Today is Anatoli Boukreev’s birthday.
Anatoli Boukreev (1958–1997) was a man of extraordinary strength, will and courage. He was one of the pioneers of skyrunning. Kazakhstan’s foremost mountaineer, one of the best mountaineers in the USSR, he was a legendary figure in the world mountaineering history.
This harsh man, a man of few words, had a poet’s soul. Underneath his dazzling yellow The North Face jacket he would carry a film camera on which he captured the highest and the most beautiful summits of the planet.
Born in the Urals, Boukreev lived in the foothills of Trans-Ili Alatau; his partner lived in New Mexico, USA. But he spent most of the time alone, on the winded glaciers of the Pamirs, atop snow-covered summits of the Tien Shan and among the mind-blowing Himalayas. “Mountains have the power to call us into their realms…” he wrote in his famous poem.
Eighteen times he ascended to the summit of eleven eight-thousanders, the highest peaks of the planet. In May 1996, during the descent from Everest, Anatoli Boukreev, alone, carried out an unprecedented rescue operation: in the face of a blizzard and conditions beyond extreme he saved three American climbers.
In early December 1997 Anatoli Boukreev, along with an Italian mointaineer Simone Moro and Kazakhstani climber and cinematographer Dmitri Sobolev, started an attempt to summit Annapurna, one of the highest and most dangerous peaks in the world.
On Christmas Day, December 25, 1997, an avalanche came down to the route the group was following. Heavy torrent of snow, ice and stones covered the mountaineers and knocked them down. Simone Moro miraculously survived. With head and hand injuries the Italian mountaineer descended to the base camp and reported the tragedy. The search team of mointaineers from Almaty led by an experienced summiteer Rinat Khaibullin that arrived at the avalance site had no success in finding Boukreev and Sobolev. The following spring Rinat Khaibullin and Simone Moro came back to the accident site and made another attempt to find Anatoli Boukreev and Dmitri Sobolev but never did.
Anatoli Boukreev once wrote a poem:
Mountains have the power to call us into
their realms and there, left forever, are our
friends whose great souls were longing for
the heights. Do not forget the mountaineers
who have not returned from the summits…
Anatoli Boukreev’s life echoed every single line of his poem…
The American Alpine Club awarded Anatoli Boukreev the David A. Sowles Memorial Award for “unselfish devotion at personal risk or sacrifice”; and the United States House of Representatives officially expressed gratitude and honored the Kazakh mountaineer. For his bravery and unexampled devotion Anatoli Boukreev was posthumously awarded the Erligi Ushin (“For Courage”) medal in Kazakhstan.
After the Annapurna tragedy, its only survivor, the Italian alpinist Simone Moro, takes a flag of Kazakhstan on every ascension in tribute to his friend Anatoli Boukreev.
In 1999, Linda Wylie, an American mountaineer, doctor and Boukreev’s companion, set up a memorial to the perished mountaineer at the site of Annapurna base camp. She placed the plaque on the stone Boukreev had taken a fancy to. Before his last ascent Boukreev would often sit alone on that stone.
The memorial has Boukreev’s quote on it:
“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
One of the peaks in Trans-Ili Alatau, not far from the place outside Almaty where Boukreev lived, was named after him. Every year, alpinists, skyrunners and mountain tourists, Almatians and people from hundreds of other cities of the planet climb that summit. Here, at Boukreev’s peak, they commemorate the great, laconic and harsh mountaineer with a poet’s heart who lived among these mountains, who always was and always will be on top.
Timur Nusimbekov (translated by Malika Autalipova)