No one writes about mountaineering and its attendant hardships and victories more brilliantly than critically acclaimed author Jon Krakauer. In this collection of his finest work from such magazines as Outside and Smithsonian, he explores the subject from the unique and memorable perspective of one who has battled peaks like K2, Denali, Everest, and, of course, the Eiger. Always with a keen eye, an open heart, and a hunger for the ultimate experience, he gives us unerring portraits of the mountaineering experience.
Yet Eiger Dreams is more about people than about rock and ice—people with that odd, sometimes maniacal obsession with mountain summits that sets them apart from other men and women. Here we meet Adrian the Romanian, determined to be the first of his countrymen to solo Denali; John Gill, climber not of great mountains but of house-sized boulders so difficult to surmount that even demanding alpine climbs seem easy; and many more compelling and colorful characters. In the most intimate piece, “The Devils Thumb,” Krakauer recounts his own near-fatal, ultimately triumphant struggle with solo-madness as he scales Alaska’s Devils Thumb. Eiger Dreams is stirring, vivid writing about one of the most compelling and dangerous of all human pursuits.
No matter what the actual temperature may be, several pages into Eiger Dreams you will begin to shiver. Halfway through you will acquire a new appreciation for your fingers, toes, and the fact that you still have a nose. And by the end of this collection, you'll define some commonly used phrases in an entirely different way. The understated "catch some air" and the whimsical "log some flight time" are climbers' euphemisms for falling, while "crater" refers to what happens when you log some flight time all the way to the ground. "Summiting," the term for reaching the top of a mountain, seems almost colorless in comparison. The various heroes, risk-takers, incompetents, and individualists Krakauer captures are more than colorful, whether they summit or not. The author is more interested in exploring the addiction of risk--the intensity of effort--than mere triumph. There's the mythical minimalist climber, John Gill, whose fame "rests entirely on assents less than thirty feet high," and the Burgess brothers--freewheeling, free-floating English twins who seem to make all the right decisions when it counts, and hence most often fail to reach the top. Of course, they are alive. Over these and other talented climbers hangs a malignant, endlessly creative nature--its foehn winds can make people crazy and its avalanches do far worse. Eiger Dreams is an adrenaline fest for the weary, an overdue examination of a stylish, brave subculture. As one of the heroes Krakauer outlines says of his occupation, "It's sort of like having fun, only different."