauer never once mentions a lack of respect. Lack of respect could involve more than the angering of a goddess, and opens up a whole area ripe for investigation and regret.
What are some of the challenges Krakauer faced when writing a narrative about the 1996 expedition?
Writing a novel about something as sensitive and awful as the 1996 expedition is a tough challenge no matter who the author is. In this situation, Krakauer must wear many different hats. He is the author of the novel, the narrator of the story and a climber in the expedition. His vantage point then is blurred—when he describes events, which Krakauer is describing them, the author, narrator or mountain climber? He also is subject to criticism and scrutiny because writing about the facts incorporates hindsight, a degree of judgment and thorough analysis—all elements that did not exist on the mountain. As an author, Krakauer must avoid over-dramatizing the events, or dwelling on aspects of personal significance that might be less relevant to the narrative as a whole. Krakauer must achieve and maintain a delicate balance between his different roles, above all he must remain engaging and artistic in his narration.