Sunday, January 06, 2008
Mountain Madness - an accurate description of the Krakauer-Boukreev controversy
This afternoon, in a break from some ongoing research, I took a dive into the Internet to look again at some of the things that have been said about Anatoli. I wandered across your Blog and your description of the Krakauer-Boukreev controversy. It is the clearest exposition of the debate that I have ever seen. Thanks for remembering a consummate climber and one of the finest men whose company I have ever had the opportunity to share. Best wishes for the Holidays and the New Year
- Weston deWalt (author of The Climb, the story of Anatoli Boukreev)
12 years after the Mount Everest disaster, few know what really happened. How did 9 climbers, from 4 expeditions die on a single day on Mount Everest? Why were there so many people choking up the only path up the mountain, and were the leaders (Fischer and Hall), pressured by the presence of journalists climbing on their opposing teams? Were they locked in a deadly rivalry, or did they just run out of oxygen and time? Was it the weather or human error?
Story by Nick van der Leek
“A lot of people are up here who shouldn’t be.” – Ed Viesturs, 1996 IMAX Expedition
By the end of May, that most lethal month in the mountain’s history, the toll stood at 12. Ironically the 13th casualty was the mountain’s first victim. The sherpa that fell ill with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, began coughing blood and sputum on April 22, and lapsed into a 2 month coma. He finally died, becoming the last to die from that season, but only in June.
A media frenzy ensued. Newspapers around the world, including the Sunday Times in South Africa, put the story on their front page. 5 weeks after the fact a 17 000 word article (that proved inaccurate) appeared in Outside magazine, written by a journalist, and client, on the Adventure Consultants Guided Expedition. Then a socialite/journalist** from Mountain Madness wrote a self-aggrandizing article in TIME. Something was wrong. More books appeared, some seeming to be self indulgent and attention seeking.
Finally† in 1997, The Climb was published. It was not embroidered, nor overstated. It did not attempt to lay blame. It soon emerged in bitter clarity, that the nightmare was not the mountain, but leaders and clientele who were very competitive, and had paid a cash price for the opportunity to gain glory, but who were reluctant to pay the price of physical preparedness. The mountain stood unmoved as the various characters wished themselves up the mountain. So it was left to an incredibly strong, unassuming and inarticulate but hard as nails Russian climber, Anatoli Boukreev, to save the weak and irrational. He emerged as a hero that day on the mountain, but not through the words or thanks of the people he saved. Mountaineer and writer Galen Rowell describes Boukreev’s efforts as ‘one of the most amazing rescues in mountaineering history.’ When we go back to the mountain in 1996, we ought to start with the one man who knew best that day and most days, how hard the mountain can be.
I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event
- Harold Brodkey, “Manipulations”
In the spring of 1996, the circus that Mount Everest was fast becoming, unraveled. At least 16 expeditions participated, among them the Johannesburg Sunday Times Expedition, the Adventure Consultants Guided Expedition, the MacGillivray Freeman IMAX/IWERKS Expedition and Mountain Madness. Over a hundred people, and a star ‘that didn’t belong’* were running around the colossal flanks of the Mountain. Imagine a hundred astronauts on the moon and you have an idea how festive but bizarre it was at Base Camp.
Mountain Madness Guided Expedition
Scott Fischer – leader/USA
Anatoli Boukreev – head guide/Russia
Neal Beidleman – guide/USA
Lene Gammelgaard – client/Denmark
Sandy Hill Pittman – client/journalist/USA
Charlotte Fox – client/USA
Tim Madsen – client/USA
Martin Adams – client/USA
Pete Schoening – client/USA
Klev Schoening – client/USA
Dr Dale Kruse – client/USA
Dr. Ingrid Hunt – Team Doctor/Base Camp Manager/USA
The Cast and Crew
Boukreev belonged to the Mountain Madness Expedition. He was the head guide, and in his care were 7 American clients, a 34 year old Danish woman, and 11 Sherpas. Lopsang Jangbu was their climbing sirdar from Nepal. He was only 23, and this worried Boukreev.
Gammelgaard, the Danish woman, and Boukreev developed a strong friendship. She had a lot of respect for him because she had heard about Boukreev from Michael Joergensen, and they had other things in common; neither were from the USA or particularly wealthy. Lene Gammelgaard, would try, under his charge to become the first Danish woman1 to make the summit of Everest. Gammelgaard and Sandy Hill Pittman, a multimillionairess and socialite, initially got on well, but soon became competitive and were constantly butting heads. Pittman, as onboard journalist, was not the first choice for the team.
