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At 6:00 am the next morning, Stuart Hutchinson awakes Krakauer, telling him that Andy Harris is not in his tent and that he never made it back the night before. Krakauer is shocked—he saw Andy stumble over to the tents, and it never occurred to him that Andy wasn't safely there. Krakauer retraces Andy's steps, going back to the Col where Andy slid on his rear end, down toward the camp. Below the incline there is an ice gully, and Krakauer realizes that if Andy hadn't turned left toward the camp and had instead continue straight down the gully, he would have walked to the edge of the mountain. Krakauer sees faint footprints leading in that direction and realizes in horror that Andy has fallen over the edge.
Krakauer is beside himself—the previous night he told everyone, including Andy Harris's girlfriend, that Andy was fine. Krakauer searches for another hour, but finds nothing. Returning to camp, he hears a radio call between Rob Hall and Base Camp. Rob is still on the summit ridge, radioing for help. Fischer is still missing. The IMAX team, wanting to help, attempts to borrow a radio to contact Krakauer's group. The South African team has a functioning, high-powered radio, but when they ask to use it, Woodall will not let them.
Krakauer breaks from the narrative to explain that after he returned home he attempted to contact everyone who survived the climb, hoping to piece together the events. The only person who refused to talk to him was Martin Adams, who eventually relented a few months later. Adams tells Krakauer that he saw Krakauer descend, but was left behind. Later, Adams fell into a crevasse and when he eventually pulled himself out, he saw someone sitting on the ice. Adams asked that person where the tents were, and the man pointed in the right direction. Adams slid down the face to the tents, and stumbled toward camp.
Hearing Adams describe his conversation with the anonymous climber, Krakauer has a terrible thought—that the anonymous climber was actually him. Initially, Adams says he doesn't think it was Krakauer, but then turns the events over in his head and realizes Krakauer is right. The implications of this discovery are mind-boggling—it means that Krakauer never saw Harris at all that night.
Krakauer is beside himself with guilt. He'd been telling people since that night on the mountain that Harris met his death by walking off the side of the mountain, but he realizes that that isn't true at all. Krakauer berates himself, wondering how on earth he could have made such a mistake—how could he have looked right at someone and mistaken him for another, especially when Adams and Harris bore no resemblance to each other? The bigger question, of course, is what happened to Andy Harris.
The events at the beginning of the chapter are a springboard for Krakauer's discussion about what actually happened to Andy Harris. The only chronological events actually presented in the chapter deal with Krakauer learning that Harris is not back at camp and then attempting to find out what happened to Harris.
Krakauer traces Harris's steps in good faith—he cannot figure out how Harris could have not made it back to camp that night. He draws conclusions based on facts he believes are true, but nonetheless, the story is revised a number of times.
Initially, Krakauer believes Harris is safe, and radios Base Camp to tell them. Base Camp radios Harris's girlfriend, and spreads the news. Then, Krakauer realizes Harris is not at camp, and upon searching the mountain and seeing the footprints forms the theory that Harris accidentally fell off the mountain face. For two months, everyone associated with the climb and Harris's relatives believe that Harris met his death that way. Then, Krakauer talks to Adams to leads him to a totally new, startling conclusion.
This interlude surrounding the fate of Andy Harris demonstrates just how difficult it is to write a narrative about an expedition like this, and how hard it can be to receive accurate, factual information. People are concerned primarily about their own welfare, and do not always know what is happening with other climbers. People are also hypoxic, succumbing to the effects of high altitude on memory, perception and decision-making. Beyond that, some of the events that take place on the mountain are confusing, and require inferential deduction, which Krakauer attempts to employ to piece together what happens.
The revelation brought about by talking to Adams is one that throws all of Krakauer's research into question. This is a huge element of the narrative that Krakauer has gotten wrong not once, but twice. Besides accuracy issues is the question of what happened to Harris, which is the most haunting implication for Krakauer, particularly given how much affection he had for Harris.
This break in the narrative is necessary—this is not a detail Krakauer could briefly introduce within the narrative structure. It is important enough to warrant a complete halt to the story telling. Krakauer's technique of complete and abruptly halting the narrative successfully presses the reader into realizing the import of the questions resulting from the phone call with Adams. The narrative does not resume for the rest of the chapter, as if Krakauer cannot yet bear resuming the story, and must dwell—and make the reader dwell—on the implications of his discovery. The reader also realizes that this episode casts some doubt on the text as a whole, and that all the details reported by Krakauer are subject to heightened scrutiny.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Into Thin Air!