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The next morning, both Frank and Lou are at the head of the line, climbing toward Camp Four. It is a crowded on the mountain—at least fifty people are ascending behind Krakauer. Not wanting to get stuck in a pack of people, Krakauer climbs as quickly as he can, trying to pass climbers on the single rope leading up the Lhotse Face.
Initially, it is hard to gauge whether the supplemental oxygen helps; in fact "the mask actually gave the illusion of asphyxiating me, so I tore it from my face—only to discover breathing was even harder without it" (208). Krakauer eventually becomes accustomed to breathing the oxygen and makes good time up the Face. He describes the Face as breathtaking, the air taking on a "shimmering, crystalline quality" (209). He notices four climbers on the South Summit of the mountain and guesses that they are from the Montenegrin expedition. They are struggling with the wind and snow Krakauer can see swirling around the peak.
An area called the South Col, a rectangular plateau, is their launching point for the summit attempt. From there, Krakauer can see down the Tibetan side of the mountain. Surrounding Camp Four are more than one thousand empty oxygen canisters. The South Col is a flat place to put up a tent, but its ridge creates a wind tunnel, funneling winds that faster and stronger than those at the summit.
The weather gets worse throughout the afternoon. Lopsang, Fischer's Sherpa, shows up carrying an 80-pound load, largely due to Sandy Pittman's satellite telephone and hardware. Pittman intends to send the last group of Internet files from 26,000 feet. By 4:30, all of Hall's team is there, and the last of Fischer's team arrives even later, during what has become a nasty storm. Later still, the Montenegrins arrive, saying that they were unable to reach the summit. Hall and Fischer's groups are discouraged by the weather and the Montenegrins' unsuccessful attempt.
Later that night, Bruce Herrod, a member of the South African team, appears outside of Krakauer's tent. He is suffering from hypothermia and disorientation. He doesn't know where the rest of his group is. Doug Hansen also struggles with serious health problems, not having eaten in days and rapidly losing strength and stamina.
On the Col, Krakauer feels detached from the other climbers. They are linked only by circumstance, not by commitment, trust or loyalty. Krakauer says that at any other moment, his revelation would be depressing, but considering the other more urgent matters on his mind, he does not dwell on it.
Around 7:30 that night, the weather improves. Hall confirms that they will press on to the summit in the morning. At 11:35 pm, Hall's team leaves. Fischer's team leaves one half hour later, and just after Fischer's group, the Taiwanese team leaves for the summit, totaling thirty-three climbers.
A few hours later, Frank decides to turn back—something inexplicably "doesn't feel right." Doug Hansen also steps out of line, but after a conversation with Rob Hall steps back in and continues.
Before they left for the summit, Hall made them all promise to listen and obey him on the mountain, and most importantly, to stay within 100 meters of each other so he could more readily keep track of them. This means that the faster climbers must wait for the rest of the group to catch up. Krakauer spends time waiting, and it is excruciating—every second counts on the climb since there is an appointed turn-around time. While waiting, Krakauer sees Lopsang pulling Pittman up the mountain on a tether.
At around 5:30 in the morning, Krakauer reaches the Southeast Ridge where he stops and waits for the rest of the group. Fischer and the Taiwanese group both pass him. Nearly two hours later, Rob gives Krakauer the go ahead to continue. Further up the mountain, Krakauer sees Lopsang on his knees in the snow, vomiting. After hauling eighty pounds of equipment and Pittman herself, he is exhausted. There is some question as to why Lopsang "short-roped" Pittman, as she claims she didn't ask him to. Krakauer ends the chapter by noting that "at the time" Lopsang's decision doesn't seem terribly serious (223).
Krakauer is encouraged to see Frank and Lou somewhat rejuvenated, and Krakauer makes good time up the mountain. By this time, the landscape, while hauntingly beautiful, is bleak. "If there is a more desolate, inhospitable habitation anywhere on the planet, I hope to never see it."
Morale at the camp is low. The weather is inhospitable, and one summit attempt had already been thwarted. In particular, Doug's health is precarious and Bruce Herrod shows up having been separated from his team. There is a lack of stability at the camp. In the silence there is suffering and worry, and health problems are abounding at a staggering rate.
Krakauer's revelation about the isolation at camp is frightening. Krakauer realizes that his teammates might not be a safety net at all. "I felt disconnected from the climbers around me—emotionally, spiritually, physically—to a degree I hadn't experienced on any previous expedition
Each client was in it for himself or herself
" (213). These feelings are frightening, especially given Krakauer's earlier discussion about how important it is to be able to trust one's teammates.
There is a feeling of unraveling the higher they climb. Their health unravels, their minds and bodies unravel, their faith and trust in each other unravel and their confidence unravels. Perhaps the single reason for climbing now is momentum, already being so high up, knowing that there is relatively little to go before they can begin their descent.
Despite Krakauer's realization about each climber's isolation, by the time his group, Fischer's group and the Taiwanese team leave for the summit, "our fates were already starting to intertwine—and they would become more and more tightly bound with every meter we ascended" (215). Given the feeling of disconnectedness, this intertwining isn't necessarily positive, particularly since the Taiwanese team is involved.
Krakauer makes good time during the summit attempt—perhaps too good. He is forced to wait for the rest of the team at a number of different points, watching the precious time slip away. During one of those waiting periods, he sees Lopsang pulling Pittman. Krakauer's previous comment about the climbers being "intertwined" is realized in a literal sense. The difficulty of pulling another person up the mountain is impossible to imagine. The question surrounding the reason for Lopsang short-roping Pittman is strange—Pittman claims that she only let Lopsang pull her because she "'didn't want to hurt Lopsang's feelings'" (221). The conflicting accounts are the first of many Krakauer will notice while assembling his notes, due either to cover-ups, misremembering or the affects of high altitude on the mind and memory.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Into Thin Air!