1996 Everest Disaster — Dueling Perspectives

Cover of "The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on ...

Cover of The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest

I have read both Jon Krakauer and Anatoli Boukreev‘s books explaining the events that occurred on Mount Everest in May of 1996. INTO THIN AIR is Krakauer’s and THE CLIMB is Boukreev’s.

I must admit, some of the differences in the information are disturbing. I have always enjoyed Krakauer’s writing but given the answers provided him about his criticisms of Boukreev, and that he and his publishers got them prior to publication makes me ask why he never changes his criticisms. One of the biggest Criticisms of Boukreev is that he did not dress well on summit day.  Photo evidence debunks this assertion outright yet Krakauer does not move from his statement. Pictures of Anatoli in the top state of the art climbing gear that existed in 1996 are easy to find.

The Climb By Anatoli Boukreev - Boukreev On Everest Summit Ridge Near Hillary Step, Anatoli Boukreev and Martin Adams on Everest Summit May 10, 1996

I truly have read most that I can find written by Krakauer. And my decision to use Mountain Madness came after reading his treatment of the 1996 event and before reading Boukreev. But I feel dismayed that Jon seems not to have been able or willing to adjust to facts that were provided to him and his answers to why, with regard to some of them, left me outright appalled. What he thinks and what he feels are far less significant than what is trye when telling this story. There are times he claims he had heard conversations that he later, after being confronted with statements disputing his presence, says that he FEELS that what he heard was more accurate than what the first hand witnesses retell. For instance. He claims to have heard a conversation between Anatoli and Scott Fisher in which Anatoli was never told to descend immediately. Yet another climber present at the time claims the questioned conversation took place after Krakauer had begun a repel down, making it impossible for him to have heard what was or was not being discussed.

Whatever exactly happened on that mountain during that climb will never be completely clear. Anatoli is dead now. So is Lopsong Sherpa. Certain knowledge died with them. But the core of what is disturbing about INTO THIN AIR, is that Krakauer seems to have played fast and loose with the facts in order to hang the blame on one man….Anatoli Boukreev. And to what end? Both were on the same climb during the awful events that occurred.  In my opinion, as a guide, Boukreev had a responsibility to his clients on the mountain. By all accounts he felt that way too. Krakauer was not a guide and had no professional responsibility to assist when Boukreev asked for help going back up to search for missing climbers. I don’t judge any non-guide’s decision not to foray out into what probably was a death sentence for themselves to assist climbers, some of whom were not well prepared to even be on that mountain. But Boukreev pulled off what truly is amazing. he got Sandy Hill-Pittman, who by most accounts was not a prudent climber, having used up more than her share of oxygen while ascending/descending among other counter productive actions that chipped away at others’ ability to get down the mountain alive. He got two other women down that were struggling and assisted a male climber in getting back to camp IV. All after his own ascent and decent and taking him out into the same storm that would kill 8 people that night. All with nobody willing or able to assist him. He made every attempt…repeated attempts…to gather helpers to no avail. He gave up his own emergency O2 supply so others could use it.  In the end, Boukreev got all of the clients that Mountain Madness had taken fees from off that mountain. The only loss was company owner, Scott Fisher. The captain went down with the ship.

Rob Hall was a captain too. He was the captain of the ship Krakauer was riding. But the clients of that expedition did not do near as well. Rob was high up the mountain dying. The Sherpas and guides were either in camp or themselves lost and did not attempt to go back up to get anyone.  Several died. Beck Weathers was left for dead more than once, only to defy the grim reaper with his own gumption and get to where he could be taken off the mountain. Badly and permanently injured for the efforts.

So what is Krakauer’s real beef here? Why soil a man’s reputation that did so much that night. Agree or disagree with his methods, they seem to have been chosen for the purpose of the clients and not to be self-serving. But no matter the evidence presented to Krakauer to show that, he persists in his outright campaign to keep Boukreev the villan.

This has made me become a little skeptical of one of my all time favorite writers. His books read so well and are absolutely some of the best story telling I have ever encountered. He truly is an artist. But if he is compromising facts along the way for what motives can only be known by him, then I will find myself less willing to read his work. If the integrity of the writing is sacrificed, it becomes but an empty, hollow shell.

