The Best Books About the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

Back in 1998, I was visiting family in Cleveland when my uncle asked if I wanted to go with him to see a documentary about Mount Everest at the local IMAX theater. Before then, I don’t think I’d ever even thought about Mount Everest, but since that movie I don’t think I’ve stopped.  After we saw the documentary, which focused on climbing the mountain as well as the 1996 disaster, he handed me a paperback copy of Jon Krakauer’s book. For the 22 years since, Everest has been #1 on my bucket list (though not to climb—unlike many of the people going up these days, I know my limits. Base camp will be fine, thank you).

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had a little extra reading time lately, so after a trip to the used book store (weeks ago), I started a deep dive into books about the 1996 disaster, which still fascinates me today, then branching out to a more general dying-on-the-mountains motif. And while this list may interest only me, I’ve decided to rank the best books about 1996 on Mount Everest.

1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Despite a small bit of controversy between Krakauer and guide Anatoli Boukreev, Into Thin Air remains the best and most complete account of the 1996 disaster, as well as an excellent overview of Everest and mountain climbing itself.  As a journalist who was already there to collect information and interview guides and fellow climbers, Krakauer was easily the most well-placed on the mountain for an exhaustive recap of the disaster. If you’re going to read one book about it, this should be it.

2. The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt

The Climb begins with an insightful look into the Mountain Madness team and its leader Scott Fischer, including what Scott was up against financially for the climb.  Anatoli then tells his story, which is nothing short of heroic as he saved five other climbers. The book, unfortunately, devolves in the end into a shouting match between Boukreev, DeWalt, and Krakauer (be sure to get the most recent paperback versions for all the updates).

I will say, this whole controversy seems to be a non-issue.  I read the climb 20 years after reading Into Thin Air; by the end, when I went to re-read Into Thin Air, I was expecting some pretty harsh vitriol aimed at Boukreev for all the defending himself—and attacking Krakauer—in the book.  But all that Krakauer really said was people thought Boukreev was in the wrong place and maybe should have been using oxygen—Krakauer doesn’t question his heroism, or try to inflate his own actions. In the end, it all seems like petty squabbling.

3. Left for Dead by Beck Weathers

Beck’s individual story is probably the most incredible from the whole 1996 fiasco.  Climbing up the mountain, his LASIK surgery failed in the high altitude and he started to go blind. His team leader, Rob Hall (who would later die on the mountain), told him to wait until Rob got back before going down. After waiting hours, Beck finally descended before becoming lost and almost freezing to death—twice. While he readily admits he doesn’t remember a lot of what happened, his story on the mountain is well-covered in other stories; Beck’s telling of what lead him to Everest in the first place, as well as the repercussions of his intense frostbite are what you should be reading this one for.  Beck’s a larger-than-life character, which the other books make clear, and his voice got on my nerves at times, but it’s still an impressive story.

4. After the Wind by Lou Kasischke

This one is self-published, which is readily apparent.  It was also published 18 years after the fact as a tribute to his wife, so there’s a lot of wasted writing about how much they love each other and how much he thought about her (spoiler: it’s a lot) on the mountain.  In addition to gushing about his wife, the book seems to be solely about blaming Rob Hall and, to a lesser extent, Jon Krakauer for the tragedy, which, in Hall’s case, seems disrespectful at this late juncture. Especially since Lou’s own judgment can be called into question on a few occasions. He also tries to use some clever literary devices that ultimately fall flat.  An editor and about 100 fewer pages would’ve gone a long way here. This lacks the mountaineering insight of Krakauer and Boukreev and the incredible personal journey of Weathers, so only read if, like me, you can’t get enough.

Note: I have not yet read Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard, the other book about the disaster.

BONUS: Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

This one is about another disaster—on K2 in 2008—but more importantly gives a great look into the history of the region and the lives of Sherpas.  If you want to go in order, perhaps read this one after Into Thin Air in order to not only know about Everest, but the people without whom climbing it would be impossible. It also takes a different tack than most books about climbing disasters by focusing on the Sherpas—how they acted on the mountain, what their thought process was, what they did in response to tragedy. This is a great insight into a group of people that don’t get nearly as much credit (or pay) as they’re due.

