In The Last Wild Men of Borneo, author Carl Hoffman tells the stories of two Westerners who spent their lives in Borneo during the 1970s and 1980s, when it was still largely wild and unexplored. Their personal journies are very different, but they both become embroiled in the changing nature of this beautiful land where orangutans roamed the jungles and tribes of native Borneans lived their lives as the had done for hundreds of years, unexposed to the outside world.
In the 1990s John Krakauer was a contributor to Outside Magazine, a renowned adventure publication when in 1996 they asked him to join a guided team to ascend Mount Everest. Krakauer was an accomplished mountaineer so it was hardly a routine assignment but nothing out of the norm for him.
The last few decades have seen an incredible increase in the number of people wanting to climb the World’s tallest peak, and in the height of the Himalayan climbing season, there can be a long line of climbers waiting to make their final ascent of the summit, which is a potential opportunity for calamity. Additionally, the tour companies and guides who lead these adventures are under a lot of pressure to help their clients, some of whom are not the most experienced of mountaineers to reach the summit of Everest.
Krakauer was in a team led by Rob Hall. At the same time, another team was attempting the ascent led by Scott Fischer. Both men successfully guided clients to the summit but experienced severe difficulty during the descent as a massive storm hit the mountain. A number of people died including Hall and Fischer. Krakauer initially captured his experience in an article for Outside Magazine but later expanded his initial story into the book ‘Into Thin Air’ which included the personal stories of fellow survivors of the disaster.
This book is a salutary tale of what happens when nature and human weaknesses combine to wreak havoc.
Krakauer’s version of events is not without criticism. In his book, he picks out several individuals for specific criticism. Hall and Fischer carried much of the blame in his eyes, but he also targets another guide, Anatoli Boukreev, for his role in the disaster. Boukreev had a different interpretation which he details in his book on the events of 1996, ‘The Climb’. Another interesting story of that day’s event is provided by Beck Weathers in his book ‘Left For Dead.’ Weathers ended up spending two nights on the mountains, literally being left for dead, but he somehow managed to find his way back to camp and was airlifted off the mountain. Sadly, he had severe frostbite and ended up losing limbs, fingers as well as parts of his feet and nose – but he survived!
If you are interested in a broader perspective of what happened from three eye-witnesses then if you have the time read all three books.