Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Climb, by Boukreev & DeWalt

When I first read The Climb, written by Anatoli Boukreev and Weston DeWalt, I had a terribly low opinion of the book. It was the second book I had read on the 1996 Everest disaster, after Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, and I now admit that I began the book with a chip on my shoulder for Boukreev. Since getting to know Boukreev though other books, especially his diaries in Above the Clouds, I've discovered a completely different person. Since I had such a low opinion of this book initially, I made myself reread it before writing about it on this blog, and I'm glad I did! I'm still not a huge fan of the book, but I feel like I understand it quite a bit better. After a thorough introduction to Boukreev, as well as reading quite a bit about Russian mountaineering in works like Zum Dritten Pol, I feel like he makes quite a bit of sense in this book and even understates his heroism on May 10th, 1996. The prose by DeWalt I still find over-dramatic and newspaper-y with frustrating anonymous sources and strange metaphors.

Boukreev writes about his experiences during his spring 1996 Everest climb, in which he was a guide under Scott Fischer for Mountain Madness, their first guided trip on Everest. Because Boukreev's English is relatively poor, most of his "writing" (interview?) is accomplished through a translator, except the most crucial moment of the climb---his high-altitude rescue of three people on the South Col, for which DeWalt chose to keep an initial English-language interview that he made at the beginning of the project. While reading the confusing prose of a man trying to speak a language he cannot well feels a bit like wandering through a blizzard looking for lost climbers, it's a shame that the intelligible representation of the protagonist breaks down at such a crucial moment. Overall, I feel like Boukreev represents his actions and decisions well, and surprisingly, I feel like DeWalt does a good job of documenting the actions and feeling of the Mountain Madness clients and Beidleman, the other surviving guide. He does not try to lionize Boukreev too much, and includes both positive and negative criticism of his actions by both clients and other climbers.

If you have recently read Krakauer's Into Thin Air, wait a while before you get to this one. Perhaps, even read Boukreev's Above the Clouds first. The Climb is not a good introduction to Boukreev, but he makes sense in it once you're familiar with him.


  1. I agree, I wasn't a big fan of Boukreev after reading Into Thin Air but there is always two sides to a story and only the people that lived it know their part of the story. I also felt its hard for someone who isn't Russian to understand what it is to be Russian and a Russian mountaineer. Boukreev is an interesting character and it is too bad he was lost in an avalanche. I would have enjoyed reading more about his life and future climbs.

  2. Yes agreed basically what you are writing. The only Problem with Boukreevs Book is, that DeWalt is not investigating and interviewing properly. Boukreev has his point of view, which was in his eyes the right way - but DeWalt mixed things, did not talk to involved people, has done no investigations, which telling facts etc - so for me not authentic......