BONUS 2: The White Death by McKay Jenkins

While the book is about an avalanche that killed a group of climbers on Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park, there were no survivors and so the actual tragedy isn’t really covered.  Instead, this one takes a deep, deep dive into everything you could possibly want to know about avalanches, snow, mountain rescue, mountaineering, and everything in between. Since there is so little to say about the actual tragedy, however, it does seem at times as if Jenkins is telling a story and just constantly gets sidetracked by minutiae that he finds interesting but which, ultimately, I found interesting as well.  If you want to round out a quick education on all the kinds of death that await if you climb a mountain, add this one to the list.


More Like Suxembourg

On our recent trip to Paris, where Kaitie and I had both been multiple times, we decided to throw in a new country and take a day trip to Luxembourg. A mere two-hour train ride away, why not throw away our Saturday on a jaunt to Europe’s tax haven? I did a modicum of research to find out the city didn’t have much to offer, but we figured we could play it by ear.  I mean, they have a main square and an Old Town—what more could one possibly want?

Not wanting to throw away any of the day, we awoke incredibly early, still buzzing from the phenomenal meal we’d just had at A La Biche au Bois.  We left Nina’s aptly-named pup Lux and made our way to the train station.  As it turns out, spending a day on the couch with Lux would’ve been leagues more exciting than spending it in her non-namesake city.

The Best Lux

We were blessed, in the Place d’Armes (main square) with the most exciting of all city events—a flea market full of expensive shit that only someone with lots of money and little travel experience could love.  We ate at Café Francais, which was decidedly anti-breakfast: they put down cloth table runners, found out we were interested in eating breakfast, and then removed the cloth and gave us paper placemats. After talking about my “terrorist beard” and spilling food on my coat, our server largely ignored us. Which was fine, because I didn’t want to have to talk to him about the strange salad that came with my omelet—greens, corn, ranch dressing, and a tomato that was almost crunchy.  I could imagine the chef proclaiming, “This is what they eat in America! Just give it to them!”

The weird salad that somehow ended up on my coat

After our breakfast, which would set the scene for the rest of our day, we eventually made it into the Old Town portion of the city, which would be impressive if (1) you’d never seen a hill before, (2) you’d never seen anything old before, or (3) you’d never seen moving water before.  Luxembourg doesn’t have anything that any other city doesn’t have, and every other city’s is better in every way.  Going to Luxembourg for site-seeing is like taking your cousin to prom: sure, you get to go, but what’s the fucking point?  We couldn’t find one.

Holy shit, a building

At the very least, we had Um Dierfgen to look forward to.  Open 11:30am to 10pm, the restaurant is just off the main square and serves up many of Luxembourg’s traditional dishes.  While Luxembourg may be a real Kraft Single of a city, at least I’d get to say I’d had some local dishes that aren’t widely available, like their national dish of Judd mat Gaardebounen (smoked pork, beans, and potatoes with bacon), or maybe even the horse steak on their menu.  I didn’t care that it was a little more expensive than it should be, if anything was going to save this trip for me, it would be food.

But, of course, fuck me for trying, because despite being full of drinking locals, we were told the restaurant wasn’t serving food.  Why should it? And why should it say anything about off-hours on its website? Ah, Luxembourg, that most Medium Place of cities. We ended up settling on a bar called Urban with typical bar food for anywhere in the world.  At least I got a local beer.  By that time, though, we were hungry and fed up and just wanted to be done with this place.

Holy shit, a chicken sandwich

We swung into a store to grab some drinks for the train ride home, where we found €5 on the ground, which was the best part of visiting Luxembourg (though it still owes me money for the train tickets). Luckily we were able to resurrect our day with dinner at Zeyer in Paris and some pre-bed wine at Nina’s.  And, of course, hanging out with the real Lux, and forever more the only Lux I officially recognize.

All other Luxes can eat shit

You’re A Tourist. Deal With It.

“The difference between a tourist and a traveler is that a tourist doesn’t know where he’s been and a traveler doesn’t know where he’s going.”

