There are three Everest books, that as much as they are very good stories, have insights that just might help keep you alive on the big mountain.
Two are well known, but one, perhaps far less so, but is perhaps the truest personal writing about life at the limits lived out at the worlds’ highest altitudes.
Into Thin Air has been read by almost every climber, and every would-be climber already it seems.
But if you are going to climb Everest, it is worth reading again.
Because as much as Jon Krakauer wove together a brilliant story about the 1996 disaster, the book is also a great cautionary tale of the troubles you may run into, the egos you will meet, and the personal challenges you will face.
Reading it a second time, and with your upcoming climb looming, you will not just read the story, but see yourself as part of it. I brought along a copy Jon had autographed for me when we shared a table in New York, and rereading the tale was much more insightful than the first time, when I’d just read along for the high drama.
To add to the drama, I read Into Thin Air at Everest Base Camp, as I set out to lead a successful 50th anniversary ascent, reminding me that no matter the level of ceremony, Everest cares nothing for that and the realities of the climb far exceed the theatre of the event.
And after reading Into Thin Air, what you should do and should not do on the mountain will be very clear.
Worry less about your coffee and more about the crevasses, to put it simply.
So when you read of air and altitude, fear and frozen bodies, weather and yes, even wontenness in the heights, you will know what you can do and other things to truly watch out for, the higher you climb.
Be very wary of waiting in line, because it could kill you. Simple things, buy the best gloves and know how to ascend and descend ropes in the dark when your headlamp fails, your oxygen freezes up and you suddenly are all alone.
And most of all, keep your own counsel, even if you have a guide and a Sherpa. If you don’t trust yourself, perhaps think again about climbing up Into Thin Air.
If Jon’s book is a cautionary tale, Impossible Victory by Peter Habeler provides a good balance, as Peter climbs to the top of the world with Reinhold Messner, completing the first ascent of Everest without oxygen. This is far more than a book about oxygen or not however.
It is real, inspirational and raw with the emotion and the drive a climber needs to summit Everest.
The reason to read it now, with Everest looming, is that ultimately it is about the personal and very private struggle you will face climbing the peak.
And ultimately, Peter is writing about success, and how he achieved that against all odds. Which we all like to dream of.
The third book might be considered more of an outlier. But for what it is really like climbing at altitude, the unknowns everyone inevitably faces: the fears, the things that go right and then even more quickly go badly wrong, this book will put you right up at the top of the world, with a great preview of just how challenging it is in the heights.
Mark Horrell in The Chomolungma Diaries, lifts his tale right from his thoughts in real time, with an immediacy that telegraphs what a summit day on Everest is really like to live through.
From obsessing about technology low down, to second guessing advice from others as he climbs higher, to the bodies you inevitably pass, to finally reaching the top and starting the perilous climb down, it is as close as you will get to feeling the climb before you actually get there.
And that is invaluable – as an in the moment, on the ice, looking down from the highest point in the world so far below, focuses you on the real dangers you will face climbing in the death zone.
All told in a simple and direct style that leaves no room for excuses or superfluity.
Each of these authors is an experienced climber, so the tales they tell are not from a neophytes perspectives or the person who puts on crampons and hopes to summit a month later, point of view. None of them summited because they were simply lucky.
Yet they still cover a range of perspectives, from Jon, new to altitude and on a very early guided ascent, to Peter, one the the centuries most talented climbers, to Mark, who though climbing on a modern guided expedition on the North side of Everest, has extensive high mountain experience and is both a very talented climber, as well as skilled in writing honestly about his many adventure in the heights.
A hint or two in any of these three books, a lesson learned, a move rethought when you are there, may just be the small thing that makes a big difference in your climb.
From the egos of Into Thin Air, to the determination displayed in Impossible Victory to living out the extremes in The Chomolungma Diaries, these are just a quick litany of what has gone before, so hopefully you can come back and write your own story.