In his twenties, Krakauer lived to climb mountains, aspiring to be a serious climber. Thoughts of Everest ebbed, though, because among mountain climbing "snobs," Everest is actually thought to be less technically demanding than other mountains. When Dic k Bass, a millionaire from Texas, paid to be guided to the top, Krakauer's lack of interest in Everest was solidified.

Ironically, Dick Bass began the business that Krakauer was hired to research and report upon. Krakauer describes the booming commercialism now associated with Everest. Nepal and Tibet, both poor countries, rely upon guide services up the mountain for nati onal income. Now, it can cost upwards of $70,000 to be guided up the mountain. When Outside Magazine hired Krakauer to do the story, he was not to actually attempt the summit. However, he decided that remaining at Base Camp for a period of two mont hs would be agonizing, and he began training to climb to the top. To his surprise, the magazine subsidized the climb.


Just as chapter one situates the reader within Krakauer's experience, chapter two situates the reader within the history of Everest. Krakauer covers the history of the mountain from its discovery, the first successful summit to his own opportunity to clim b in this chapter. Even though the history doesn't directly tie into the expedition and the experiences Krakauer has, the chapter's historical documentation helps build the myth of Everest. Mallory's remark that he wanted to climb Everest "because it is t here" reveals something about human nature that Krakauer points to repeatedly—the human will to conquer. No one had a particular desire to climb Everest before it was determined to be the tallest peak in the world. "Once Everest was determined to be the highest summit on earth, it was only a matter of time before people decided that Everest needed to be climbed…[g]etting to the top, proclaimed Gunther O. Dyrenfurth, an influential alpinist and chronicler of early Himalayan mountaineering, was ' a matter of universal human endeavor, a cause from which there is no withdrawal, whatever losses it may demand.'" Everest achieved a mythological status, and people reacted in such a way that demonstrates their desire to touch that myth, or even become a part of it. Throughout the book, when the reader might think to himself, "why on earth do these climbers keep going?" the answer lies in that myth, and in the unchecked desire it evokes in climbers.

The acclaim the first climbers of Everest received only reinforces the myth. These people were immediately heroes, just like explorers discovering new countries. These men became like deities, having touched sky closer to heaven than anyone else on earth. Climbing Everest then held even greater appeal, replete with personal acclaim, fame and unimaginable status. Krakauer felt this draw as much as anyone could have, although initially it was the draw of climbing mountains in general, not simply Everest: "B y the time I was in my early twenties, climbing had become the focus of my existence to the exclusion of almost everything else. Achieving the summit of a mountain was tangible, immutable, concrete. The incumbent hazards lent the activity a seriousness of purpose that was sorely missing from the rest of my life" (23). When Krakauer received the assignment, this feeling came back with a vengeance. He points out that he was no longer young, no longer in prime condition, and had much more to lose—a wif e, a career, happiness and stability in Seattle. The desire to climb is almost inexplicable.

The commercialism of Everest implies that people have learned how to climb the mountain more safely than they used to. It also means that, over time, people have developed hubris in that achievement. Not only do people believe they can climb the highest m ountain, but they believe they can turn a profit by doing so. Monetary gains are an entirely new sort of recognition, and demonstrate danger born out of arrogance. Everest was first successfully summated less than fifty years ago. Now, climbers who lack t he skill and experience necessary to climb the mountain alone can hire someone to help them get there. Krakauer introduces the idea of commercialism on Everest toward the end of the chapter, and lets it dangle in a foreboding manner, coupling it with gris ly statistics: "Everest had killed more than 130 people since…1921—approximately one death for every four climbers who'd reached the summit—and … many of those who died had been far stronger and possessed vastly more high-altitude ex perience than I" (30–31). Krakauer unites two concepts here, at the end: the sheer deadliness of the mountain and the fact that many commercial climbers aren't qualified to be on the mountain. At the end of chapter two it seems obvious that at some point in the expedition, Krakauer will come face to face with disaster.