The 1996 Everest Disaster unfolded on May 10; after the events, Anatoli Boukreev wrote The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Mount Everest. This analysis covers the events as written in Boukreev’s book. Another analysis of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster” by Jon Krakauer, which is a rival to Boukreev’s version of events, was also written.
The 1996 Everest Disaster
May 10, 1996, was Summit Bid Day on Mount Everest for four expeditions – an expedition led by Rob Hall of Adventure Consultants, one by Scott Fisher of Mountain Madness, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police team and a Taiwanese expedition.
What unfolded over the course of two days became the single most devastating tragedy in mountaineering history. Eight climbers died after a blizzard above Camp 4 ravaged climbers above. The accounts have remained controversial and conflicting in their beliefs of what and who was to blame.
About This Book’s Quality
Fearful, I am, that this book did not meet the expectations I set for it. Instead of telling the tale of a harrowing tragedy, it sets out to sell itself as a prolonged press release, elevating Anatoli Boukreev and his “friends” as “mountain extraordinaires”! That is my first impression of The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Mount Everest.
While we don’t like to speak ill of the deceased, we do, however, expect a certain level of honesty to be present when authoring a nonfiction book based on a true story, of which many accounts exist.
From the beginning, the author sets the scene for the entrance of a mountain guru/highly accomplished guide, Anatoli Boukreev. All of this is true, but in the context of the book he’s writing about (a disaster that killed 8 people in 1996), it’s a bit inappropriate. And it leaves one thinking about whether or not this is an attempt to clear his name of the claims made by Jon Krakauer in “Into Thin Air”, or a memoir about a man’s life and his experiences.
“Right from chapter one, the author is opening the scene for a play in which he alone is the star act and his co-author, the cheering one-man audience, egging him on.”
He does the same when describing his friends. For example, on page eight, he makes one of his first mentions of Scott Fischer. Fischer was his boss and the leader of the Mountain Madness commercial expedition guiding company.
Boukreev sets about to make a note to extend the reader’s knowledge of who Scott Fischer was. However, the note reads more like a post-mortem expertise resume than a note. It’s almost as if he’s trying to do damage control regarding mistakes Fischer may have made back in 1996, which may have contributed to the disaster. Right from chapter one, the author is opening the scene for a play in which he alone is the star act, and his co-author, the cheering one-man audience, egging him on.
Analysis of The Climb by Anatoli Bookreev
It appears that Boukreev’s whole reason for being in Nepal was to revitalize his prowess as a mountaineer, as his native Kazakhstan had all but abandoned the efforts of sponsoring summit bids for home-town mountaineers. He, in fact, was broke.
He was looking to find work and found it in Scott Fischer, but not before overbidding his wage-price by almost double what anyone else would pay. Effectively, you could say he was taking advantage of a newcomer to the mountain, who was desperately trying to make a dent in the industry and needed an expert climber.
Boukreev’s Role as a Guide
Boukreev was brought on to the Mountain Madness team to be a guide for Fischer. However, he neither acted like one nor did he even attempt to aide his clients in getting to the top. He climbed alone, without oxygen and descended alone, without clients. His defense for this is that he was from the “old school,” a person who believed that those willing to climb a mountain, should be able to do so without assistance or coddling.
This would be fine by normal standards. But when you’re taking on a PAID job as a guide for paying clients, whom you know have limited experience of high altitude climbing, you are almost obligated to act as an assisting guide. Otherwise, you shouldn’t take the money or the job. You know what type of clients you’re getting and the extra help they’ll need.
In my opinion, Boukreev was looking for fast money to hold him over and a “sponsor” to get him another Everest summit notch on his belt. Unfortunately, his refusal to help Fischer with many of the tasks required contributed to Fischer’s death. Fischer eventually found himself exhausted to the point he could not withstand the summit and descent.
Boukreev makes a defense that he descended quickly because he was climbing without oxygen, and was not supposed to expose himself for long without it at such altitudes. He said that it’d be better if he went to high camp and was refreshed in case he was needed in the event of a disaster.
His logic was not wrong. A climber without supplemental oxygen should not be at high altitudes for longer than necessary. And he would have been better equipped to help in the event of a disaster. But that wasn’t the real issue here.
By the end of the night, he was needed. Boukreev’s decision to ascend and descend alone allowed him to have a lot of strength to later help his clients. But then again, if he had been a responsible guide and summited with oxygen, or even a tank in reserve, and with his clients, he may have been able to assist his team in descending much faster, avoiding the brunt of the storm.
Later on, more descriptive and less “all about me” writing takes place. However, when compared to other books about the same experience, this one lacks descriptive merit, creative wording and sheer authoring talent. There is no eloquence here, there is no satisfaction of expectation. This book is simply one man’s “I might as well since everyone else will” attempt at telling the story of a tragic event he happened to experience as well.
I CANNOT discount Anatoli Boukreev’s final acts of courage and endurance. He saved lives. He went back out into a monster storm to bring back the barely living (of his own group). I am not saying he wasn’t a damn good mountaineer; I’m saying he’s not a good author, and neither was the partnership between him and his co-author.
There are a few books out there that recount the events of May 10, 1996, with honest writing and descriptive, respectful text. Those authors who made the inner evaluation of whether or not they should write their accounts, and proceeded in the name of honesty and bearing their soul, did so in a way that can only classify the retelling as ART. This is especially true for Beck Weather’s Left for Dead.
