"Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, Chapters 1–5

In this memoir, Jon Krakauer recounts a disastrous expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest that left five people dead and many others—including the author—questioning their own culpability.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Chapters 1–5, Chapters 6–10, Chapters 11–15, Chapters 16–21

Here is a link to our lists for Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. attest
    provide evidence for
    But I can attest that noth­ing I saw early on the afternoon of May 10 suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.
  2. negotiate
    succeed in passing through, around, or over
    Negotiating the serrated ridge presents no great technical hurdles, but the route is dread­fully exposed.
  3. apex
    the highest point of something
    Four hundred vertical feet above, where the summit was still washed in bright sunlight under an immaculate cobalt sky, my compadres dallied to memorialize their arrival at the apex of the planet, unfurling flags and snapping photos, using up precious ticks of the clock.
  4. accretion
    an increase by natural growth or addition
    The actual particulars of the event are unclear, obscured by the accretion of myth.
  5. theodolite
    a surveying instrument for measuring angles
    Designated Peak XV by sur­veyors in the field who’d first measured the angle of its rise with a twenty-four-inch theodolite three years earlier, the mountain in question jutted from the spine of the Himalaya in the forbidden kingdom of Nepal.
  6. mellifluous
    pleasing to the ear
    As it happened, Tibetans who lived to the north of the great mountain already had a more mellifluous name for it, Jomolungma, which translates to “goddess, mother of the world,” and Nepalis who resided to the south reportedly called the peak Deva-dhunga, “Seat of God.”
  7. striate
    marked with stripes
    Demarcating the Nepal-Tibet border, towering more than 12,000 feet above the valleys at its base, Everest looms as a three­-sided pyramid of gleaming ice and dark, striated rock.
  8. inextricably
    in a manner incapable of being disentangled or untied
    Mallory, whose name is inextricably linked to Everest, was the driving force behind the first three expeditions to the peak.
  9. aesthete
    one who professes great sensitivity to the beauty of art
    A product of upper-tier En­glish society, he was also an aesthete and idealist with decidedly romantic sensibilities.
  10. ascent
    a movement upward
    Three days later, word of the ascent reached Queen Elizabeth on the eve of her coronation, and the Times of London broke the news on the morning of June 2 in its early edition.
  11. visceral
    relating to or affecting the internal organs
    Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest a month before I was con­ceived, so I didn’t share in the collective sense of pride and won­der that swept the world—an event that an older friend says was comparable, in its visceral impact, to the first manned landing on the moon.
  12. summit
    the top or extreme point of something
    Hombein and Unsoeld arrived on the summit at 6:15 p.m., just as the sun was setting, and were forced to spend the night in the open above 28,000 feet—at the time, the highest bivouac in history.
  13. denigrate
    cause to seem less serious; play down
    By then it had become fashionable among alpine cognoscenti to denigrate Everest as a “slag heap”—a peak lacking sufficient technical challenges or aesthetic appeal to be a worthy objective for a “serious” climber, which I desperately aspired to be.
  14. expedition
    an organized group of people undertaking a journey
    What the Nepalese ministers didn’t take into consideration, however, was that China charged only $15,000 to allow a team of any size to climb the mountain from Tibet and placed no limit on the number of expeditions each season.
  15. parvenu
    a person who has suddenly risen to a higher economic status
    Traditionalists were offended that the world’s highest summit was being sold to rich parvenus—some of whom, if denied the services of guides, would probably have difficulty making it to the top of a peak as modest as Mount Rainier.
  16. abscond
    run away, often taking something or somebody along
    In 1995, the leader of a commercial expedition absconded with tens of thousands of dollars of his clients’ money before the trip even got off the ground.
  17. frangible
    capable of being broken
    Near the southern tip of South America, where the wind sweeps the land like “the broom of God”—“la escoba de Dios,” as the locals say—I’d scaled a frightening, mile-high spike of vertical and overhanging granite called Cerro Torre; buffeted by hundred-knot winds, plastered with frangible atmospheric rime, it was once (though no longer) thought to be the world’s hardest mountain.
  18. prime
    the time of maturity when power and vigor are greatest
    I was forty-one now, well past my climbing prime, with a graying beard, bad gums, and fifteen extra pounds around my midriff.
  19. contrail
    an artificial cloud created by an aircraft
    As I gazed across the sky at this contrail, it occurred to me that the top of Everest was precisely the same height as the pressurized jet bearing me through the heavens.
  20. frenetic
    excessively agitated
    Hall had booked us at the Garuda Hotel, a friendly, funky es­tablishment in the heart of Thamel, Kathmandu’s frenetic tourist district, on a narrow avenue choked with cycle rickshas and street hustlers.
  21. cherubic
    having a sweet nature befitting an angel
    There was something cherubic about his face, yet he looked older than his thirty-five years—perhaps it was the sharply etched creases at the corners of his eyes, or the air of authority he projected.
