Before Jon Krakauer became a best-selling author of books like Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Under the Banner of Heaven, he was a climber. Growing up in Oregon, Krakauer learned to climb mountains. In the 1970s he climbed in Alaska’s Arrigetch Mountains, did the second ascent of The Moose’s Tooth, soloed a new route on Devils Thumb, and later climbed Cerro Torre in Patagonia.
While covering Mount Everest and its guided climbs in 1996 for Outside Magazine, Krakauer was unwittingly caught up in the big Everest storm that killed four of his expedition mates as well as others. He later expanded his Outside article to the book Into Thin Air, criticizing the commercialization of the top of the world.
This great quote comes from Krakauer’s article The Devil’s Thumb, which appeared in Eiger Dreams, a collection of magazine articles published in 1990. In 1977 he quit his carpentry job in Boulder, Colorado and drove north to Alaska to attempt a brash solo ascent of the unclimbed 6,000-foot North Face of the fearsome Devil’s Thumb. That attempt failed so he climbed a new route up the Thumb’s southeast face. This quote, from early in his trip, addresses all the fears we have as climbers whenever we start up an unknown route and feel the delicious uncertainty of success.
“Early on a difficult climb, especially a solo climb, you’re hyper-aware of the abyss pulling at your back, constantly feeling its call, its immense hunger. To resist takes tremendous conscious effort, you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant. The void puts you on edge, makes your movements tentative and clumsy. But as the climb continues, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head. You learn to trust your self-control.”
Buy Jon Krakauer’s climbing books:
Eiger Dreams A collection of magazine essays including The Devil’s Thumb.
Into Thin Air About the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy.
Into the Wild Story about a young man lost in Alaska.