The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev & G. Weston DeWalt

Posted on April 2, 2009. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

After first reading Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air last year I became fascinated with Mount Everest. I felt as though part of the lure, mystery and romance of Mount Everest was in me, and it created a drive to learn as much as I could about the mountain and the expeditions up the mountain. Part of this hunger for Mount Everest really revolved around the Everest disaster of 1996 and thus much of my reading has been focused on trying to really find out what happened on that mountain during that deadly descent. Krakauer, Anatoli Boukreev and Lene Gammalgard were all members on expeditions that survived the 1996 disaster and have written books detailing the events that led up to and followed the disaster. Each personal account has the same main facts but each one differs in not only blame and fault but also in motives and emotion. The ascent to Everest was symbolic for each of these climbers but for different reasons, and the emotions that arose after the disaster were also different.

Front Cover

Boukereev’s book is the third account I have read about Everest. Many of his arguments were forewarned to me through Krakauer’s account and I initially began the book with unfair expectations and feelings toward Anatoli. Throughout the book I became more open minded, and while I never questioned Krakauer’s it made me realize that they may both be correct even though much of their argument is contradictory.

A bit of background: Anatoli Boukreev was hired as a guide by American Scott Fischer for the Mountain Madness expedition up to Mount Everest with a summit bid planned for May 11, 1996. Boukreev is a Russian climber who was down on his luck, and money, discovering that his life was about mountains, but mountaineering was becoming difficult for sustaining his life. Danish, Lene Gammalgard was a client, paying to summit Everest, on the Mountain Madness team. American Jon Krakauer was a client, specifically a journalist writing for Outside Magazine, on the Adventure Consultants Team led by New Zealand-er Rob Hall. I found it extremely important to note the countries and cultures that these various people were from, and to also note that Rob Hall had led expeditions in the past, and while Scott Fischer had previously summited Everest, this was the first expedition that he was in charge of.

The Climbfocused on the main details of the expedition, and was verified through many interviews and conversations between expedition members after the disaster. Boukreev was held mainly responsible for some of the problems that occurred on the mountain in the eyes of Krakauer, while Anatoli felt that he had not only done his job but was going the extra mile for his clients. I anticipated this memoir to really focus on the reasons why Anatoli felt he was not to blame, and while he did make this point, he also brought up important facts about his expedition on the mountain in contrast with Krakauer’s details about his expedition on the mountain. Both expeditions joined forces to summit the mountain together on May 11, but both expeditions had very different leaders, guides and personalities which may be the foreshadowing for disaster.

Boukreev’s description of the climb are remarkable but heartbreaking. Anatoli is very focused on himself, and was very concerned with his own acclimatization (an important step in climbing mountains with or without oxygen). Krakauer’s biggest complaint about Anataoli was that he did not use supplementary oxygen, while he was an expert climber Krakauer personally felt that as a guide Anatoli’s responsibility would be to have this extra oxygen so he could make smart decisions and have the most strength throughout all situation on the ascent and descent of Everest. Anatoli makes a point in the beginning of the book to really focus on Scott’s inexperience with leading an expedition. This is important as Anatoli’s biggest listed reason for not using oxygen was partially his experience and proper acclimatization but also because Scott had a problem with the oxygen delivery and received fewer oxygen tanks that he anticipated which encouraged Anatoli to volunteer to climb without the supplementary oxygen.

While most of the book has the details of the climb – their camp experiences. The acclimatization of Anatoli and the clients, it is also interesting to hear the descriptions of the clients from a guide, and experience climber, perspective. Anatoli was very detailed and precise when watching and observing his clients and left us with great notes on what guides look for when training and guiding clients. It was also interesting to see the interpretations of decisions by other guides on clients from the perspective of the guide with not only the most experience but also the largest language barrier. Anatoli frequently presents us with problems he encountered during this expedition, including differences in expectations.

Through this account Anatoli describes him and Scott Fisher as not being completely synchronized with expectations. Scott apparently expected Anatoli to do more hand holding and socializing than Anatoli thought he was there for. I was also surprised that Anatoli expressed some contempt toward the Adventure Consultants expedition during the ascent for slowing down his clients and for being on of the reasons his expedition was caught in the deadly storm. This harsher side of Anatoli did not last throughout the entire book, but he did show emotion near the end when describing his rescue efforts that could not save everyone.

After reading all three accounts I can say that both this account of the May 11,1996 Everest disaster should be read alongside, before or after Krakauer’s description of the same events. They both paint a more clear picture of the climb. Also, it is essential to read both because both men were members on different teams, so it also offers a different perspective to the events as well as the general expedition cultures and opinions from each side. I still finished this book feeling like the main reason Boukreev wrote the book was to clear his name, and to partially clear his concious for some of the feelings of guilt he may have had left from the expedition.

I felt it was important to remember that there were many fatalities and no book or account will truly explain everything that was done and every decision that was made, the best each account can try to do is educate us on human nature, and the fact that Everest is still in charge of the mountain, the men are not the keepers of the mountain. If you are interested in Mount Everest or adventure stories I highly reccomend this book, as well as others about the Everest Disaster of 1996.


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3 Responses to “The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev & G. Weston DeWalt”

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Great site this and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

I loved Into Thin Air as well, so I’m going to see if I can find a copy of this book somewhere.

Thanks for the recommendation!

I also read both books at the same time, at one point. The first book I read was the Boukreev account and I was surprised at the criticism of him. I had really admired him (still do now, esp after reading both books and knowing each one’s account. Boukreev was not a bad man at all. He may have made some mistakes, but he was never malicious nor was he intent on those people dying. He had expressed honest regret, as well as his defense and he defended himself well. I was quite upset when I read the Krakauer book and for a while did not know what to think. I did not want to think of Boukreev as a bad man, even though Krakauer’s book did compell me to wonder about him for a while.

I gave myself time to integrate the two accounts in my mind, could not really agree or take sides either way, but came up with the conclusion that it was a situation where they were both right and both wrong; one of those things.

I don’t think Krakauer is a bad man, either; he was doing his job as a journalist; he had complimented Boukreev as well.

I still admire Boukreev and wish I could have met him.


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