Paul Theroux

This is probably the most popular quote differentiating between a tourist and a traveler, though there are many like it and myriad blog posts to back it up. Somehow, over the years, the word “tourist” has developed a negative connotation, bringing to mind bumbling middle-aged men in khaki cargo shorts and nose white with sunblock, having his kids trample some revered native plant in order to get a picture with the local attraction, and then taking the family to McDonald’s so they can eat something familiar.


The reality, though, is that while those people do exist, tourists are just like anyone else: there are some that are very thoughtful about the way they travel, and there are some that are really shitty about it. Unfortunately, in an attempt to try to distance themselves from these terrible tourists, people have started describing themselves as travelers, which is just as pretentious as people referring to themselves as “foodists” to avoid the “foodie” stigma (and yes, that’s a thing).

I understand that language has an ebb and flow over time, and the definitions or common uses of words change and shift, but currently Merriam-Webster simply defines a tourist as “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.” So, sure, I guess you could call yourself a traveler if you’re not traveling for pleasure, but if that’s the case, why call yourself anything at all?


What’s more, anyone outside the specific community doesn’t care.  Do you think someone who isn’t interested in travel cares if you refer to yourself as a tourist or a traveler? Do you care if a Star Trek fan differentiates between “trekkie” and “trekker”? Or if someone tries to explain the difference between “foodie” and “foodist”? Probably not.  People inside the community, the ones who would potentially follow your travel blog or see the things you do, will know whether you’re a good tourist or a shitty tourist, regardless of what you call yourself.

When I first started traveling, Americans abroad had a bad rep, and so I would tell people I was from Canada. It wasn’t hard—my wife at the time was Canadian and I had been to Canada multiple times, so I knew what I was talking about. But then I realized, if I pride myself as being a good tourist, why shouldn’t I tell people I’m American? Americans will never get a better reputation abroad if the good ones pretend to be Canadian. So I tell people I’m American in hopes that I can help out. Don’t be ashamed to be a tourist—help improve the world’s view of them.


Everyone is traveling to experience something different, and there’s no reason to shame someone because their travel goals are different than yours. Whether you’re taking overnight buses through Peru or shuffling your kids from museum to museum in New York, whether your Instagram shows you wistfully gazing at a far-off mountain range or holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, you’re a tourist.  Embrace being a tourist, but try not to be a shitty one.

An Ode to Anthony Bourdain

When today started, I thought the saddest thing that was going to happen to me would be sitting through the new Dave Matthews Band album. Unfortunately, I was incredibly wrong.  I don’t usually get upset over celebrity deaths—while most of them have entertained me at some point, that’s the strongest connection we have—but since Bourdain is one of two recent celebrity deaths I’ve actually become emotional over (the other being Gord Downie), I feel I should write something.

I’ve never agreed with everything Tony said or wrote.  I read too many “this is how you SHOULD do things” article and interviews involving him, and I don’t believe there is one right way for anything.  You do things your way.  If you want to eat sushi by dunking it in soy sauce, knock yourself out.  I also didn’t agree with his incredibly obnoxious views on vegans and vegetarians—people are just trying to live their lives the best way they see fit, and if someone wants to live in such a way as not to harm animals, who are we to judge?

But what I did like—and, probably, loved—about Anthony Bourdain was his constant traveling.  Not even necessarily for the food, which is my main focus on the road, but just going places.  Places that could be incredibly uncomfortable.  I firmly believe no place is as savage as we think it is, but I still wouldn’t go to Iran.  Especially for a major news source with a camera crew.  But Bourdain did it, he talked to people, and he revealed the one universal truth about the entire world: we’re all basically the same, trying to do the best we can.  There are, of course, pockets of bad people who are trying to upend that, but people on the whole are just trying to do what is best.  We’re not so different, you and I.

I thought his recent episode of Parts Unknown in West Virginia was incredible.  Having lived there for over 10 years, trying my hardest to get out, and then going back as infrequently as possible, he painted the state—and its people—in a wonderful light.  I can’t say that I’m dying to go back because of the show, but I do have a newfound respect for the people struggling there, as I think anyone who watched the show would.

