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January 4, 2007

sanitizing the slopes of everest

everest.jpgI first read Jon Krakauer's treatment of the 1996 Mt. Everest deaths, "Into Thin Air," when it came out a decade ago. Impressed, I eventually bought the super-deluxe illustrated edition, a mason block of a book that has gathered dust in my guest room since. Why do we buy books we cannot comfortably hold in our hands for long? This week I finally cracked it open, and my arms soon tired, so I downloaded the audiobook from iTunes. How pleasant it is to casually follow along and look at pictures while someone is reading to you! It would take me back to childhood if anyone had actually read to me during childhood.

It's been revealing. The audiobook uses the text of the first edition; my illustrated anvil was printed years later. Every once in a while, invariably when detailing someone's actions or inactions pertaining to the deaths, the words diverge. Passive voice creeps in. "Bob told Fischer" becomes "Fischer was led to believe that Bob." Qualifications like "thought to" and "said to have" appear as if from thin air.

I've had fun imagining the threatened lawsuit behind every change.

• • •

As I've been playing catch-up with this story, I've googled its various players to see where they are now. I found the rebuttals written by two of Krakauer's subjects to be wholly self-serving and cluelessly ineffective. Witness the Sherpa's concluding statement:

My name was misspelled and my age misrepresented throughout the article. So you know, my name is Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa and I am 23 years old. Finally, I express my profound condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

Most chilling, though, was to read dizzying rationalizations like

My choice to summit Everest without oxygen was questioned by him. I have summitted Everest three times without oxygen, (not two as mentioned by JK), before this expedition and will continue to do so. I was requested to join a Japanese Expedition this fall. I will climb without oxygen.
and then click the next tab and see the headline
"Lopsang Sherpa killed on Japanese expedition".
Dead a month after writing that. Creepy. Ditto the other rebutter, Boukareev, who was killed in an avalanche a few months after similarly boasting about his prowess in his rebuttal.

There's a moral here somewhere. I'm not sure what it is, but you can bet that ten years after my death, people won't derive macabre amusement from seeing that immediately before I shat my pants I'd written "I am infallible! Invincible, you hear me?"

posted by john at 7:09 AM  â€¢  permalink