The head of Mountain Madness, Scott Fischer, had first attempted to sign up Jon Krakauer, working for Outside magazine, intending to generate international publicity for his company. At the 11th hour, Outside went to a rival expedition (led by Rob Hall), asking them to beat Fischer’s price, which they did, by a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars. Fischer was very upset about this, but by signing on Sandy Hill Pittman, and successfully getting her to the summit, he felt he had the means to the same end.
Sandy Hill Pittman, according to one of Fischer’s confidants, turned out to be ‘a big piece of work’. Fischer soon realized that she was very self-important, and failure to get her to the top would cost him dearly, and even if he got her to the top she wouldn’t mention him.
If Pittman was a questionable choice (as client climber), Dale Kruse, the ‘seed client’, who had paid 18 months in advance was even more so. The first to sign on, he couldn’t cope with altitude – something Gammelgaard had experienced firsthand on a 1995 expedition to Broad Peak, with Fischer. She wondered: Why had Fischer signed him on? It is the first client’s money that gets the expedition rolling, and Scott Fischer possibly wanted to have the money and, being a nice guy, wanted to give his friend of 20 years what he wanted.
From the word go, Kruse began to have difficulties on Everest. He became very, very quiet, and distanced himself from the other clients.
Pete Schoening from Washington was 68. If he could make the summit he would be the oldest person ever to do so. (A Japanese woman on Hall’s Adventure Consultant’s team was attempting to be the oldest woman ever to reach the summit). Pete Schoening’s nephew, Klev, was 38, and inexperienced but athletic and strong. The same could be said, more or less, for Tim Madsen from Colorado. Martin Adams (a retired Wall Street investor), and Charlotte Fox had been higher than 8 000m before.
Of the 8 clients on Mountain Madness, only Sandy Hill Pittman paid the full asking price, of $65 000.
Problems with O2
From the beginning, there were problems, but none that seemed anomalous. The porters had doubled their rates since yaks couldn’t get to Everest Base Camp. The yaks were up to their necks in snow, and had to be dug out, and so equipment was delayed. So the crew, 11 Mountain Madness sherpas, came under increasing strain early on in the season.
By late March, Mountain Madness still didn’t have any oxygen. The Poisk oxygen supply cost 33% more than they ought to have cost because a Scotsman, Henry Todd, introduced to Poisk by Boukreev during an earlier expedition, had effectively made a deal with the Russians to corner the market and distribute it. When Boukreev attempted to buy oxygen for Fischer, he was troubled by this additional outlay, and so attempted to make another deal, but with Zvesda, for a heavier product.
When Todd became aware that Boukreev was trying to get a better deal, he threatened to pull the plug. Mountain Madness gave in. They bought 55 Poisk 3 litre bottles, and 54 4 litre cylinders from Zvesda (at about $325/at least R2000 a bottle). Those numbers would become meaningful, adding up to a pile of life and survival for some, but struggle, peril and death for others who would not have enough oxygen on summit day.
Pete Schoening, the oldest man on the team, attempting to be the oldest man to ever climb Everest, started drawing on the oxygen supplies almost immediately. He was unable to sleep without breathing oxygen since his arrival at Base Camp in early April, and this uncommon circumstance continued until May 6, the day they left Base Camp for the summit.
Fischer made some private calls to his publicist, Jane Bromet, and one of the recurring messages was that their money was evaporating with every passing day.
Neal Beidleman and Sandy Hill Pittman, since arriving at Base Camp, started suffering from a dry, irritating cough. Beidleman’s was so bad he struggled to sleep at night.
On April 22, just after Mountain Madness’ 3rd (of 4) acclimatizing sorties, 23 year old Lopsang Jangbu’s uncle, Ngawang Topche, suddenly developed High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HACE) at Camp II (6500m). He was walking around like a drunk, coughing blood and confused. Fischer, attentive to those around him, had picked up on it and ordered Ngawang down, but for reasons unknown, the Sherpa had continued up and his condition rapidly worsened. Medications are still under debate, but rapid descent – about 600 – 1200 metres – is seen as the most effective measure. It became the task of the clients, Klev Schoening and Tim Madsen, to take care of the Sherpa. When his condition worsened even more, they improvised a makeshift sled and during the night, tried to maneuver him down, through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall.