A lot of times, people ask me for tips on traveling, or how I plan a vacation.  Once a location is decided on, the first thing I do is find the episode of whichever show Bourdain did there, whether it was No Reservations or The Layover or Parts Unknown, and take copious notes.  It’s because of him that I knew about bun cha in Vietnam.  He’s the reason I had amazing sausage at Belvárosi Disznótoros in Budapest.  He is why I dragged LeeAnne to Plachutta Restaurant in Vienna for a large meal of tafelspitz, despite already eating a massive wienerschnitzel (also gleaned from the episode) and being incredibly underdressed for the restaurant.

Food and travel are two of my favorite things, and some of my greatest memories of those two things can be linked directly back to Anthony Bourdain.  I’ve had some of the best meals of my life, and some great times, all thanks to his recommendations.  Selfishly, I wish I would have been able to meet him, if for no other reason than to shake his hand and tell him thank you.  Luckily, though, I will not stop traveling or eating, and he will certainly be able to leave his mark on all of my future trips the same way he has in the past.

I will keep wandering, Tony, I will keep eating great food, and I will keep writing about it.  And I will keep thanking you for leading the way.

Eating food not from the country you’re in


It should probably come as no surprise that I spend a lot of time surfing the Travel subreddit.  Whether it’s just to look at nice pictures of different places, get tips and ideas for traveling somewhere new, or trying to help others with my limited knowledge, it’s one of my favorite places on the internet.  And one of the threads that popped up there recently has had me thinking quite a bit.

Traveling abroad and eating food NOT FROM THE COUNTRY YOU ARE IN?

The basic gist is, if you’re looking for the best food to eat while you travel, and somewhere like Vietnam has the best Italian food, why not eat Italian in Vietnam?

I know there can be a lot of variables to what you eat while abroad—sensitive stomach issues, allergies, fear, palate fatigue—but I’m going to take this from the perspective of someone with none of these issues who just loves food.  And for me, this would be a huge no-no.  Have I done this before?  Of course.  Is this why I go to other countries? Not even close.

bratislavaWhen I go to a country, I want to experience their culture.  I want to know everything about their food and try it all.  I never have enough time, of course, but I try my damnedest.  For me, there’s no time to really try Italian food in Vietnam, because I just want to eat all the Vietnamese food.  And not just one time, either—I wanted to try pho in the north and in the south.  We went to small places, had it at our bed and breakfast, had it at a hotel, and had it at a chain.  And they were all different.

When we were in Bratislava, as well, I was researching restaurants and there was a great-sounding sushi place.  Highly rated, one of the best restaurants in the city. But I just couldn’t bring myself to eat sushi when I was in Slovakia.

It really comes down to what you’re traveling for.  If you just want the best of the best, you’ll go for it.  But personally, I want to try the best of the best of what the culture has been making, because I can tell you from experience I can get great, top-of-the-line Italian food in Philadelphia, but I’ve never had pho that matches what we ate in Vietnam.  I’ve never tracked down half of the food we had in Hue.  The stuffed cabbage in Hungary was next level.

My former wife would always mention opportunity cost vs opportunity lost, which is something I still keep in mind when planning trips.  The opportunity cost of going to a Chinese place in Germany—no matter how good—is the opportunity lost of trying another, different German dish or getting someplace else’s spin on a dish you’ve already had, both of which can give you deeper insight into the history and culture of a place.

I also realize this could have sparked something in me because the first comment mentioned Italian food which I find, by and large, to be incredibly boring.  Yes, I’ve had some amazing Italian food, but I would also feel the same way about Chinese or Vietnamese food, which is probably my favorite.  At home, I could eat it anytime or anywhere.  Just don’t expect me to eat it in Italy.


Would you eat a “foreign” cuisine while traveling abroad?

Culturally Diverse. Unlike Anywhere Else.

This is a “photo essay” I started about three years ago, highlighting how diverse and unique each place we go can be.  With the vast cultural differences found throughout the world, there will surely be more to come.

