Krakauer, worried about the oxygen supply, does not stay at the top long enough to string up banners or flags or pose for pictures. He turns to descend, passing some members of Fischer's expedition along the way. Krakauer notices some thin clouds, but does not recognize them as thunderheads. At Hillary Step he encounters a traffic jam and must wait for the other climbers to ascend. Krakauer asks Andy Harris to turn down his oxygen so as to preserve it until he can get another one, but Harris mistakenly opens the valve even farther and after ten minutes, Krakauer is out of oxygen.

Krakauer passes Hall who is disappointed that five of the team members turned back before reaching the summit. The traffic jam continues for upwards of an hour, and Krakauer waits without supplemental oxygen, feeling dangerously close to incapacitated. Terribly frightened to be maneuvering without extra gas, Krakauer slowly descends to the South Summit, where extra canisters of oxygen await. He asks Andy Harris to get him one, but Harris responds that all of the canisters are empty. Harris gives Krakauer his bottle, and Krakauer stops to examine the canisters. He finds that most of them are in fact full. In hindsight he realizes that Andy is suffering from hypoxia, or altitude-related impaired judgment and berates himself for not having realized that at the time. Krakauer explains that as a guide, he tended to see Andy as less susceptible to illnesses like hypoxia, and might have been suffering the effects of it himself. Krakauer leaves Andy there, and continues to descend—something he says he will regret forever.

At this point, all of the climbers except one have begun the descent, and most are accompanied by guides. Krakauer keeps going until he descends to 27,600 feet where he sees teammate Beck Weathers, who had decided to turn back hours before. Weathers is suffering the effects of an eye surgery he underwent some years before. The lower pressure on the mountain was causing his eyesight to fail. Weathers hadn't mentioned this condition to any of the guides, but now could not see anything. In addition to complications surrounding his surgery, he accidentally rubbed ice crystals into his eyes, cutting up his corneas. Weathers had eventually turned back after revealing the situation to Hall, but then convinced Hall to let him have another go, that perhaps his eyesight would improve once he neared the top. Hall gave Weathers thirty minutes—if his eyesight was better he could continue, but if it wasn't he had to promise to sit and wait for a guide.

The weather is beginning to look ominous, and Krakauer offers to accompany Weathers down the mountain. Weathers declines, though, because Krakauer mentions that more climbers were just behind him. Weathers decides to wait for that group.

Krakauer has trouble on the descent because the snow and wind have obscured the tracks made when they ascended the mountain, and he is not sure he is following the correct route. He tries his best to remember landmarks and guide himself down the correct path when he hears thunder. By the time he descends that stretch of mountain it is 6:00 pm, and he is caught in the middle of a blizzard.

Again, he realizes that he is running out of oxygen. Krakauer begins to hallucinate, his mind retreating to the place it goes when it starves for oxygen. Just 600 feet from the tents, Krakauer pauses to conserve his energy. While resting, Andy Harris catches up to him. Harris's cheeks are covered in frost and an eye is frozen shut. Krakauer points in the direction of the tents and Harris slips over a lip of ice, scooting down the mountain on his rear end. At one point Harris tumbles over, but is okay and runs off toward the tents.

Krakauer summons the energy and will to continue, and descends the final face to the camp. He dives into his tent, confident that he, Harris and his teammates are all okay.


Krakauer makes an interesting artistic decision when describing his summit bid—he transforms what one might predict would be the crowning moment into perhaps the most anti-climatic moment in the book. He doesn't celebrate, dance, string flags, or pose for glorious photos at the top, he merely acknowledges that he got there and begins climbing back down, too worried about running out of oxygen to commemorate the moment. By the time he reaches the top, climbing Everest is no longer about standing at the top of the world. Rather, it is about being exhausted, being scared, and wanting nothing more than to stand on solid ground.

Krakauer stresses that reaching the top is only half the battle. By then, a climber is absolutely spent and has deteriorated from the effects of high altitude in both mind and body. However, the climber now must negotiate the way back down, and must apply the same effort and unrelenting concentration even though the goal has already been attained. It would seem that the descent is a time ripe for carelessness and unexpected danger.

Even with guides and rules and plans, the closer the climbers get to the summit, the more the expedition turns into a free for all. Weathers, nearly blind, convinces Hall to let him have another go. Harris, a guide himself, is so hypoxic that he turns Krakauer's oxygen valve the wrong way, and believes that all of the oxygen canisters waiting at the South Summit are empty. Traffic jams clog the most treacherous parts of the mountain, forcing climbers to stand and wait, freezing, before they can move up or down. The control over the expedition and the actions and decisions of the climbers loosens more and more until everyone, to some extent, is responsible for him or herself.

Beck Weathers's situation is incredible. Climbing and descending the mountain without any major physical ailments is difficult enough, but navigating the slopes while blind is unimaginable. Weathers is completely helpless, unable to move up or down on his own, waiting for a guide to short-rope him down to camp. Krakauer's descent to camp is primarily independent, which compared to Weathers's situation seems to be a luxury. In light of Krakauer's previous discussions about trust, and is feelings of detachment from his team, being at the mercy of a teammate or guide would be terrifying. Nearly blind, Weathers has no choice but to wait.

Krakauer, for having lamented his lack of experience climbing in high altitudes, does remarkably well. He suffers some lapses of judgment, such as discarding his extra oxygen canister and not noticing that Andy Harris's judgment is seriously impaired, but his climbing skills and mental fortitude keep him relatively safe. He negotiates down the face of sleep slopes and finds his way back to the camp alone, in a blizzard. His ability to fend largely for himself is impressive, but also puts him at a distance from all of his teammates—something he will come to regret and feel unspeakably guilty about. He settles into his tent that night thinking that everyone faired as well as he did, when in fact nearly everyone is still on the mountain, caught in a storm, struggling to stay alive. Ironically, it is not until Krakauer reaches the tents that night that he allows himself to celebrate the fact that he successfully summated the mountain.