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Into Thin Air

Chapter 4

Summary Chapter 4

They spend the next night at Lobuje, a village with a filthy climbers' lodge. Base Camp is only one day away, but a heavy snowfall is keeping many travelers at Lobuje. The lodge is disgusting—people defecate outside, fleas and lice inhabit the bunks , and the heat is supplied by burning yak dung. While there, Hall learns of a Sherpa, Tenzing, who has fallen into a crevasse higher up on the mountain. Although he has been pulled out, he has a broken femur. Hall leaves the group at Lobuje and goes t o help the rescue effort. They later find out that Tenzing fell because he was climbing without a rope. Krakauer describes a number of events that befell young Sherpas whose guides did not impress upon them the importance of adhering to safety rules. The most gruesome of these stories had actually been witnessed by one of Krakauer's teammates, Frank Fischbeck. A young Sherpa who neglected to clip his rope fell from a distance of nearly 2,000 feet.


The differences between the terrain at the bottom of the mountain and the terrain at the top is vast. It is lush and vibrant as they climb to Base Camp, and Krakauer climbs in shorts and a t-shirt. This perpetuates the idea that the top of the mountain i s an entirely different world than anywhere else, even from other spots on the same mountain.

Krakauer spends much of the chapter talking about Sherpas, who they are and how the commercialism of Everest affects them. As westernized as many of them appear to be with their video games and Chicago Bulls hats, they benefit from the income. At first, K rakauer seems to be imparting a negative view on the fact that Sherpa culture is now so closely linked to the mountain's tourism. This may be an outsider's view when looking in on the Sherpa culture, expecting something more ancient and less connected wit h the modern world. He acknowledges that the Sherpas themselves don't necessarily see the changes as negative: "Most of the people who live in this rugged country seem to have no desire to be severed from the modern world or the untidy flow of human progr ess. The last thing Sherpas want is to be preserved as specimens in an anthropological museum" (58). This is yet another angle of Everest-associated fame. The Sherpa culture is famous because of their use as guides up the mountain. The economy has benefit ed, and the schools and roads have been improved. An element of authenticity might be lost, but unlike the money going to the climbers and the guides, the money that comes to the Sherpas is almost revolutionary. Krakauer says that the average per capita i ncome for a Sherpa is $160. The money a Sherpa makes accompanying an expedition is ten or twenty times that much—a veritable fortune.

The lama's connection to western culture is also surprising. After performing a ritual, he pulls out pictures of himself with American movie stars. This interaction meshes the ancient and the ultra-modern in a fairly bizarre way. One might expect a Sherpa , especially a lama, to be totally removed from pop culture. To learn that he not only is linked to popular culture, but proud of that link, is a shock. Krakauer reserves comment, however, and expresses primarily surprise. We are left to wonder how much t his really changes the culture, if at all, or whether the integration of western elements is an inevitable process.

Hall and Harris's conversation about the inevitability of disaster on Everest is eerily prophetic. Worse is Hall's comment that "it wouldn't be him; he was just worried about 'having to save another team's ass,' and that when the unavoidable calamity stru ck, he was 'sure it would occur on the more dangerous north side' of the peak—the Tibetan side."

It isn't long before conditions become inhospitable. The climbers haven't even arrived at Base Camp before they receive their first bit of bad news, about the mishap of Tenzing. Especially with Krakauer's comments about the inexperience of some of the cli mbers, it is both ironic and scary that the first injured party is not a climber, but a Sherpa. This reinforces the idea that no one is safe or immune from the mountain and its dangers.