Thursday, 24 November 2016

Book Review: After The Wind by Lou Kasischke

Near the top of Mount Everest, on 10 May 1996, eight climbers died. It was the worst tragedy in the mountain's history. Lou Kasischke was there. Now he tells the harrowing story of what went wrong, as it has never been told before - including why the climbers were desperately late and out of time. His personal story, captured in the title AFTER THE WIND, tells about the intense moments near the top. These moments also revealed the love story that saved his life.

My Review: 
I have always been interested in reading more about the Everest disaster of 1996, ever since I read Into Thin Air. I've hunted down books by the other survivors to get their thoughts on the disaster and to see what all the survivors seem to agree on and where their accounts differ. I think that's the best way to get a true picture of what was happening in the disaster. This book was an excellent read, right up there with Into Thin Air.

On one previous climb, Lou kept details about a dangerous incident from his wife and when she found out, she made him promise to climb safer and make better decisions. It's advice that saved his life on Everest. Lou details the climb and the decision to turn around and retreat to Camp Four just as the storm was gathering, which got him to safety just in time. He is very critical of some of the things that happen and lists his reasons for the disaster and what mistakes were made by who. I liked that he was being direct about it and his story was very compelling because of it.

The mistakes:
-lack of oxygen-each climber was assigned enough oxygen for their climb without taking into account those needing more to get up certain parts and not taking account of delays which proved fatal on the day.
-turnaround time was set too late in the day to make it slowly and safely to camp before dark and it was not stuck to anyway.
-dissention in the teams over whether or not to make the summit bid-bad weather had come in every afternoon at the same time and would catch them returning from summit so some wanted to wait an extra day to see if things improved but Rob Hall said the climb was on and nobody wanted to contradict him. Other teams decide not to go and Anatoli Boukreev was vocal in his opposition. Did he do his super fast climb so he could rest for a few hours in case he was needed for a later rescue? I found his opposition very interesting.
-an hour of warning was given that the climb was to start and several people were unhappy at not being consulted and Lou himself was reluctant to go.
-the oxygen units used by this team never seemed to work
-Beck Weathers decides to turn around but instead of sending a guide or Sherpa to help him down he is left alone for many hours in the cold waiting for someone to help him down when he should have been safe at camp hours ahead of everyone else.
-the most inexperienced guide led the climb, who had never climbed Everest with Rob at the back so everyone had to stop and wait each time Rob was needed to deal with something, delays which used up oxygen.
-nobody on the two main teams followed through on the plan to get ropes fixed before the climbers reached where they were needed, leading to a couple of hours delay and a bottleneck.
-Rob Hall did not turn his team around on seeing a 28 climber bottleneck, lack of oxygen supply and turnaround time approaching.
-Rob Hall waited 90 minutes on summit for Doug Hansen to complete a 15 minute walk to join him and Doug was too exhausted to get back down, killing him, Rob and Andy.

The first man to turn back had been a vocal critic of the decision to climb-Frank Fischbeck, one of the strongest on the team. Next was Doug Hansen who was feeling ill and planned to retreat but changed his mind and continued. These decisions saved Frank and killed Doug and Rob. At the South Summit John Taske and Stuart Hutchison decided the bottleneck of climbers ahead meant no chance of summiting and getting back in a safe time so they turned around. It saved their lives. Lou decides to follow not long after. Only two of the six on the team who continued up came back alive and they had been way ahead of the others so had plenty time to summit. Those who turned around made it to camp with visibility dropping as the weather came in. Those still on the mountain who reached summit early only just got back in safely and everyone else was trapped in the storm.

Most of this book concurs with what Into Thin Air says other than a debate over the South Summit and Hillary Step ropes. Lou says Anatoli used old rope at the former to get to Hillary Step but Jon says Anatoli and others fixed new rope there. I need to read Anatoli's book to see what he says he did but it isn't a major issue. The fact remains that it was left to Anatoli to offer a solution to the missing new rope which smacks of bad preperation. He did have to fix a new rope on the Hillary Step. It is easy with oxygen running out and exhaustion for a slight mix up in geography.

It is scary to read the accounts of those trapped in the storm who thought they were going to die and even those who got back safe were exhausted and snow blind, unable to assist in any of the rescue. But the really shocking thing here is that if both team leaders had followed their own safety advice then nobody had to die. I don't like to speak ill of the dead but the leaders were at fault in poor decision making all through the disaster. Ropes not fixed, oxygen not working and not enough spare, turnaround time not enforced, sick climbers pushing on instead of getting back to camp and business decisions being put ahead of safety.

If you have read Into Thin Air, you should like this book. Lou does not hold back when he thinks that somebody made mistakes and it is an excellent account of a personal climb in the middle of disaster.

Read June 2016. 
star rating photo: 5 Star Rating 5stars.jpg

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