  22. raconteur
    a person skilled in telling anecdotes
    Gregarious by nature, Hall proved to be a skillful raconteur with a caustic Kiwi wit.
  23. wangle
    accomplishing something by scheming or trickery
    With Everest, the most difficult of the septet, already taken care of, Hall and Ball wangled backing from a big electrical utility, Power Build, and were on their way.
  24. castigate
    censure severely
    It saddened and embarrassed Hall to be publicly castigated by this demigod, this ur-climber who had been one of his childhood heroes.
  25. brouhaha
    a confused disturbance far greater than its cause merits
    Then, five months after the Hillary brouhaha flared, Hall was rocked by an even greater blow: in October 1993, Gary Ball died of cerebral edema—swelling of the brain brought on by high altitude—during an attempt on 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri, the world’s sixth-tallest mountain.
  26. somberly
    in a serious and solemn manner
    In a New Zealand television interview following the expedi­tion, Hall somberly described how he took their favorite climbing rope and lowered Ball’s body into the depths of the glacier.
  27. behemoth
    someone or something that is abnormally large and powerful
    The flight engineer latched the door and handed out wads of cotton to stuff in our ears, and the behemoth chopper lumbered into the air with a head-splitting roar.
  28. argot
    a characteristic language of a particular group
    The American trekker, unable to comprehend that this brown-skinned woman of the hills was addressing him in per­fectly enunciated King’s English, continued to employ his comical pidgin argot: “Men-u. Good, good. Yes, yes, we like see men-u.”
  29. demography
    the study of the characteristics of human populations
    People unfamiliar with the demography of the Himalaya often assume that all Nepalese are Sherpas, when in fact there are no more than 20,000 Sherpas in all of Nepal, a nation the size of North Carolina that has some 20 million residents and more than fifty distinct ethnic groups.
  30. smattering
    a small number or amount
    Upon the recommendation of A. M. Kellas, a Scottish physician who’d climbed and traveled exten­sively with Sherpas, the 1921 Everest expedition hired a large corps of them as load bearers and camp helpers, a practice that’s been followed by all but a smattering of expeditions in the sev­enty-five years since.
  31. vertex
    the highest point of something
    I stared at the peak for perhaps thirty minutes, trying to apprehend what it would be like to be standing on that gale-swept vertex.
  32. beatific
    experiencing or displaying extreme joy or bliss
    Afterward he smiled beatifically and offered us tea.
  33. illustrious
    widely known and esteemed
    Unsure how to act in the company of a divine presence, this living reincarnation of an ancient and illustrious lama, I was terri­fied of unwittingly giving offense or committing some irredeem­able faux pas.
  34. venture
    proceed somewhere despite the risk of possible dangers
    Ziemer emphasized that this alarming death rate hadn’t been skewed upward by mountaineering accidents; the victims had been “just ordinary trekkers who never ventured beyond the established trails.”
  35. monochromatic
    having or appearing to have only one color
    From this point forward our world would be a barren, monochromatic expanse of rock and wind-blown ice.
  36. altimeter
    an instrument that measures the height above ground
    The altimeter on my wristwatch read 17,600 feet.
  37. ad hoc
    often improvised or impromptu
    The ad hoc village that would serve as our home for the next six weeks sat at the head of a natural amphitheater delineated by forbidding mountain walls.
  38. escarpment
    a long steep slope at the edge of a plateau or ridge
    The escarpments above camp were draped with hanging glaciers, from which calved immense ice avalanches that thundered down at all hours of the day and night.
  39. madrigal
    an unaccompanied partsong for several voices
    Retiring to my tent at night, I was serenaded by a madrigal of creaks and percussive cracks, a reminder that I was lying on a moving river of ice.
  40. gregarious
    temperamentally seeking and enjoying the company of others
    Raw and emo­tional, disinclined toward introspection, he had the kind of gre­garious, magnetic personality that instantly won him friends for life; hundreds of individuals—including some he’d met just once or twice—considered him a bosom buddy.
  41. renown
    the state or quality of being widely honored and acclaimed
    During the 1980s Fischer made a number of impressive as­cents that earned him a modicum of local renown, but celebrity in the world climbing community eluded him.
  42. peripatetic
    traveling especially on foot
    Fischer’s assurances notwithstanding, his peripatetic alpine career was rough on his family.
  43. modus operandi
    an unvarying or habitual method or procedure
    But things were finally starting to look more promising, thanks to Fischer’s growing celebrity and to the efforts of his business partner-cum-office manager, Karen Dickinson, whose organizational skills and levelheadedness compensated for Fischer’s seat-of-the-pants, what-me-worry modus operandi.
  44. metabolize
    produce by the organic processes necessary for life
    My appetite vanished and my digestive system, which required abundant oxygen to metabolize food, failed to make use of much of what I forced myself to eat
  45. sustenance
    a source of materials to nourish the body
    my body began consuming itself for sustenance.

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