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.