Arequipa, Peru: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Bogota, Colombia: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Bratislava, Slovakia: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Budapest, Hungary: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Cartagena, Colombia: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Eger, Hungary: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Hanoi, Vietnam: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Iceland: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.

iceland 1iceland 2

Lima, Peru: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Medellin, Colombia: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


Prague, Czechia: Culturally diverse.  Unlike anywhere else.


On Colombia, and Traveling Without Fear

Above: Fernando Botero’s “Birds of Peace” – there is another one exactly like it next to it. This one was used in a bombing in 1995 that killed 29, whose names are listed below it. They are both on display to represent the changes Medellin has undergone.

When my then-wife LeeAnne decided our next vacation would be to Colombia, a variety of friends and family gave us the same response: “Why?” Whether they had been hearing about the drug cartels and violence for the last 50 years or had just been watching too much Narcos, everyone seemed to believe we would be landing in a war zone.  I admit, as a seasoned traveler, I even let the nervousness get the best of me and had to have to good people of r/travel on Reddit cool me down.

The entire time, I should’ve just remembered my favorite travel quote: “No place is as savage as you think it is.”  I really wish I remembered who said this, because they deserve infinite credit.  Nowhere is ever as bad as you hear or think it is; and besides, isn’t traveling about getting out of your comfort zone a bit? Experience new things that may make you feel nervous or uncomfortable?  It brings to mind another favorite travel quote, this one from Anthony Bourdain:

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

And the marks that Colombia left were all beautiful.  The people were some of the nicest we’ve encountered in our travels, and most seemed genuinely happy to have outsiders experience their country which had been getting such a bad rep for so long.  Even Medellin—ground zero for the drug cartels and once known as the most dangerous city in the world—was a vibrant and lively city that was intensely walkable.

A kitty cat mural on the mean streets of Bogota.

Bogota was no different.  The few warnings I had received revolved around the La Candelaria neighborhood (where we happened to be staying, unbeknownst to the people warning us) and being careful at night, but despite walking all over the city and specifically that area at all hours of the day and night, I never once got the creeping nervousness you sometimes get when your body feels you may have entered a dangerous situation.

It really all comes down to situational awareness.  Keep your eyes open to your surroundings, especially at night.  Don’t walk away from an ATM counting your money.  Don’t flash your iPhone all over the place to take pictures.  Keep any valuables—wallet or passport—in some kind of zippered or fastened pocket.  It doesn’t make it impossible for someone to rob you, but it makes it more difficult for pick-pockets.

Night in a small square in Cartagena: breakdancing in the street.  Super dangerous people.

Over our 10 days in Colombia, only once (in Cartegena) was I propositioned to buy cocaine.  One time.  In Colombia.  And even in that heavily-touristed city, the type of city where petty crimes usually thrive, I didn’t feel ill-at-ease.

I don’t know if this post is more about traveling smart or about going to Colombia, but I will say you need to do both—be aware of your surroundings as you travel, and definitely go to Colombia.  See the cities, learn the history and what the people have been through, and watch Narcos if you haven’t just to see how drastically things have improved. Just don’t expect much from the food—its boringness is inversely proportional to the vibrancy of the cities and especially the people.

One of the vibrant streets of Guatape.

A street in the walled portion of Cartagena, where the most dangerous thing was the heat.

All photos courtesy LeeAnne Mullins.

What I Pack

If there’s one thing I hate when traveling, it’s lugging around a ton of unnecessary shit.  A typical vacation is usually trying to hit multiple cities in a short span, and oftentimes staying at two different hotels in said cities in order to be close to the next transit option, so we’re moving around a lot.  I don’t want to be carrying six pairs of shoes with me the whole time just in case I might use them.

Now, I am by no means an expert packer, and I’m sure I still bring too much or even bring the wrong things.  But here’s a look into the kinds of things I take with me on each trip to try to pack as lightly and economically as possible.

Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Pack: I used to have a 60+ liter pack, but it got to be a little much after hauling it around Vietnam for two weeks.  The 40 liter Farpoint has just enough room for everything I need, with a bunch of convenient compartments for the smaller things. Putting my little bag of toiletries in the top front pocket is especially convenient, because the bag is carry-on size. It can even fit under the seat in front of you in a pinch.  And remember: there are two kinds of luggage – carry-on and lost.