More Books about that same day in Everest history:

  1. Everest: Mountain Without Mercy, Broughton Coburn
  2. Dark Summit – The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, Nick Heil
  3. Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, Lene Gammelgaard
  4. Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, Beck Weathers
  5. High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, Michael Kodas
  6. Mountain Madness, Robert Birkby
  7. Dead Lucky, Lincoln Hall

About WhelanTrek

The mountains are in my blood and Everest has been a symbol to so many areas of my life. I blog about adventures and life in between.

Posted on July 17, 2011, in Climbing, Hiking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Agree with your points about Krakauer not retracting comments about Boukreev’s clothing. You might find this book adds to the discussion:


  2. I appreciate very much your post and words about Anatoli who will always be a legend. Want to share my viewpoint though that initially in the book there is mention of Anatoli but the criticism is kind of in “passing” and there is mention that he finally got to save some people. The book has its value and share in getting this reality out to the “uninitiated” public. No specific person is responsible for another persons death. Neither is the ability to dish out 65000 for a “yellow brick road” to the top putting responsibility in the leaders’ hands. The specifics of who said what is irrelevant. Some have put the blame on Hall and the competitive nature of getting clients to the top. I prefer (more romantic) the point of view as in the movie where Doug pleads with him since this would be his last attempt after the previous years failure and since Rob actually did give a “home discount” and Rob nods his head knowing that shit is going to hit the fan but emotions take over. (Robs’ staying with Doug till the end -which was his demise- proves that money wasn’t the only incentive). Some insinuate in some posts about a drug thing but that’s irrelevant too cause even though I heard from a member of another nations team of some joints being passed around that ultimately does not have relevance to why “F” was exhausted those days and in the final climb. Neither can you place it on K that he was in his tent and didn’t help and that’s why he fabricated things against Anatoli.
    They said the barom lows that specific day brought a further decrease of 15% oxygen in the D zone which is enough to justify Anatolis’ having to regroup.
    So I guess you can pin everything on freak circumstances and that’s all.

    Now if you want to get superstitious about it apart from that comet that freaked out the Sherps one can use his or hers imagination and consider the SA team as the black cats…..
    They were in the middle of all the catastrophes that year even with the deaths that happened two weeks after this tragedy. And took some attention units away from Scott and Rob and maybe an indirect reason for choosing the day that they did cause everyone was afraid of getting tangled up with them.


  3. Anitoli should receive his share of the blame but it shouldn’t come from false stories or rumors. Anitoli saved his clients but only after he’d saved himself and in some part allowed them to become trapped in the first place. Descending on his own the way he did it’s obvious he knew what was happening with the oxygen in the air. He wasn’t on bottled oxygen and when the pressure dropped he might have known if he didn’t get down he would be in trouble too, so I understand why he descended so quickly and without his clients. But the blame placed on him is at least partly justified even if he did save people in the end.
    Part of me thinks that if Beck hadn’t survived this tale wouldn’t have the air of negativity it has. A heartless choice to leave someone that survives is much harder to accept than if he had died like he should have. Let’s not forget it was Anitoli that chose to leave him first after all(obviously he was in no shape to continue rescuing people). Thankfully Beck didn’t die and I too second guess them for leaving him and Namba, especially the next day when they were still technically alive.
    After much study of this incident I have come to the conclusion that the main mistakes was made by Lopsong and Fischer. It was Lopsong who, either at the request of Fischer(he later denied that Fischer asked him to)or chose to, short rope Pittman up instead of fixing ropes. This action causes the bottlenecks and hours of wasted time and more importantly wasted oxygen and in turn causes the late decent into the storm and without oxygen to boot.
    Fischer is also to blame in this aspect because his team waited for him to summit(at his request) long past the turn around point and he had no business climbing that day at all. His inability to correctly judge his situation was a major contributing factor to the teams descending too late and into the storm.
    But many mistakes were made that day. Doug should have been turned around by Hall because as soon as he falls unconscious he inadvertently kills Hall and Harris(Hall because he couldn’t leave his client and Harris because he dies attempting to help) and even Fischer(if Hall and Harris are near the summit they may be in a position to rescue Fischer when he falls ill) to some extent.
    The other teams should feel blame as well. The other teams were not going to summit that day but chose to and again that wastes vital time and oxygen when the bottlenecks, that would have been bad in the first place, are now even more over crowded.
    What I’ve come to understand is that one mistake turned into many and nobody is really to blame. Take one mistake out of the equation and you still end up with people dying. So Anitoli, Lopsong, Fischer, Hall, the other teams… it doesn’t matter really. It was just a series of terrible events that took people’s lives and everyone is at least partly to blame. Let’s not overlook that these people were not being babysat to the top. The knew the risks and one of the risks was death. Not one climber up there, even Pittman who has been falsely labeled and vilified, was unable to climb that mountain that day. Were they all the caliber of Anitoli? Not even close. But they were all climbers and knew the risks. The people that died, died doing what they loved and in doing so are responsible for their own deaths just as much as anyone else on that mountain.


