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A pleasant surprise!

The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest - Anatoli Boukreev, G. Weston DeWalt

I read John Krakauer's Into Thin Air a couple of years ago and although the actual climbing sequences were gripping, I was really annoyed at the judgemental descriptions specifically of Anatoli Boukreev. I've put off reading this book because I expected this to be part two of a mudslinging contest. I was pleasantly surprised that for most of the book the conflict with Krakauer was not a topic.

The book recounts events based on information available from many other sources and adds Boukreev's comments and insights. The audiobook I listened to was very well done and gave a good impression of the issues cultural differences and a diversity of languages raised for the expeditions. Not until after the expeditions were off the mountains did the conflict actually get room in the book. Though I get the need for justification (not much mudslinging here thankfully), these passages nonetheless were rather tedious.

One of the most interesting aspect of the book was the insight into the logistics and financing of a guided expedition to the top of the world. Most books on climbing focus on the technical difficulties of climbing, the motivation, the mental state. Here we learn of the difficulties of making a living off an athletic skill and the difficult it is to balance this with the pursuit of personal achievements. Evidently a skilled mountaineer does not necessarily have the skills needed to guide successfully or to ensure the complex logistics work as needed. The book highlights the need for all these skill to be included for a commercial expedition to be successful. The margin of error is very small on top of the world and poor communications can quickly turn deadly.

The last part of the book recounts another expedition to Everest with a group of Indonesian climbers Boukreev supported, giving him room to explain his view on the role the expert climber should have. Rather than acting as a guide, Boukreev called his role as lead consultant. He provided his experience in climbing Everest to the group and supported their successful bid for the summit with expertise in preparation for the expedition: how to train and prepare, what equipment to use, what support staff to hire. He very strongly believes that guiding - implying taking on the responsibility for the other climbers - is not an option when climbing under such conditions. Ultimately each climber remains responsible for his own decisions on the mountain.