Boukreev noticed that the Sherpas in Base Camp did not respond to their ailing comrade for several hours. It gave him an indication what he might be able to expect from them in an emergency.
Scott Fischer, weighing the cost and necessity of a helicopter rescue, vacillated; hoping Ngawang would show a sudden improvement.
By April 24 Camp III was still not in place, and the Sherpas were virtually exhausted. While Ngawang fought for his life, the mood on the mountain darkened. The clients were becoming restless and frustrated and some muttered amongst themselves that their guides were not paying attention to details, and were often too busy to offer a helping hand.
Other expeditions noticed that Mountain Madness sent their clients off on sorties, allowing them to move through some difficult situations unattended. And Sherpas began to talk about the disrespect some clients had for the mountain. Sandy Hill Pittman had found a young male climber to share her tent with.
White squalls fell on the mountain. This meant sending a helicopter to pick up Ngawang was out of the question now. Ngawang had to be carried in a basket on the backs of Sherpas down to Pheriche. For over forty hours, amongst blood and vomit, a medical team that included Base camp manager and team doctor Ingrid Hunt tried to keep Ngawang’s lungs working. His heart stopped for ten minutes and they restarted it. His lungs became blocked with fluid and Dr.Hunt sucked it out with a plastic tube. By April 26 the weather had improved and he was airlifted to a hospital in Kathmandu (at a cost of about $10 000). Despite the use of precious oxygen during attempts to revive him, he continued to suffer in hospital, dying in June.
It was April 29 and a deep line began to cut into Scott Fischer’s usually carefree forehead. The Sherpas of Mountain Madness had still not prepared Camp IV, or taken oxygen there.
On April 30, at Base Camp, Boukreev worried about him, their team leader. Boukreev was a strong proponent of self-reliance in the mountains. Now, because he’d needed to hold the hands of the weaker clients, especially Dale Kruse, Scott Fisher’s acclimatization routine had been broken time and time again.
Boukreev, at that stage one of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers, was focused and disciplined. He often told his charges, “Save yourself,” because the idea, once arriving at Base Camp, was not only to acclimatize. Since Boukreev spoke only passable English, climbers like Klev Schoening initially misunderstood what he meant. Did “Save yourself,” mean “be careful, don’t get yourself into trouble, and don’t fall down a crevasse”? No. It meant, conserve your energy.
Acclimatizing meant a combination of active rest and gradually climbing to progressively higher altitudes (sometimes well higher than some of the human bodies around him had previously endured). Mountain Madness, throughout April, went on 4 sorties, each going beyond the altitude of the last, and then coming back to Base Camp to rest.
For the summit bid itself, time was all important. 13:00 had been suggested as a good turnaround time, and 14:00 as the absolute deadline. Any longer and climbers would run out of oxygen whilst still high on the mountain.
Boukreev personally did not like to use oxygen, because if the supply suddenly ran out, the brain instantly fogged up and the body struggled to adjust under these conditions of severe hypoxia.
Boukreev believed in preparation, and was meticulous with his own regimen. He held the opinion that while one acclimatized, the body couldn’t rest at Base Camp, because it was too cold, and too high (5300m – just 600m lower than Kilimanjaro), and his recommendation was after the 4th sortie, at the end of April and just days prior to the final push towards the summit, climbers must go down to the forest region, to about 3800m.
Boukreev suggested this on several occasions, and few were receptive to the idea. It meant going a long way down and then having to make up a lot of territory, including vertical height. Boukreev insisted it was a great way to revive the system, and generate muscle tone.
Martin Adams was the only client who went to the effort of walking as far down as Pheriche (4280m) while Boukreev had gone even lower, to the Garden Lodge of Deboche
(3770m). Adams was the first Mountain Madness client to summit on May 10.
"The reader senses that the presence of an Outside journalist as a client on the most fatal commercial Everest venture was no coincidence." - Galen Rowell
While everyone else had remained at Base Camp, Sandy Hill Pittman had gone down to meet friends, including Martha Stewart. She later reported via satellite phone that she’d eaten yak steak and french fries at her ‘favorite restaurant’, before walking back to Base Camp overnight.
The next morning, May 6, was the day identified for them to begin the final push for the summit. While her team gathered around for breakfast, Pittman logged on and related the finer points of the previous days to an NBC Interactive audience (the archives for the site www.nbc.com/everest have since been removed).
Meanwhile Beidleman’s cough had improved, but Scott had not been feeling too good, and was on antibiotics.
