Two hours into Thai Air flight 311 from Bangkok to Kathmandu, I left my seat and walked to the rear of the airplane. Near the bank of lavatories on the starboard side I crouched to peer through a small waist-level window, hoping to catch a glimpse of some mountains. I was not disappointed: there, raking the horizon, stood the jagged incisors of the Himalaya. I stayed at the window for the rest of the flight, spellbound, hunkered over a trash bag full of empty soda cans and half-eaten meals, my face pressed against the cold Plexiglas.
Immediately I recognized the huge, sprawling bulk of Kanchenjunga, at 28,169 feet above sea level the third-highest mountain on earth. Fifteen minutes later, Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak, came into view—and then, finally, the unmistakable profile of Everest itself.
The ink-black wedge of the summit pyramid stood out in stark relief, towering over the surrounding ridges. Thrust high into the jet stream, the mountain ripped a visible gash in the 120-knot hurricane, sending forth a plume of ice crystals that trailed to the east like a long silk scarf. As I gazed across the sky at this contrail, it occurred to me that the top of Everest was precisely the same height as the pressurized jet bearing me through the heavens. That I proposed to climb to the cruising altitude of an Airbus 300 jetliner struck me, at that moment, as preposterous, or worse. My palms felt clammy.
- Jon Krakauer, INTO THIN AIR