Packing cubes: Since the bag has one main compartment for clothes, packing cubes have become one of my biggest necessities when traveling.  I can split up my clothes, keep them folded and neat at all times, and be able to easily dig out something that may otherwise be buried on the bottom of my bag.  For convenience, these things cannot be beat.


Hiking boots and Smartwool socks: These are the perfect combo to keep your feet happy the entire trip, no matter what kind of terrain you’re on, or whether you’re wearing long pants or shorts. Bonus, the socks can go a few wears before they start to feel weird, so you’ll have to wash them much less, if at all.

Hiking pants: When you pack light, your clothes have to be versatile.  I love my LL Bean Cresta pants, which tick all the boxes: light, moisture wicking, abrasion-resistant, and UPF 40+, but they also look nice so you can wear them on a hike or wear them to a nice restaurant. I also pack a pair of North Face Paramount convertible pants: water-repellant, UPF 50, durable, and they can zip off into shorts so I can get two bottoms for the space of one.  This was very handy on the Inca Trail, where we walked through hot desert and cold mountaintop.  One of each of these pairs of pants should keep you covered your entire trip.


Reversible shirt: Recently, I discovered the magic of the reversible shirt, and it’s changed my packing for the better.  I only have one at the moment, but I’m definitely going to invest in more.  I can get two shirts packed for the space of one? It’s a dream come true.  The one I currently have is a moisture-wicking long-sleeved button-up, so it can be used in almost any situation.

Folder for documents: We always have a folder for our travel documents.  It’s kind of old school, but if your phone runs out of battery or you can’t get onto the internet, it comes in handy.  We put our flight itinerary in there, our travel insurance, and a calendar list of places we want to go with addresses and days we want to get there.  The spreadsheet also has our other travel information—bus numbers and times, etc.

Quick dry towel: LeeAnne brought one of these on our trip to Iceland and it was the envy of our group.  You’re not always going to need something like this if you’re staying in hotels, but when you do need it, you will find it irreplaceable.

small pack

Collapsible small backpack:  I’ve got a tiny backpack that folds up into itself that is great for day trips when I want to leave my larger pack behind, and also great for having on the plane with whatever I’ll need for the flight if for some ungodly reason I need to check my main bag, or even if I just don’t want to get up to the overhead compartment every time I need something.  Also works for filling with souvenirs on your way home.


Collapsible rain jacket: Anything you’re not going to need constantly should be able to fold into itself to save space, and a rain jacket is one of those things.  The one I have is much more condensible than a bulky umbrella.  It also functions as a lighter spring jacket if necessary.

Kindle Paperwhite: I don’t always have a lot of time to read on a vacation, and often when I have downtime I want to be sleeping.  This doesn’t allow me to justify carrying around a big book for a long time, so I bought a Kindle.  It takes up no room and weighs almost nothing, and as long as you have a WiFi connection, you can pick up new books almost instantly if you need to.

Melatonin: I recently realized the miracle of melatonin chewables when I had to take a redeye from San Fran to Philly and go straight to work.  I sat down in my window seat, chewed two melatonin gummies, and put on the Sleep playlist on Spotify.  I’ve never slept better on a plane, and was actually ready to go to work after I landed.  That’s never happened to me before.

Those are pretty much my only requirements.  Of course, I bring other clothes, but you can pick and choose what you’ll need. A few t-shirts (making sure one can double as an undershirt for something nicer if need be), and underwear—but not too much.  For longer trips, you can always do some sink laundry if necessary.  Sometimes, I’ll also try to bring an extra pair of shoes, but nothing too clunky; either a pair of Toms or some flip-flops will do for when I want something I can quickly slip on or off.

Hopefully this can help, or give you a little insight into your own packing habits. Everything I think about packing, I ask myself how often I would use it and if I really have to be carrying it around for a week (or more).  The answer is almost always no.  Always remember: you’re not going to see any less of the places you go if you don’t bring your 12 favorite shirts.

Pack light!