Country Focus: Kazakhstan (Qazaqstan in Kazakh)
Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer
By Anatoli Boukreev
Translated by Natalia Lagovskaya and Barbara Poston
Collected and edited by Linda Wylie
Foreward by Galen Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001
About the author: Boukreev perished in an avalanche on Annapurna in 1997. At Annapurna’s basecamp lies a memorial bearing his words: “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
Anatoli Boukreev made 18 ascents over 8,000 meters, ten of those without the use of supplemental oxygen. His climbs included speed ascents, solo ascents and winter ascents. His strength and endurance were so incredible that in 1997 he climbed four 8,000 meter peaks (Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, Mount Everest and Lhotse) in 80 days. Boukreev may be familiar to some readers; he served as a guide on Scott Fischer’s ill-fated Mountain Madness expedition to Mount Everest in May 1996. A blizzard killed eight climbers, including Fischer. In his bestselling novel Into Thin Air, John Krakauer found fault with Boukreev’s actions during the crisis. His criticisms greatly disturbed Boukreev and spurred him to write his own account of events called The Climb.
Friends Lynda Wylie and world-renowned photographer Galen Rowell contributed helpful introductions to Above the Clouds, providing context for readers unfamiliar with Boukreev. Although his journal entries, which span the years 1989-1997, include descriptions of his various climbs, Boukreev’s writing not only relays the details of these athletic feats, but also reveals a sensitive heart. One of his greatest frustrations and sorrows was that the breakup of the Soviet Union led to a failure in support and funding for alpine schools and alpinists. However, nothing could stop him from climbing the world’s highest peaks: not finances, not health concerns, not language barriers. Boukreev believed that the mountains brought out the best in him, and that through them, he could recognize his true potential as a human being. An inspiring read.
Now, recalling Kachenjunga’s storehouses of snow makes my heart ache like memories of a love that has been lost. Six years, not six months, will pass and I know that I will feel this same way. She possessed a purity and grandeur that are incomparable. Her summits provide reasons that make the human struggle for physical and spiritual perfection meaningful, motivators that are more profound than vain aspirations for fame or wealth. Perhaps this sounds idealistic, but my experiences on Kachenjunga make these reasons seem shallow and vulgar.
Confronted with the petty concerns of my ordinary life, I feel empty, as if I am wasting a priceless gift…the brief time that is allotted to each human for creativity. Days pass and my work does not generate the strength and eagerness to live, which memories of the mountain inspire in me. Perhaps this melancholy will pass when there is another magnificent peak. In truth I do not know. Can this longing and restlessness be the price that mortals pay for daring to trespass in the houses of the Gods…the price you pay for disturbing the peace of God?