Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boukreev/DeWalt's "The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest" (Steak Knives)

I read this in response to Krakauer's 'Into Thin Air' of course...

I'd happened on Krakauer's book in Nainital, India, within oggling distance of the Himalayan foot hills on my honeymoon a few years back. I picked it up for about a buck, used, and fell in love with it. It was the right book for the moment, and a ripping story by any standard.

Hearing (some time later) that a 'response' was fired off by a dissenter to the account, I was curious enough to park the thought into the back of my mind.

At last, X-Mas 2010 provided relief in the form of Boukreev's text (written with the aid of DeWalt, given the subject's lack of a writer's command of the English language). While this clearly comes across as a response to Krakauer's text rather than a parallel telling, it had a measured poetry of its own. As personal an account of the fatal climb as Krakauer's, it provided the perspective of a 'guide' (rather than a 'client/journalist') on this fatal climb. I think this point is really the crux or pivot point of the two texts. The debate between the two texts is too long to account for here, but it's well documented. I plan to report back on some follow up research here down the road. Still, in short, Krakauer was in a privileged position to be led up the mountain (and survive) as a tourist/journalist. Boukreev, as a 'guide' was in for a different experience and set of expectations from well before base camp. When nobody else was willing or capable (Krakauer included in one or the other category, who knows), Boukreev *repeatedly* risked his own exhausted life (by multiple accounts) to save at least 3 more climbers from certain death. Krakauer's account, inexplicably, paints him as a villan, despite much available evidence to the contrary.

Boukreev didn't have the audience to correct Krakauer's account, sadly. I hope this post helps in some modest way to help correct that. Boukreev was a hero. That much is certain. It's important to note here that this is not simply my reading, but the assessment of the climbing community at large, with the sobriety of hindsight to provide clarity and as much certainty as 8000m+ climbing can afford.

I still love Krakauer's text, but wish this was essential reading to follow for all.

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