Later, on May 6, after the clients had left, Boukreev had some time to think about what lay in store for them. Shortly after that almost the entire Mountain Madness camp (at Base Camp) was abandoned.
“I have to learn to be humble, because I don’t want to die in the mountains.”
– Scott Fischer
May 6. When Boukreev reached Camp II at the end of that day, Fischer had gone back down with Dale Kruse to Base Camp. That evening Scott was having a beer with Dale Kruse and Pete Schoening – both had finally given up on their attempt.
The next day Fischer had to climb from Base Camp to his clients at Camp II, who were resting so that they could get to Camp III. On his way he struggled to pass Scotsman Henry Todd, an older climber from Himalayan Guides. When they spoke to one another, Todd said that Scott Fischer struggled to speak, but coughed and coughed.
Finally Scott confided: “I’m worried about these people. I’m worried about the situation.”
By that evening Fischer had burned up precious reserves to get back up to Camp II.
On May 7th, the IMAX team, encountering high winds, and intending to make their bid on the 9th, a day before the other expeditions (with the intention of getting clean shots and not being slowed down) changed their minds and went down. When they encountered Boukreev and the Mountain Madness group, Ed Viesturs, also a very accomplished climber remembers feeling somewhat embarrassed. They wondered whether they were making the right decision. He said, standing amongst the other climbers in reasonable weather, he felt quite ‘sheepish’ going down. Viesturs also said he remembered a lot of smiling faces heading up the mountain.
May 10, 1996
In the darkness of the mountain, the machine gunfire that had battered their tents suddenly drifted down. It became eerily quiet. This happened at about 10pm, on May 9.
Boukreev woke up in a tent he was sharing with Schoening (who was behaving strangely), Martin Adams and the Danish woman, Lene Gammelgaard. They were at Camp IV, at 7900m. After some tea, the climbers set off, most of them leaving by about midnight. Charlotte Fox, who was celebrating her birthday on May 10, walked up the white veil that swooped under a sky dripping with stars.
All were meant to have 18 hours of oxygen, or 3 canisters each, but each person could only carry one at a time. It had been the Sherpa’s job to stash a supply of 11 oxygen canisters on the South Summit (at 8748m), and fix ropes on the dangerous exposed sections above this level. Boukreev packed oxygen but was unsure whether he would need any (and in fact didn’t use any).
Lopsang fastened a length of rope to Sandy Hill Pittman and headed up with her.
But this year on summit day I am tired and sick because [the day before] I am carrying 80 pounds, maybe 75 pounds, from Camp III to Camp IV, I am carrying Sandy's telephone. I am also very tired because [on summit day] I take up Sandy together on rope above Camp IV. I am too tired, I vomit, so I tell to Ang Dorje [Hall's sirdar], you fix line. He says OK. I tell to Neal [Beidleman], you take ropes from me." - Lopsang (in an interview with Jon Krakauer)
Scott Fischer was very slow to leave Camp IV. He left last just after Gammelgaard.
She turned back to check how he was, but after that, hurried to stick with the group in order to not climb alone on summit day.
Boukreev summitted first at 13:07, followed by Jon Krakauer at 13:12 (from Adventure Consultants, Rob Hall’s team) and Beidleman and Adams 13 minutes later. Klev Schoening arrived at 13:45, and Boukreev took his photograph. After Schoening, the flow stopped. 14:00 came and went, and Boukreev, who by then had been on the summit for almost an hour (and without oxygen) began to feel cold and tired.
Of all the coverage, Anatoli Boukreev's book The Climb got the story best. Of course, it was written from the point of view inside his climbing boots, but at least I recognized what he wrote as being the same trip I was on. - Sandy Hill Pittman
A star was spotted in the middle of the day above the south summit. It was not the comet, it had long since disappeared. The Sherpas who saw this much lower down the slopes of Everest, became agitated.
Jon Krakauer (from Adventure Consultants) said that on his way down (and he was at the front, just behind Boukreev) he counted ‘at least 6’ canisters – nowhere near enough for either Expedition.
Gammelgaard, Fox, Madsen and Pittman (with the help of Lopsang) made the summit by or just before 14:30. They had gotten mixed up in another, much slower moving group which included a Taiwanese Expedition and Halls’ Adventure Consultants. They spent 40 minutes celebrating on the summit. Each minute, would cost them dearly.
