Into Thin Air — Still Inspiring Young Students
Over 15 years later, we’re proud and honored to see that Scott Fischer’s legacy still inspires young people all over the world. We were especially happy to receive a note from a teacher in New York who has been teaching Into Thin Air to her English students. It sounds like the students have been totally captured by the adventure and tragedy of the book and have taken away some valuable lessons for everyday life. Thank you to the students of Ellenville High School in New York for sharing your stories and essays with us, and thank you to teacher Kristy Wilson for sharing her story:
I discovered Everest in Moab.
I know it’s weird.
I wandered into Back of Beyond Bookstore while on vacation with my husband, and there it was: a used copy of Into Thin Air. I forget what book I brought with me to read, but I wasn’t reading it. I liked Krakauer and already taught Into the Wild to my seniors who take my college credit-bearing class. I figured it was worth the read.
My husband and I had driven out from the Catskill region of New York last year to Canyon Country, towing our raft trailer, and spent two weeks floating stretches of the Colorado and Green Rivers.
By the time we got to Westwater Canyon, I could not put the book down. Between Skull Rapid and Last Chance Rapid, I was catching my breath on the South Summit.
When I came back home and starting teaching in the fall, I had seniors for the first time. I had always taught juniors and freshman. Anyway, I wanted the class to feel fresh and interesting for my kids but also present them with the kinds of writing projects they will need to do in college.
At the same time, the new, nation-wide standards established by the “Core Curriculum” demands that teachers incorporate more non-fiction into our curriculum, so it occurred to me that I could teach Into Thin Air and address of all the things I needed to. It meant I’d have to return to my (literal) nightmares of Doug Hansen and Rob Hall, unable to descend the upper mountain, and Scott Fischer stranded just beyond everyone’s reach, but I knew my kids would love it.
Before we headed up the mountain, students researched Everest expeditions and had to determine which company they would choose to escort them up the mountain. They watched Youtube videos of Pheriche, Base Camp, the Khumbu Icefall, and the Lhotse Face as we ascended. They wrote advertisements for both Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants, which adorn the classroom walls around an Everest poster beneath prayer flags.
Into Thin Air assignment
My kids are enjoying Into Thin Air as much as I do. I’ve never had this many pleasant interruptions (“Ms. Wilson — let me get this straight — they got up at 11:30 PM to start the climb to the summit?” or, “YOLO!” or, “Scott Fischer would be the guide I’d want to be with. He’s savage!”). Before we even started the book, they bubbled with questions. Mountaineering is a world so far removed from everything they know that it feels like we’re discussing martians on a daily basis.
I am so thankful that Mark Gunlogson at Mountain Madness has given my students an opportunity to see that there are real, meaningful connections between what they read and the world outside their hometown.
They are students for whom the ascension of a mountain has translatable symbolism. Ellenville, their small town at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate New York, is not a wealthy town, and many of their families struggle to improve their lives. Even if it is difficult for some of them to understand wanting to climb a mountain, they can understand having goals we all want and hope to achieve.
What a wonderful experience. Thanks, Mountain Madness!
Below are some reflections about the book from the Ellenville students:
“Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is an extraordinarily in depth reliving of the horrible events that took the lives of many on May 10„ 1996. One of the men who unfortunately lost his life that fateful day was Scott Fischer, the founder and lead guide of Mountain Madness Guided Expeditions. I admire his tenacity, determination and ability. Although he was a bit different than most climbers, I very much liked him and even though his tactics and style of climbing were different from others his methods worked.
“Jon Krakauer stated in his book that that even though he thought Scott was a little reckless, he admired his skill and accomplishments. I believe that Scott was by far one of the most qualified people climbing Everest that day and I was crushed when I learned he had not made it off the mountain. I felt as though Scott was someone I personally knew through Krakauer’s book and felt grief when I read that he had died. Scott seemed like the kind of person that I would have a hard time NOT getting along with. I like his wild boy antics, his fearlessness and the slight bit of cockiness he had, not because he was arrogant, but because he had amazing confidence in himself. I like the way Krakauer portrayed Scott Fischer in his book Into Thin Air and I strongly believe that he did an amazing job telling the story of what happened that horrible day in 1996. Scott Fischer is a man who was both fearless and courageous. He, among the others who lost their lives on May 10th 1996, will forever be remembered and always be missed. ”
“In my opinion Into Thin Air is one of the best books I have read. Not only does it tell a great story but Jon Krakauer’s account of what happened shows many different sides. I was sucked in by the first chapter. Although most people have their own opinions of what it’s like on Mt. Everest or of how the climbing circle is in the world, Jon Krakauer shines a light on the many small but important details about the mountain. I have a new appreciation for the guides who risk their lives to make sure clients make it to the summit safely; not only are they responsible for themselves and their clients, but they have to mind the other groups on the mountain and work together to try to ensure the safety of everyone. Some might be turned off by the idea of climbing this impressive mountain after reading the book and knowing about the tragedy, but it made me want to go even more. I am looking forward to making it possible for myself to go and attempt the summit.”