Biggest Everest Tragedy: Into Thin Air

Biggest Everest Tragedy: Into Thin Air

On this day in 1996, eight people perished on Mt Everest. This tragedy is well documented in the book, Into Thin Air by Seattle native and author, Jon Krakauer. While descending down, Krakauer witnessed these deaths first-hand and told his personal account in an article he wrote for Outside magazine in 1996.

He decided to write the book, because writing that article left him unsettled. He felt he owed the deaths of his friends and their grief-stricken families more than merely a feature article in an outdoor enthusiast’s magazine. Thus prompting him to dig further, deep within himself and remember the specifics. He conducted numerous interviews and heavy research, giving his audience, more than just a glimpse, but a very clear view of what is considered to be the worst climbing tragedy in Everest history.

In the book’s introduction, he talks about how he fell into a swift depression concerning the events of that fateful day. Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, two world-renowned climbing guides were two of the total eight to die on top of Everest. Scott Fischer was from Seattle, Washington and long-time friend of Krakauer. According to Krakauer, Fischer had a zest for life that was infectious. When he walked into a room, everyone would turn and smile. He left behind a wife and loving family. Rob Hall was a New Zealand native and expert mountain climbing guide. He was considered a legend among the mountain climbing community.

In the book, Krakauer also mentions how the sherpas played an integral role in the expedition. The sherpas are local people of the Khumbu-valley, the national park surrounding the tallest mountain on our planet. Everest towers at 29,029 feet above sea level.

The sherpas live and grew up in this intense climate and are therefore well accustomed to the high altitude and intense conditions. They could easily acclimatize much more readily than any typical red blooded American or foreigner attempting the summit.

Yet, even though they are skillful climbers and well respected in the Everest community, they still show the utmost respect for Everest. They call the mountain Sagarmatha, which means “mother of the universe” in Nepalese. Before every expedition, they splay prayer flags around the camp and pray for the safety and return of each and every member of the climbing party: Sherpa, climber and guide alike.

They recognize the power of Sagarmatha, stating that the mountain can take our breath away with awe inspiring views as easily as it can by killing us through storms or winds whipping up to 120+ miles per hour. They see Sagarmatha as a guard of the valley with her unspeakable beauty and grandiosity.

Unfortunately, on May 10th, 1996, Sagarmatha decided to take the lives of eight. I have no doubt that Hall and Fischer held as much respect for the mountain as the sherpas did. Additionally, Rob Hall had led many successful expeditions to the summit previously. Perhaps the other six who perished merely saw Sagarmatha as less of a mother and protector of sacred lands and more of a conquest.

Photo credit: