At 4:30 am on May 6, the group leaves Base Camp for the last time, in their attempt to reach the summit. The climb up the Icefall to Camp Two is more difficult due to the deteriorating physical conditions of the climbers.

They see the Swedish climber, Goran Kropp, as he is coming back down. He climbed all the way to the South Summit, a mere couple of hundred feet from the top, before deciding he was so exhausted that it would be unsafe for him to press on and that he would be in no condition to descend if he kept going. Hall remarks on what great judgment Kropp displayed in doing that which is so unspeakably hard—turning around when the top is in sight.

The next day the group rests, anxiously awaiting their impending climb. Krakauer and Doug Hansen talk about what the mountain is like at the top, and even though Hansen's throat is still bothering him he is determined to summit. Later that afternoon, Scott Fischer enters their camp, exhausted. Because he allows his clients to go up and down during the acclimization period, he has to make some unplanned climbs and descents to help various members of his team. Fischer had had no rest days. Fischer and one of his assistants, Boukreev, had gotten into a fight because Boukreev had climbed so far ahead of the other clients that again, Fischer had to make a trip to help a struggling climber. Tensions between Fischer and Boukreev spike, largely because Boukreev feels that "'if client cannot climb Everest without big help from guide…this client should not be on Everest'" (194). By this time, Fischer's health has begun to reflect the fact that his guide hasn't been as helpful as he expected.

On May 8, Hall and Fischer's team both leave Camp Two and begin to climb up the Lhotse Face. Just beneath Camp Three, a boulder falls from the cliffs above and slams into Andy Harris's chest. He falls, dangling from his rope. They eventually reach the Camp and Harris claims to be okay, acknowledging that had the rock hit him on the head he wouldn't be.

A few of the members have trouble reaching Camp Three, and need assistance. Two team members, Lou and Frank, struggle into camp hours later. Krakauer is stunned—Frank is one of the climbers he expected to make it to the summit.

That night they begin using supplemental oxygen. Krakauer explains that some climbers feel that using canned oxygen is tantamount to cheating. The most legendary climber of all, Reinhold Messner, was the first to summit the mountain without oxygen. Many people, especially Sherpas, were skeptical that these men—Westerners—had actually achieved the feat without supplemental oxygen, but investigation yielded support for the claim. Two years later, Reinhold made a solo ascent up the Tibetan side of the mountain, again without oxygen. Climbing without oxygen is a distinction, but most guides feel that climbing without gas is irresponsible and renders them almost useless as a guide.