If you’d like to take a crack at understanding the 1996 Everest Disaster, I highly recommend the following books:
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
- Left for Dead by Beck Weathers
Films and Episodes of Interest
- Everest. Dir. Baltasar Kormákur. Perf. Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin. Universal Pictures, 2015. Film.
- Frontline: Storm Over Everest. Dir. David Breashears. Perf. Neal Beidleman, David Breashears, Guy Cotter. PBS, 2008. DVD.
- Everest: IMAX. Dir. David Breashears, Greg MacGillivray, and Stephen Judson. Perf. Liam Neeson, Ed Viesturs, David Breashears. Miramax, 1998. DVD.
- Everest: The Death Zone. Dir. David Breashears and Liesl Clark. Perf. Jodie Foster, David Breashears, David Carter. Nova, 1998. DVD. On YouTube Pt1. Pt2. Pt.3 Pt.4
- Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. Dir. Robert Markowitz. Perf. Christopher MacDonald, Peter Horton, Richard Jenkins. Columbia TriStar Television, 1997. DVD.
- Johnson, Gareth, dir. “Into the Death Zone.” Seconds From Disaster. 26 Nov. 2012. Television.
Also see our article: Wexcomb, Catherine “1996 Everest Disaster Documentaries on YouTube” Base Camp Magazine, Feb. 2018
All movies and episodes have been linked to Youtube where available. We encourage you to purchase the DVDs if possible.
Articles of Interest
- Krakauer, Jon “Into Thin Air.” Outside Magazine, Sept. 1996
- Alderman, John & Arnold, Katie “The Descent, Step By Step.” Outside Magazine, Sept. 1996
- “The Day the Sky fell on Everest.” New Scientist, May 2004
- “Nepal – Everest Survivor Speaks.” AP Archive, May 1996
- Haddock, Sharon M. “Dead Climber, Utahn Shared Name and Goal.” Deseret News, May 1996
- Nuwer, Rachel “The Tragic Tale of Everest’s Most Famous Dead Body.” BBC, Oct. 2015
Death Notices After and During the 1996 Expedition
- Venebles, Stephen “Obituary: Anatoli Boukreev.” Independent, Jan. 1998
- “Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa Killed on Mount Everest.” Mountainzone.com, Sept. 1996
- Venebles, Stephen “Obituary: Rob Hall.” Independent, May 1996
- “Guide Scott Fischer Dies on Mount Everest.” Mountainzone.com, May 1996
- (Yasuka Namba) “Nepal – Tragedy on Mount Everest.” AP Archive, May 1996
- (Andy Harris & Team) Davila, Florangela & Biorhus, Jennifer “Two Area Climbers Killed on Everest – Six Others Also Die in Unexpected Storm.” The Seattle Times, May 1996
- (Doug Hansen) Haddock, Sharon M. “Dead Climber, Utahn Shared Name and Goal.”Deseret News, May 1996
- (Charlotte Fox) Wexcomb, Catherine “Charlotte Fox Survivor of 1996 Everest Disaster Dies” Base Camp Magazine, June 30, 2018
Article Originally Printed in Feb. 2016 on a Sister Site
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this is not an analysis, looks like a well prepared shot on someone who did that night more than 3 other guides who not only not saved the clients but dies themselves. I see you are a Krakauer fan but I expected to see less prejustice in the book analysis
We are neither a Krakauer fan nor a Bookreev fan. Due credit was given to Bookreev, this analysis was on the way he wrote the book vs what others wrote, how he wrote it and his tone. Nowhere in this article does it say that Bookreev did not save people. It just states the facts as they were presented over various accounts
You are entitled to your opinion, as is anyone else. Unfortunately, many things lead to this tragedy and no one is clear of criticism. I suggest you take into account the relationships present, everyone’s role and also see out accompanying piece on “Into Thin Air”. You are more than welcome to submit a contribution with your own opinion for consideration as well. We always accept opinion pieces.
You are entitled to your opinion as is anyone else.
I read both reviews and the one for “Thin Air” is much more indulgent from your end showing much more sympathy. You are ignoring that Krakauer deliberatly turned some of the facts around to put blame on Anatoli and later spent years publicly defending his slander.
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This is one of the most fair assessments of the book and Bookreev I’ve come across. He can be regarded as heroic for what he did that night while also being held to account for his actions which contributed to Scott’s death and the unpreparedness of the expedition. However, I often see him lionized online, which I don’t think is a fair assessment. Even by his own account he did everything possible to avoid much contact with the clients in his paid role as a guide, leaving clients to fend for themselves and a lot of grunt work to Scott who was exhausted and sick by the ascent. I do find him (and DeWalt) to be unreliable narrators—and I don’t have a dog in the fight either (not a big fan of Krakauer). Regardless, Anatoli deserves credit for his actions saving those lost in the storm, for roping the Hillary Step, and climbing to attempt a rescue of Scott the next day. Regardless of that, I find the first part of his account largely unreliable. I fully believe his account of the night of the tragedy, but the details leading up to the tragedy were, I think, designed to paint Anatoli in the most flattering light without acknowledging his true intentions and missteps along the way. I think he is ultimately just one of many who went to the mountain that year with their own personal agenda, which got in the way of making the best decisions. And to that point, I think Scott and Rob share a larger part of the blame. Rob for not turning them around/feeling obligated to get Doug to the top (since he’d convinced him to climb again that year). And also Scott for not acknowledging/recognizing how sick he was, and for perhaps being too passive in his leadership role. All in all it’s just a very unfortunate situation that hopefully future summiteers can learn from.
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