Lopsang did express mild surprise, however, that he received "no money, no thank you, nothing" from Pittman after the expedition for the help he provided her. - Jon Krakauer
By now, all the Mountain Madness clients who had started had made the summit. Fischer had not sent anyone back (13:00 had been suggested as a good turnaround time, and 14:00 as the absolute deadline, but no plan appeared to be in place) because after Gammelgaard had left him, he’d not had any contact with his clients – they were all above him on the mountain. Also, Fischer and Lopsang were using a pair of old 10 channel radios to communicate.
Fischer arrived on the summit at about 15:45. Dr. Hunt made radio contact. Fischer said, “I am so tired.”
Lopsang who had gotten sick from using oxygen, was there with him, so was Rob Hall, who was impatiently waiting for one more client to summit. Hansen and Hall were on the summit just after 16:00, and not long after that, Hansen collapsed. Hall refused to leave him for several hours, and finally was so weakened that he was unable to move. Andy Harris, a guide with Adventure Consultants, asked Lopsang, who was helping Scott down, to take oxygen to Hall and Hansen for $500. Lopsang said that he had to take care of his group. In the end, Harris went up to help Hall and Hansen himself. Despite these efforts, neither rescuer nor the other two survived.
Meanwhile, Boukreev had hurried down the mountain ahead of everyone else, to prepare tea, to warm himself, and to be ready for the clients reaching Camp IV. Krakauer called this a critical error – having the head guide, and such a strong climber uselessly sitting in a tent at Camp 4, while climbers higher up struggled. Ironically, this is exactly what Krakauer himself did – rushed down the mountain as fast as possible without offering others any assistance, but unlike Boukreev, once he reached his tent he slept for the rest of the night while one climber after another from his team died on the mountain. In all four of Krakauer’s five teammates perished that night, including team leader, Rob Hall.
Boukreev arrived at Camp 4 at 17:00. Pemba Sherpa made him some tea. Boukreev thought Pemba had turned around on the way to the summit, but in fact, Pemba had been waiting in Camp IV all day, and had an old black radio with him. Dr Hunt was struggling to make contact with him all day. Boukreev understood that the Mountain Madness clients would run out of oxygen, so he left the camp at 18:30 in deteriorating weather. In his pack were three oxygen canisters, which he’d offer to clients as they needed them.
But freight trains pounded the mountain, and Boukreev couldn’t see anything or anyone in the whiteout. Lopsang and Scott had strong short range yellow radios and the only black radios (as far as Boukreev was aware) and they were still much higher on the mountain, climbing down together. He went back to his tent at 21:00, and waited for news. With no radio, no way of knowing what was happening, he could only gather his strength and make himself ready. The leaders, Hall and Fischer, were weak, still high on the mountain, and in trouble. Leaders and clients, one by one, started to run out of oxygen. Lopsang spent five hours with Fischer, before leaving him to descend on his own and find help.
Then Martin Adams, who had summitted only a few minutes after Boukreev, stumbled into camp, on his own, at about 10:15pm. Boukreev was ‘very glad’ to see him. Adams said he didn’t see anyone.
Meanwhile 8 clients from two expeditions (6 were Mountain Madness clients) and three Sherpas found their way down the mountain, but weren’t able to find Camp IV in the storm, and so huddled together. Their position was 400 metres from Camp IV (15 minutes walk under normal conditions), but just 20 metres from the edge of the deadly Kangshung Face.
Now a number of climbers were in trouble, and there were in fact a number of climbers at Camp IV who had not yet made a summit attempt and were thus well rested. These included Ian Woodall, Cathy ‘O Dowd and Bruce Herrod (from the South African/UK team) and 5 more climbers from Henry Todd’s team.
Boukreev had to locate the huddle of bodies on his own, but could do so only once Neal Beidleman, Mike Groom (from Adventure Consultants)Lene Gammelgaard and Klev Schoening told him, at about 00:45 that people needed his help, and where he would find them.
Acting on their instructions, he went out with no assistance (no other climbers would help). Even the Sherpas who had remained at Camp IV, were all suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, from cooking with a gas stove inside a sealed tent. Boukreev’s first foray in the storm was unsuccessful – he had climbed upwards along the route, instead of walking along the flatter section of the mountain around Camp IV. Boukreev finally found Pittman with Madsen and Fox, and gave them each some tea. He was only strong enough to bring them in one by one, and he brought the birthday girl, Fox, in first. Next he got Pittman, and Madsen struggled to stay with them, leaving behind a 47 year old Japanese woman (Yasuko Namba) and Beck Weathers. Weathers had become irrational and walked off into the storm.