    • Nice analysis, Brian. But you can’t say in one breath they could all climb the mountain. It then acknowledge that Pittman was short roped—because she couldn’t climb the mountain. Or that Doug could climb it when fornthe second, he really couldn’t. I think this was bound to happen in those early days of group guided trips. I don’t say that pitman was unable to climb mountains. She is a climber. But. Or that day. And becks eye issue did him in. But leaving him was a logistic choice based on his condition and others ability to assist. And where was krakauer?


  4. First of all, Krakauer’s criticism of Boukreev is never as strong or as damning nor as absolute as you claim in your post.
    Krakauer has a lot of blame for himself and clearly feels responsible partially for some of the deaths.

    And tbh some of Boukreev’s actions do seem questionable.
    Is it really just a coincidence that all three people (and there were three, not four like you claim) he saved were from his group?
    While two people lying just next to them were left for dead?
    And by all sources they were both alive the next day, when they were found by others, hell Beck even survived in the end,
    It just always struck me as a “funny” coincidence how both of Fischer’s surviving guides decided on helping their clients over Hall’s, maybe if Yasuko and Beck were their clients, they would have decided saving them was possible.
    Not even as a conscious decision, but maybe subconsciously the two were deemed “somebody else’s problem.”
    And as far as Krakauer not helping with the rescue effort, he was a client, not a guide, he was already weakened by his descent under way worse conditions than Boukreev’s was.

    I don’t think Boukreev is to blame, nor is any one person, but I also think that he like several others made questionable decisions.
    Understandable in these circumstances, sure.


    • First of all, Krakauer’s criticism of Boukreev is never as strong or as damning nor as absolute as you claim in your post.>>>

      You don’t seem very familiar with the back story between Krakauer and Boukreev after the disaster. He wrote a book, Boukreev – who could barely string a sentence together in English – then felt moved, challenged and sufficiently undermined to write one himself. There was a lot of enmity and verbal jousting between them, often in public. Have you forgotten about that?


Your Trek Comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Slowpoke Divas

Inspiration & information for maturing women over 40 to live an active, healthy lifestyle through walking, cycling, triathlon, and strength training.

The Camino Provides

Celebrating the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrim's journey


This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

The Greenery

Ideas That Grow and Bloom

Steve Watkins Media

Telling a Better Story for a Higher Purpose

2 Sisters Wandering

Our Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago


Grammar, etymology, usage, and more, brought to you by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman


A place to share experiences, encourage and support one another.

Astrolabe Sailing

Sailing, yachts, adventure and sailing around the world!

Saharasarah's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

Adventures Of Two

current location: Durango, CO

Willis Island Walking

The story of a completed walk for charity around a desert island in the Coral Sea

Trek Ontario

Hike | Camp | Canoe | Snowshoe | Geocache | ...


Aloha and mahalo for stopping by.


Converting dreams to reality one hike at a time!


Just another WordPress.com site

Treat House Vacation Rental in Seattle (Ballard)

Ballard (Seattle) Neighborhood Vacation Rental (206)255-9770 tel.

Don Charisma

because anything is possible with Charisma

%d bloggers like this: