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During their next night at Lobuje, Hall calls on Harris's radio, announcing that they have successfully gotten Tenzing down the mountain. It took an entire day and thirty-five Sherpas to maneuver the injured man. Hall tells the rest of the group that they can make their way to Base Camp. They are glad to be leaving the lodge, especially since most of the group members are exhibiting signs of illness from having stayed in the filthy conditions. Harris spends the night sick, emptying his insides from an intestinal bug. The next morning, Harris is exhausted and dehydrated, but is determined to lead the group to Base Camp.
They climb, Harris struggling most of all. Krakauer describes the ice formations as a "translucent, frozen medium that glistened like polished onyx." A few miles east, they see hundreds of tents, housing climbers and Sherpas from over fourteen different expeditions. Hall meets them there, at their camp.
The group stays in a makeshift village, and will be there for approximately six weeks, acclimatizing. In the afternoons, in the sun, the temperature is warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt, but at night it is freezing. The comforts of Base Camp are surprising—Adventure Consultants have put together a campsite including a table, stereo, library, lights, phone and a fax machine. There is a shower with heated water, and they receive fresh vegetables and water every few days, delivered by yaks. Surprised, Krakauer describes how clean the campsite is. For a while, Everest was somewhat of a garbage heap, but one of the goals of the climbing expeditions has been to clean up the mountain. Hall and Ball were part of an effort in 1990 to remove five tons of garbage from Base Camp. Now, in addition to the basic fee, many guide services ask for a deposit to be returned if the mountain is left in the same condition as it was before the expedition arrived. Noticing the cleanliness of the area seems to give Krakauer greater appreciation of the business on the mountain.
Krakauer meets Scott Fischer at Base Camp. Fischer has climbed Everest before, once without oxygen, and guided an expedition up another towering mountain. Fischer and Hall are rivals but friends, having experience climbing with one another. Fischer's guiding service is called "Mountain Madness," and reflects Fischer's attitude—adventurous to the point of being slightly crazy. Fischer had experienced a number of climbing mishaps that should have killed him. Twice he fell from a height of over eighty feet. Krakauer had met Fischer in Seattle—in fact, Fischer was the one who first suggested that Krakauer write an article for Outside Magazine saying that Krakauer could make the climb because they'd "built a yellow brick road to the summit." Fischer lobbied for Krakauer to make the climb, and originally he was supposed to go with Fischer's guide service. However, plans changed when Rob Hall offered the magazine a better deal. Initially, Fischer was upset at the switch, but when Krakauer encountered him on the mountain, Fischer bore no grudge.
The effects of high altitude are significant even at Base Camp. Krakauer describes short walks to the mess hall as "leaving him wheezing" (87). Sleeping and eating were difficult, cuts and scratches didn't heal and everyone began to lose weight. Other members of the team have gastrointestinal problems or severe headaches. Despite being higher at the Base Camp of Everest than Krakauer had ever been before, Hall is confident of the acclimatization process.
Krakauer is at the foot of Everest and is already higher than he has ever climbed. Again and again, the enormity of the mountain and the task of climbing it are evident. Most of the team members are already dealing with effects of the high altitude, and the prospect of surviving at much higher elevations seems incredible.
Many of the creature comforts supplied at Base Camp are intended to allay some of the climbers concerns. The time at Base Camp is instrumental to acclimatization—both in terms of altitude and in terms of the rigors associated with climbing the mountain. Staying at Base Camp is a way to ease into the process, and being able to communicate with family and friends via phone and fax affords some unlikely comfort early on.
Krakauer spends a great deal of time in this chapter praising the guide services for their commitment to keeping the mountain clean. Both Hall and Fischer were personally responsible for the removal of tons of garbage from Everest, and that commitment gives them credibility. Wanting the mountain to be kept in a pristine condition might at first seem to be at odds with escorting wealthy clients up the mountain, but it can be inferred that the guides—particularly Hall and Fischer—have a love for the mountain that is so genuine and so deep that they want others to experience the same thing.
Krakauer waits until this chapter to reveal his personal experiences and friendship with Fischer. Fischer was key in getting Krakauer the assignment to write on Everest in the first place, and in terms of exposition, one might expect that information to come at the very beginning of the book. Krakauer's decision to wait and reveal that personal connection later is interesting. Perhaps Krakauer doesn't want the reader thinking immediately that he got the job because of a connection, or perhaps he wants to introduce Hall, his expedition's guide, first. Or perhaps it is something that Krakauer doesn't think much about until he encounters Fischer at Base Camp.
Fischer's presence demonstrates something previously left without comment—luck. He has survived falls and scrapes and jams that probably would have killed other climbers. Krakauer describes him as amazing resilient, unflinching and unafraid. Fischer has dealt with and survived many of the deadly hurdles that accompany mountain climbing. He is living proof that it can be done—that it's possible to walk away from a mistake.
The reader gains another insight into the commercialism of this chapter, and that is Krakauer himself. Fischer wanted him to climb on his team, as did Hall. When Krakauer asks Hall why he made such a good offer, he explains that: "what was so enticing was the bounty of valuable advertising he would reap from the deal he struck with Outside." Krakauer himself isn't particularly valuable; what is valuable is having someone who is affiliated with Outside—a popular and lucrative adventure magazine—as a member of the expedition. In a sense Krakauer is a pawn in the advertising game. Although it works out to his adventure, it gives him and the reader some perspective on how so much can be translated into net worth.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Into Thin Air!