Finally, by 04:30 all of the Mountain Madness team were safe in their tents on the South Col. All but their leader were safe. The Japanese woman, who had attached herself to the Mountain Madness group now found herself alone, less than 20 minutes walk from shelter, while her teammates were either too frightened or exhausted to save her. When Neal Beidleman from Mountain Madness – who had helped her for much of the way down – heard that she died, he broke into tears. Krakauer writes that he cried for 40 minutes.
At about 07:00 on May 11, the radio batteries of Hall’s Expedition gave out, and David Breashears, the IMAX leader, called Ian Woodall (from the South African Expedition) who was also on the South Col, and asked him to allow Jon Krakauer to use their powerful radio so Hall’s team could coordinate a rescue. Woodall said no even though he was well aware of the stakes.
At 16:00 that same day Boukreev climbed back up the mountain to Scott, who was at 8 350 meters. Boukreev reached Fischer at 19:00 while a vicious storm blew around him. He found Fischer with his down suit’s zipper open and one hand, without a glove, was frozen solid. His face behind the oxygen mask resembled a bruise. Fischer must have died sometime earlier in the day. Seeing this, Boukreev said he was “very sad”.
Boukreev climbed alone and in the dark, in a storm as severe as the previous night, and intuitively found his way back to his tent in the dark. He found a man2 alone in a tent beside his, from Hall’s expedition, screaming.
On the 25th of May, Bruce Herrod, who was climbing on his own way behind Woodall and O’ Dowd (as part of the Johannesburg Sunday Times Expedition), walked over the bodies of first Fischer and then Hall before reaching the summit of Everest at 17:00 or later. It had taken him all of 17 hours to get there. He too, would never return, and Boukreev would find him still tangled in the ropes at the Hillary Step, the following year.
The Mountain Is Unmoved
"Everest is no smaller than it ever was, but the motives for climbing seem to have steadily diminished." - New York Times
Having climbed Kilimanjaro myself, I know how quickly a strong climber can become miserably sick and dim-witted at high altitude. It is not the place for writers, or even climbers present, or not, to make authoritative claims about what cause men on mountains to do what they do in the face of death, and danger. Worse, is the tendency to worship the God of blame. When exploring the adventures of men who died far from the comforts of home, we do their lives justice by simply acknowledging them, and the astonishing confluence of events that come together in the world’s wildest and highest places. We ought to, at the very least, imagine the vivid and stupendous scenes that swept beyond their gas masks and took them so far into the world.
When Gammelgaard, the stoic Danish woman, first stood upon the Khumbu Glacier, she was overtaken by its magnificent beauty. She stood apart from the others and quietly wept. The mountain stands unmoved as men, the wise and the foolish, the tall and the small, journey through the immense chasms and cathedrals of the great Outside. For some, when facing an objective like Everest for the first time, in the present moment, being there brings about a sinking feeling. For others, like Boukreev, their hearts are made to soar, and indeed, Boukreev liked to sing when he was camping in the mountains.
“There is not enough luck in the world. . . I got somebody’s share.”
– Anatoli Boukreev after cheating death in 1995 on Manaslu
The following year Boukreev guided the first Indonesians up the summit of Everest. They also arrived late, at 15:30.
On his way down the lower slopes (below Base Camp) Boukreev met a Japanese man, Yasuko Namba’s husband. They talked over a pot of tea.
On December 6, 1997 Boukreev was awarded the American Alpine Club’s David A. Sowles Memorial Award for his heroism and courage on Mount Everest in 1996. Boukreev was not in the USA to accept the award; he was in Nepal, attempting to climb Annapurna (8078m), in winter, by a difficult route. During his adventures in the mountains, Boukreev had had some lucky escapes. But this time, he and his climbing friend were struck down by an avalanche on Christmas Day. Only Moro, the Italian who was climbing with them lived to tell the tale.
Boukreev is known to have said: “Do not forget the mountaineers who have not returned from the summits.”
†The Climb was in response to, and challenges and in part refutes, Krakauer’s slickly written Into Thin Air.
*G. Weston DeWalt describes this star, in his book, The Climb, as the comet Hyakutake which he says was “…considered an ominous sign by the Sherpas…”
**Sandy Hill Pittman
Boukreev had earlier guided the first Welshman, the first Dane and the first Brazilian, and after 1996 would guide the first Indonesian to the summit.
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