BOUKREEV (ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN)
of death at high altitude is much higher for a strong climber than for a weak
from videotape by VICTOR KOZLOV, filmed during Russian Lhotse expedition
in 1997. Published for the first time. We acknowledge V.Kozlov for this tape.
1997. Anatoly Boukreev, Vladimir Bashkirov and Evgeny Vinogradsky guided three
Indonesian climbers to the top of Everest. Then there were a first Russian attempt
to make a traverse Lhotse-Lhotse Shar and the climb the last unclimbed eightthousander
on the planet and an attempt of Boukreev and Moro to traverse Lhotse-Everest.
Vladimir Bashkirov died. Immediately after this tragedy, down in the Khumbu Base
Camp Anatoly Boukreev gave an interview with explanations of this death and about
these two expeditions.
Boukreev: From one hand I realised how much I know about high altitude climbing,
from another hand, I understand that there are plenty of things I do not know
yet… The tragedy happened with one of the strongest and experienced Russian climbers.
Don't you think that it is because of his experience Bashkirov took such an responsibility,
that he was unable to reject even being in such a critical state? You remember,
he told that he is ill before leaving for the summit bid.
I can describe the situation. We came back after guiding Indonesian team to the
Everest. We were guides, advisers, coaches and rescue team. We, Vinogradsky, Bashkirov
and me, participated in such an extraordinary national Indonesian event that took
a lot of energy from us. I do not know about Evgeny and Vladimir, may for them
it was easier. But for me, after tragedy in 1996, when I was severely criticized
whereas I made enormous effort to rescue people, it was very difficult. It looks
like I was a hero but in the same time many thinks that I made mistakes. The best
and most experienced guides died that day. Take Rob Hall, who made a fifth ascent
but died on way down with his client - he was responsible for others, weaker people.
Weaker climbers also died. The storm cut people from the life without distinguishing
who is strong and who is weak. When it began people lost the ability to orientate
on the way down, stayed high and that lead to the lethal end. During that tragedy
I rescued three people, but I have not used supplementary oxygen. They blame me
for that. But I was in such a perfect conditions, I had climbed three eightthousanders
with the last one (Manaslu) just two month before the expedition, I have had amasing
acclimatisation and I felt that I do not need oxygen. This year, after the car
accident, lack of training, two operations, the situation is very different.
meet unforeseen situations. Last year strongest climbers died. Scott Fischer -
I consider him as the America's best altitude climber. Rob Hall - head of "Adventure
Consultants", expert on Everest. Two of his climbers, his guide and he himself
died during that blizzard. In that situation I worked, did what I could, rescued
clients, making nontrivial decisions, which were in contrast with views of conservative
guides. I did everything on my own, differently, and that helped me to survive
and to save others. But these nontrivial solutions do not fit with experience
of western climbers. We had lot of arguments with people, who are considered as
great experts (Todd Burleson, Ed Viesturs, they are also in the BC now). They
started to criticize me. In the States, in journals like Life, Climbing etc there
were lots of things, both positive and negative. All these factors put a huge
responsibility on me. The Indonesian expedition took everything, emptied me psychologically.
I think that for Bashkirov it was also a very hard task, since he made a whole
preparation and arranged this climb. I was an adviser. I have not manifested my
health problems, my two operations in the States, I was sitting there and organised
the equipment and managed technical preparation of the expedition. Vladimir was
in Nepal and was a coach for the team.
coordinated our efforts. And success of the expedition was reached not for nothing,
since we climbed Everest with Indonesians, who never saw snow in their life, took
the ice axe, crampons and ascender in December for the first time. But they were
military guys, commandos. They had a task and tried to solve it. That's why the
event required much more efforts by me and by Bashkirov than we thought.
and Vinogradsky just after the Everest ascent
finally, we ran into unforeseen situation. Usually we start the expedition, make
an acclimatisation and perform sportive climb with full engagement. In this case
we have acclimatised made a huge effort with Indonesians, and tried to save some
force for the main event. Bashkirov and his team intended to traverse Lhotse-Lhotse
Shar and me with my Italian friend Simone Moro intended to make Lhotse-Everest
traverse. If we would have done it, this traverse would have important international
influence, comparable with traverse of Lhotse massive.
