On the day of May 10, 1996, several climbers were attempting to descend the slopes of Mount Everest in blizzard conditions: a time at which every moment mattered. Emerging from the pack, two climbers reached the safety of the tents of Camp Four before the majority of their teammates. Anatoli Boukreev and Jon Krakauer recounted the situation of that day in very different ways, but Krakauer seemed to portray Boukreev as an antagonist in his book, Into Thin Air. Boukreev proved in his own book, The Climb, that multiple actions called into question by Krakauer were in fact valuable steps that an experienced climber used in order to rescue clients in need.
Krakauer repeatedly scolded Boukreev for not using supplemental oxygen above Camp Four during the summit push on May 10. Krakauer claimed that the lack of oxygen "didn't seem to be in their clients' best interests" (ITA, 186). The journalist seemed to be concerned that Boukreev, as a guide, should use oxygen because it would allow him to function more normally in the case of catastrophe. In fact, Boukreev disputed this point in The Climb, mentioning that he believed given proper acclimatization, it was safer to climb without oxygen. Krakauer himself suffered when he ran out of oxygen just before the South Summit: "entire sectors of my cerebral cortex seemed to have shut down altogether. Dizzy, fearing that I would black out, I was frantic to reach the South Summit." (ITA, 195) Boukreev believed that a climber who suddenly ran out of oxygen after consuming a tank would be in a much worse situation than one who had become used to climbing without gas at all. His decision not to use gas was primarily based on his past experience.
Expedition leader Scott Fischer had allowed Boukreev to summit without oxygen, knowing that he had already reached the top of the world twice without it (ITA, 186). Fischer had even considered reaching the summit without oxygen himself. The Russian climber used the philosophy that "every ounce counts" while ascending a mountain; even the slightest extra weight would have a profound effect on the climbing ability of an individual. Though he did not use oxygen above Camp Four, Boukreev carried a single canister of oxygen with him in case of emergency; he gave it to fellow guide Neal Beidleman when the need arose. Since each canist...
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... only a couple members to even attempt a rescue. These efforts were, for the most part, shrugged off by Krakauer. The Climb offers great detail of Boukreev's forays into the blizzard, and the resulting rescue of a group of climbers huddling together in the frigid temperatures. Both Charlotte Fox and Sandy Hill Pittman, members of the group, were close to dying; Boukreev quoted Lene Gammelgaard as saying, "Sandy very close [to dying]. Maybe if you will find, you will find her dead. And you need hurry." (Climb, 184) Boukreev single-handedly saved all members of the group except climber Yasuko Namba despite the intolerable conditions, a true testament to Boukreev's considerable experience and heroism.
Anatoli Boukreev, despite Jon Krakauer's criticisms, was the most valuable member of the expeditions caught near the summit of Everest on May 10, 1996. His heroism and courage were recognized throughout the climbing community, and these traits warranted a receipt of the American Alpine Club's prestigious David A. Sowles Memorial Award. If more climbers in 1996 were as strong as Boukreev, all of the climbers who ascended in 1996 may have been able to descend safely from Mount Everest.
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