Why didn’t Fischer insist everyone use oxygen?

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Jon Krakauer

Why didn’t Fischer insist everyone use oxygen?
Question: Jon,

What are your opinions of Anatoli Boukreev’s decision to guide a team of inexperienced Indonesians to the summit of Everest this spring? Also, interestingly, in reading the interview with Scott Fischer in Outside Online last March 31, he
already knew (six weeks before the tragedy) that Boukreev would not be using oxygen: “I think that there are a couple of people that are hoping to be able to climb without oxygen. Anatoli I know will not be using oxygen. Anatoli is an animal, a monster, that’s great. But there will be oxygen for him on the South Col.”

Did you think at the time that Fischer should have insisted on Boukreev using oxygen? And why did he let him go without?


Rich Weber

Jon: Dear Rich,

In my book, I criticize Anatoli for certain aspects of his performance as a guide on Everest in 1996 (I also praise him effusively and sincerely for his courage in rescuing Sandy Pittman and Charlotte Fox). This year, however, Anatoli made it very clear to the Indonesians that his role on the expedition would not be that of a guide in the
standard sense of the term; instead he would function merely as a coach and adviser — a role better suited to his personality and climbing philosophy. And I should hasten to point out that under Anatoli’s coaching, an Indonesian reached the summit this year — and all members of the expedition got off the
mountain alive.

My criticisms of Anatoli’s behavior in 1996 were rooted in the fact that Scott Fischer paid him $25,000 to perform as a full-fledged guide, not simply as an adviser. And I believe that a guide’s primary concern should be the welfare of his or her clients — which, on Everest, means that it is inexcusable for a guide to climb without using bottled oxygen (this opinion,
by the way, is shared by every guide I have spoken with, including Everest veterans Alex Lowe, Ed Veisturs, Peter Athans, Guy Cotter, and David Breashears). As leader of the Mountain Madness expedition, it was Scott’s responsibility to insist that Anatoli climb with oxygen; don’t know why he didn’t do that.

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