summiters: Bashkirov, Indonesians, Vinogradsky and Boukreev
we descended to Katmandu, there were 17 Indonesian generals, and I had to explain
why only three persons made a climb and not everybody. They were not climbers,
but militaries and we had to explain everything from very basic things. There
were such strange questions that I wanted to laugh. We spent 12 days to explain
to representatives of Indonesian government what we have done in order to get
a correct perception of the expedition.
hoped that this rest will give positive results and it will give more chances
for success in the next event. But it happened differently. We descended to Katmandu
after enormous efforts and we sharply lost the altitude and did nothing for 12
days. If you suddenly stop a running horse, or, better, a car, rushing at 100
miles per hour, what will happen with the car? Same thing happened with our bodies,
I think. Everything was similar with both of us, me and Vladimir. During the traverse,
after only one third of the work needed, I was very close to stay in the mountains
Vladimir was in a similar state. One the first stage we were collaborating
closely with the Russian expedition. We intended to sleep in the Camp 4, but it
happened that we had to start from the Camp 3. Already in the Camp 4 I saw that
Russian team faced some problems, which should have been solved before the traverse.
They became another burden for the leader, the most experienced and strongest
climber. At 4 AM we approached Camp 4 and the Russian team was already leaving.
We decided to rest couple of hours to avoid crowds on the route and also to recover
after continuous four hours work. Together with Simone we stayed and I noticed
strange things with my health. After this rest my condition was not that good
as I expected. I think that it was related to sharp changes in our preparations
for the assault. Our bodies were not ready - we broke normal schedule which I
followed for 20 and Bashkirov for 25 years.
Bashkirov took this burden - he could not tell to people - go without me, I am
ill. He was preparing this traverse for 4 years. He could not stay behind...
Anatoly: Take, for example, Kangchenjunga expedition (Second
Soviet Himalaya Expedition, 1989, traverse of the whole Kangchenjunga massive.
Two groups made a whole traverse in different directions and support groups climbed
all summits crating stocks of oxygen and other supply - Ed. note). In order
to go to this difficult climb the best climbers trained, skip jobs for two years,
passed a hard selection to enter the final team of twenty. And all these twenty
people worked for the traverse. There was an incredible two years preparation,
the best climbers from the Soviet mountaineering school, which is one of the strongest
in the World, were selected. And then we made this traverse. We had such a spirit…
I was in a perfect condition… The condition of the team… And now I compare the
Kangchenjunga traverse with that of Lhotse-Lhotse Shar. These tasks are identical.
It is difficult to say which one is harder - Kangchenjunga is longer and higher,
Lhotse is more technical. On Kangchenjunga everything was planned and safety was
very high, here the preparation is not that good. I can not tell anything negative
about this team - I simply do not know. I know my condition 6-7 years ago and
now. I can judge the level of Koroteev or, say, Bogomolov. The younger guys… It
is impossible to compare conditions of their training with ours in national team.
We lived in Esher (sport camp at the Black Sea coast for Soviet Olymipic teams),
trained three times per day, eat for 20 roubles per day (average monthly salary
in USSR was ~100 roubles). I do not know finances, but nowadays it should be amazingly
Usually climbers descend for rest before the summit push?
Anatoly: Yes. Sometimes you descend after heavy job at the altitude and
later you hit a raise of you condition, but every raise is followed by decline.
And if you face this decline (our biorhythms follow sinusoid), then your later
your state is extremely bad, your immune system is much worse than usual. And
we were on such a decline. Every person has some health problems. My bronchite
worsened, the gorge was inflamed, I felt myself semi-ill. Problems with my gorge
developed in few hours. I left Camp 3 at 7200 in perfect condition. Approached
camp 4 and Bashkirov was just leaving. I asked him "how are you?" and
he answered, that he is not in a good shape. I said that I am also not OK. I'll
rest and decide what to do. I will work according to my condition, but anyway
my shape is not the best one. Similar things I heard from him.
We rested for
two hours. Simone is ten years younger than me, he is strong climber, but not
that experienced, and I carried all the load for the traverse. I started to think
that problems are related to the large backpack weight. At 8300-8400 we already
reached the Russian team and moved ahead. I left the backpack, thinking about
the traverse afterwards.
You were the first on the Lhotse Main?
Anatoly: Only Babanov and Gleb Sokolov were ahead of us. I was permanently
telling Simone not to rush - we still have 2-3 days of hard work on huge altitude.
