Anatoli Boukreev, Remarkable athlete of the Himalayas

BoukreevAnatoliClimbing peaks above 8000 Meters is a unique sport requiring a combination of luck and a natural ability to survive at these altitudes. Climbing skills are necessary but are secondary to these two characteristics. The recent explosion of interest in extreme sports as an ego enhancer is nowhere more misplaced than the attempts of amateurs with money to try to climb Everest and the other giants. This came home in a big way during the tragic climbing season in 1996 when several “guided” expeditions overstayed their summit efforts and were caught by a storm resulting in eight deaths including two of the expeditions leaders American Scott Fischer and New Zea lander Rob Hall. Accounts of this tragedy include Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer a writer who was a part of Fischer’s group. Another account of the tragedy is found in High Exposure by David F. Breashears.
Krakauer criticized two of Fischer’s guides for climbing without supplemental oxygen; Anatoli Boukreev and Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa. Boukreev was deeply hurt by the criticism and wrote his own book of the events The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston Dewalt. In reading these works, I became fascinated by Boukreev. Who was he and why was he such a remarkable climber. Boukreev was a Kazakh born near 8000 meter peaks which always attracted him. He trained hard and became a member of the Soviet climbing team just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boukreev needed money and support to continue his climbing which ultimately led to his guiding expeditions. His extreme talent as a climber and his taciturn personality probably made him ill suited as a guide but he had little choice if he wanted to pursue his life’s passion. No one could climb with Boukreev. His specialty was speed climbing without oxygen. He still holds many climbing records including climbing two 8000 meter peaks in one day, and speed records for accents from base camp to summit for a number of peaks. On one legendary climb, he returned to his single tent camp on the descent only to find the tent occupied by another climber. Ever the gentleman, Boukreev, after drinking hot tea with the intruding climber, continued his descent to base camp. Between 1988 and 1997, Anatoli climbed eleven of the fourteen 8000 meter peaks without oxygen; four in a single ninety day period-establishing difficult technical routes as well as speed records. He died in an avalanche on Annapurna on Christmas day in 1997. His diaries were published in 2001 Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer by Anatoli Boukreev.
Also interesting and under appreciated are the many Sherpa mountain climbers starting with the legendary Tenzing Norgay Sherpa who first climbed Everest with Hillary. The ensuing widespread interest in mountain climbing has been a mixed blessing to the Sherpa who have been able to start schools and train generations of mountain climbers and guides. A special account of the Sherpa is found in Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest by Tenzing, Tashi (Norgay’s grandson).

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