Into Rarified Air

There were many stories that were more fun to cook up and publish, but nothing quite compares with the force and moral clarity of Jon Krakauer’s account of the 1996 tragedies on Mount Everest

Climbing in Nepal. (iStock)
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When you’re the editor of Outside, you get a canvas at least as big as the world, so singling out one most memorable piece is no easy call. But a story that continues to resonate more than 20 years later is “Into Thin Air” (September 1996), Jon Krakauer’s account of the May 1996 tragedies on Mount Everest.

It might seem prescient, and ironic, that the magazine sent Jon to warn against the dangers that would lead to eight deaths, four from his own six-person summit team: a growing commercialization that translated into too many climbers with more money than expertise. But what compelled us was the enormous responsibility that came with having sent a writer and dear friend into harm’s way, and our duty to get the story right, even if it had been reported in wildly difficult circum­stances and would now be written and edited at breakneck speed.

Jon produced a meticulous, heartbreaking account that immediately took its place among the classics of narrative journalism. That he was never harder on anyone than he was on himself, that the piece functions as both riveting storytelling and an act of atonement, makes it all the more powerful. I can think of many stories that were more fun to cook up and publish, but nothing quite compares with the force and moral clarity of “Into Thin Air.”

—Mark Bryant, Editor, 1990–1999

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