I left the backpack, but my state did not improve. Bashkirov and Koroteev approached.
Bashkirov started to make a video - everything is OK. Bashkirov always was somewhat
introverted, you could never say about his condition. Bashkirov was Bashkirov.
I told him - "I am leaving real world, I feel bad. Either the acclimatisation
is lost either I am ill". Everything overlapped. Good schedule of the climb
was broken, chronic diseases worsened. To ask them about help - they have a lot
of own problems. But I told that I can stay on the descent. If they will notice
me in snow - do not be surprised…
And suddenly Bashkirov told me: "You
know, this night I had high temperature and I felt very bad". I asked about
his current state. He answered "OK, but I feel myself very weak. Go on, anyway
I will wait for the last guys. And you go on". We continued the ascent, I
climbed the summit automatically. We made a photo and I feel that I am at the
limit - loosing the camera box. I told to Simone - "Let's go down to the
backpack, I feel very bad. There we will decide what to do". The only thing
which can help in such situation is to loose the altitude as soon as possible.
Otherwise things worsens very fast.
While descending I stopped close to Bashkirov
and told him: "I do not know, if I will go down". They had own problems.
Bashkirov intended to wait for everybody. Bogomolov was climbing very late. In
principle, one should not ascent that late.
When you descended what was the Bashkirov's state? He felt worse?
Anatoly: I did not noticed, since I was very bad myself. Simone told me
that Volodya's eyes changed sharply.
Bashkirov was without goggles?
Anatoly: Sometimes he took goggles off to work with videocamera. He said
nothing about his state. Just said that he will wait the last one and will film
things. It was clear that he feels badly. But weak person - when he feels badly,
he can not climb, he can not work. But a strong man can continue in such a state.
That is why the risk to die at the altitude is much higher for a strong climber,
than fo ra weak one. The weak one have the barrier and he does not climb further,
but a strong one overpowers himself…
Besides, Simone and me worked as a pair
and could descend fast. But Bashkirov had to stay longer. He stayed for too long
at high altitude and this worsened his condition. You think that things became
easier. When man freezes, it seems to him that he is in warmth and comfort, he
simply leaves real world. Same thing happens at the altitude - you just do not
control the situation anymore.
The last time when Bashkirov made a radio call was at 12. He should have started
to descend, probably help was necessary, but he told to continue work on the mountain,
fix ropes. For him personally it was at least 5 more hours to the summit. What
does it means? He never radioed again. He stopped to control himself?
Anatoly: First of all, he did not realised the situation. Second, he was
responsible for the group. He should care about them. Say, I organise some event
and I climb together with the team. I can not continue, but the idea remains,
the group has to work further.
Why didn't he admit his bad state, did not ask for help of the team?
Anatoly: Well, we speak about 12-hour connection, but it may be that his
state became very bad at 5-6 or even 8 o'clock.
When did you speak with him?
Anatoly: At 4 AM in the Camp, at 1 PM around the summit and around 2-215
on descend. Bashkirov and me climbed Everest, we drained ourselves equally, equally
rested in Katmandu and became ill at the same moment. I think that it is not just
a coincidence. My condition also changed very fast, in few hours. I was going
to the traverse to meet a superchallenge, I trusted into success, I was ready
for it. In just four hours, approaching tents at 7900 I started to doubt about
our success. Two hours later I felt myself badly, in another two hours I was leaving
the real world. Same thing happened with Bashkirov. Simone noted more things and
he told that when we spoke with Bashkirov at 1 PM he was smiling and was OK, but
just one hour later his conditions changed dramatically.
About rescue operation. Was there such an event on eight tousander that people
climbed the mountain, descended to tents and then ascended half way up to rescue?
You on Everest climbed for the second time…
Anatoly: I worked for three days without any visibilty. When all experienced
sherpas refused not only to rescue but even to leave tents. And I know what is
this - altitude and rescue work after the climb. I had to do it after Everest.
I managed to save people after oxygenless Everest climb. After this it is difficult
to explain - people do not realise what I have done. Simply it is impossible.
Last year during these three days I was on the limit…
You ascend to risk zone,
you can save a man but you can die there. That is why it is difficult to make
this decision… Foreigners, they simply could not understand what's happened when
our guys found Bashkirov's body just 100 meters from tents. They do not understand
that guys worked till the end and did everything possible. But when man is dead
and nothing could help, they descended to tents and started to struggle for their
But later they ascended to him again?
