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Krakauer begins by talking about how Everest summons dreamers. Many of the people on his and other expeditions have even less climbing experience than he does. He harkens back to a 1947 expedition involving a Canadian named Earl Denman, who had very little mountain climbing experience. Denman didn't even have permission to enter Tibet, yet he was able to convince two Sherpas to accompany him. Denman made it across Tibet, and up the way to 22,000 feet before encountering a storm that forced him to tur n back.
Thirteen years before Denman, a similarly unqualified man named Maurice Wilson attempted the climb. His motivations were different than that of most climbers, however. Wilson wanted to climb in order to achieve publicity to spread his belief that fast ing and having faith in God could solve the problems of the world. It took him months to actually get to the base of the mountain, because he didn't have permission to fly over Nepal. When he finally began to climb, he encountered problems on the glaciers , repeatedly getting lost. He reached 21,000 feet and after a series of small ascents and descents, finally made an attempt at the summit. One year later, another climber found his body.
Krakauer talks about the criticism surrounding the increasing number of unqualified climbers attempting to climb Everest, but he is quick to point out that just because someone pays a large amount of money to climb the mountain doesn't necessarily mean th at he or she is unqualified.
While waiting for his teammates at Camp One, Krakauer sees Klev Schoening and Pete Schoening. The latter is a Himalayan climbing legend. Schoening was famous for making several successful climbs, but was also well known because of his rescue durin g an unsuccessful attempt. While trying to lower a climber stricken with altitude sickness, Schoening was holding a rope attached to the sick man and four other climbers. One of the climbers slipped, pulling all of them off. Schoening reacted instinctivel y and was able to hold all five men and prevent them from falling, thus patenting the now popular roping technique called The Belay. Schoening, an example that not all clients are unfit to be on the mountain, is a member of Scott Fischer's team. Krakauer acknowledges that his team is not as strong as Fischer's, but is stronger than some of the other teams he has seen on the mountain, including members of a Taiwanese expedition he sees descending awkwardly and dangerously.
Krakauer launches into a description of the reputation of Taiwanese climbing expeditions. They are notorious for being untrained and careless, and for getting in trouble on the mountains. He tells a story about a Taiwanese expedition getting into serious trouble on Alaska's Mount McKinley. The same leader of that expedition led a climb up Everest in 1996.
The South African team is also notoriously troublesome. The whole country stood behind an expedition that was supposed to represent the end of apartheid, climbed by both white and black men and one woman. The expedition got held up when it was revealed th at the lead guide, Ian Woodall, had broken a number of promises about who was actually going to go on the expedition, and had also deceived people into thinking that he was from South Africa when he was actually British. On Krakauer's second day at Ba se Camp he learned that some of the climbers that were to be in the South African expedition had resigned before arriving at the mountain because Woodall was a "jerk," and they didn't want to trust him with their lives.
The presence of those groups on the mountain makes Hall's comment about the inevitability of disaster especially salient.
This chapter deals almost entirely with the kinds of people who attempt to climb Everest. Krakauer calls most of them dreamers. That connotation isn't as negative as connotations that could be associated with the concept of wealth being the defining chara cter trait of climbers.
The anecdotes Krakauer tells in this chapter relate certain personalities to the resultant experiences. Surprisingly, the outcomes aren't entirely predictable. Denman and Wilson both make it extraordinarily far up Everest, and Denman lives to talk about i t. Without explicitly saying so, Krakauer demonstrates that luck is an essential factor that dictates the outcome of climbing attempts. One can decrease the impact of luck with training, experience, skill and strength, but inexperienced climbers can make it to the top while experienced climbers can be stumped near Base Camp. One can't help but remember what Scott Fischer said to Krakauer about having a "yellow brick road to the summit." That kind of certainty, while reassuring to a prospective client, see ms farsighted, even dangerous.
Up to this point, Krakauer has expressed some concern over the lack of experience of some of his teammates. In this chapter, that concern extends to other climbing expeditions, namely the Taiwanese and the South Africans. The Taiwanese appear to be largel y incompetent, as described by Krakauer, while the South African guide appears to be sketchy. As Hall talks about the possibility of having to help one of these other teams in the event of an emergency, it is similarly possible that if Hall's group has a problem, these are some of the people who could be called upon to help. The idea that expeditions like Fischer's are on the mountain is reassuring, but is tempered by the knowledge that teams such as the Taiwanese and South Africans are also there.
The South African expedition ties politics to climbing the mountain. Woodall wanted to lead a racially mixed South African team to the top of the world. Climbers and nationalists stood behind the idea to enforce its symbolism and statement against aparthe id. Despite the positive objective, however, Woodall from all accounts lied—about his nationality, his climbing group and his permit. "Woodall had no interest in the birth of a new South Africa. He took the dreams of the entire national and utilized them for his own selfish purposes," says Edmund February, a climber who decided to abandon the expedition (130). Everest reflects life in that it contains people who are qualified and unqualified, sincere and insincere, strong and weak, honest and dishon est. Perhaps the only kind of person not likely to be found on Everest is a poor one.
The idea that Everest is not immune to the shortcomings of people and can easily become a part of selfish or dangerous motives is just another element of danger. The problem here is that the ways in which peoples' personalities and motives will manifest t hemselves on the mountain is not immediately predictable, nor is it something other climbers can safeguard against.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Into Thin Air!