Anatoli Boukreev
Anatoli Boukreev
Anatoli Boukreev
Legendary Climber Killed on Annapurna

Anatoli Boukreev, 39, an accomplished but virtually unknown Russian climber who moved into the media spotlight in the wake of the tragic Mount Everest climb of May 1996, died Christmas Day in an avalanche on Annapurna.

Dimitri Sobolev
Dimitri Sobolev

Boukreev and Italian climber Simone Moro, 30, were attempting to climb a new route, alpine style, in winter, on 26,700-foot (8,091 meter) Annapurna in the Himalayas of Nepal. Russian cinematographer Dimitri Sobolev was with the climbers when an avalanche, apparently triggered by a falling cornice, caught the three men at approximately 19,500 feet on the south side of the mountain. Moro was carried 800 feet down the mountain in the slide but managed to stay on top of the avalanche. When he stood up, however, there was no sign of the other two men.

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Hope lingered for Boukreev and his photographer for more than a week as weather hampered helicopter search efforts. Lt. Col. Madan K.C., who became famous for the daring helicopter rescue of Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau off Everest in 1996, flew at least two helicopter search missions with inconclusive results in marginal conditions. The deaths of Boukreev and Sobolev were finally confirmed on January 4 when a ground party of Sherpas and Kazak climbers (Rinat Khaibullin, Surgey Oucharanko, Andrey Molotov and Dimitri Muravyov ) found no sign of the missing men. Much of the rescue organization was done by Nima Sherpa of Cho Oyu Trekking in Kathmandu, and the sherpa climbers who found Boukreev's camera and clothing were Purba and Ang Tsering.

Boukreev's American girlfriend, Linda Wylie of Santa Fe, New Mexico, traveled to Annapurna base camp during the search efforts. When the search party reported it could not find the missing men, Wylie said, "there is no longer any hope of finding him alive. I only hope the searchers will locate his body for a proper burial in a crevasse. Anatoli would like to stay in the mountains."

Boukreev was an extremely experienced high-altitude climber who learned his craft in the grueling programs of the former Soviet Union's mountain sports federation. When the Soviet Union unraveled, Boukreev looked to the West; he began guiding in the Himalayas informally, eventually joining up with Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness for the May 1996 attempt on Mount Everest. The tragic and contentious events of that climb are by now well known through Jon Krakauer's best-selling book, Into Thin Air, and a second book, The Climb, co-authored by Boukreev and Weston DeWalt. Boukreev said that he decided to write his own account of the summit day tragedy, which claimed eight lives on May 10, 1996, because it was his belief that Krakauer's account had inaccurately reported his actions and motivations.

Boukreev said in May 1997 that he was haunted by what he felt was unfair criticism of his actions during the Everest tragedy. [Click for that interview.] The climber was vindicated to an extent, however, when The American Alpine Club awarded him the David Sowles Award, its highest award for courage, for his efforts in bringing Sandy Hill Pittman, Charlotte Fox and Tim Madsen back from a stormy South Col to Camp IV alive.

It was the 1996 Everest tragedy that brought Anatoli Boukreev to the public's attention, but his record of hard climbs stands by itself. He was among the most active high-altitude climbers of recent times, with four 8000 meter peaks climbed within 80 days earlier in the year (Everest, Lhotse, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum II). When he was killed on Annapurna, he was making an almost unheard of winter attempt on an 8000 meter peak in a modern, lightweight style.

Boukreev, who maintained a residence in the Kazakstan capital of Alma Ata, had most recently been living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone staff

May Your Spirit Rise Higher Than Mountains
New Year's greeting to The Mountain Zone from Anatoli Boukreev

May your spirit rise higher than mountains! I have returned from my Fall expeditions and all my pain of the Summer has lifted somewhat from my spirit into the crystal air of the Himalaya. Compelled: in that world you may know yourselves and beauty that is eternal. The very best to you in the coming year.

Anatoli Boukreev
Santa Fe, New Mexico
January 1, 1997