Anatoly: Yes, but just to say the last good bye, cover the body, not to
leave it without attention. What they could do they did.
Nowadays people on
Himalaya try not to enter the risk zone. There is a lot of commercial expeditions.
They try not to risk and not to face the situation when somebody should be rescued.
If you face situation like ours last year, you made a mistake. Missed the weather.
It means that you are inexperienced and somebody dies because of your fault. But
in the mountains little could be done without risk. This year six Russians died
here. It is a lot for the season. It is notable event, say, anti advertising of
I was surprised when I saw list of team on Makalu (Russian expedition
on Makalu wall. It was climbed for the first time and received Piolet d'Or, but
two members died -Ed. note). Only Efimov had 4 eight thousanders.
Anatoly: This is a serious problem. If a person has no experience, his
technical level can not compensate it. If there is no experience, the risk to
die increases, moreover, if you are strong but unexperienced - this is even more
dangerous. You easily enters dangerous zone and then …
You see, here people
are experienced, huge chances, but they die. Look for last year, classic routes…
The strongest and the best die because they work more and they are responsible
for others and all this drains to the end.
The death of Russian climbers confirms your words that the best and the strongest
Anatoly: I would precise that the highest chances to die are for the strongest
and for the weakest. For those in the middle it is somewhat better. Especially
if there is also a psychological responsibility about the others…
For a very
long time Soviet mountaineering existed in USSR only and even when people climbed
abroad they climber with Russians. Now the doors are open and the level dropped
Many regard the climb as a last chance?
Anatoly: Yes, they live as if there is nothing after. During last five
years I also started to think what I did before and what I do not like to do now.
I compared myself with Western climbers. They never risk. They have credit cards,
bank account, house in California or somewhere else. He has normal life and he
comes here to rest. Somebody's fault can lead to death of another person. In the
mountains you should depend on yourself only, on your own strength and that's
why it is amoral to think that somebody will save you on the altitude.
Is it easier to work in a team?
Anatoly: When you work in a team it is easier. You climb not alone, you
share loads. Last year I made, as I think, an extraordinary thing when I rescued
people. No one guide attempted to help. Yasuko Namba died - nobody moved to help.
I brought oxygen for three - three survived. Yasuko Namba was very close, but
she had no oxygen. I gave oxygen to my clients only (I had only two cans). I carried
one woman on my shoulders (I helped her, but she was able to move herself) - we
covered 400 meters in 40 minutes, strong wind into face. I was simply carrying
her. Charlotte Fox. It is better not to be in such a situation. Now she did not
remember and does not understand this. A professional can understand, but again,
a professional will say - why did you enter such a situation? You should have
foreseen it. If you are there - it is your fault.
Last year the tragedy was actively discussed on the West. What will appear in
Russia? Six people died this year?
Anatoly: About the West. I understood after the last year tragedy that
any catastrophe, any accident attracts TV, media. Media are eager to see tragedies.
If our Everest climb would be perfect - nobody would ever think about it. And
now everybody remembers qualities of these people - as it usually happens after
death. In the West it is also related with money. Making what I made you expect
some attention, respect, but, in contrast, they started to discuss the tragedy
everywhere. Yes, there are a lot of deaths. Last year we made a perfect climb
in Himalaya, were going back in minivan and had an accident. 24 years old climber
died. Many different things happen.
mountaineering lost its best climber. We should focus not on the next death, but
on the next guy, who will contribute more to glory of Russian mountaineering.
Bashkirov did a lot and we have to remember him.
after the last year tragedy I do not like many of things happening on the West.
People make incredible money on it, showing things, as America wants, not the
real picture. Now Hollywood is making a movie. I do not know how will they imagine
me - with a Red star, with banner in hands - and how will they show this to American
society. It is clear, that it will be completely different from the reality.
Did they discuss this with you?
Anatoly: Yes, they try to negotiate, but… It is not important. I would
like that in Russia it would be different from the West when any negative event
is used to make money. And people forget about everything when they speak about
money - you can rewrite history as you like.
Base Camp, Nepal, May 1997.
video by © Victor Kozlov 1997
(redaction) © Elena Laletina 2002
© Gleb Sokolov 1997