Neal Beidleman's Return to Mount Everest
By Neal BeidLeman
I always believed that some of what Anatoli (or his author) had said in his book was spun to support his early descent from the summit. Clearly, as a professional climber, his climbing reputation meant everything to him, and for him to admit any kind of personal foible during the climb was not going to happen. The irony is that in his dogmatic purist style of no-oxygen climbing, it was the lack of oxygen that made him leave when and where he was most needed. As a result, for some people, it tarnished the very reputation he sought to protect. His descent off the mountain that day in ’96 was never intended to be coldhearted or negligent. It was simply the reality of climbing without oxygen and the effects it had on his power and reasoning.
I wish I could have shared these thoughts with Anatoli before his passing and been able to convince him that his heroic rescue of people from the Col would be more than enough to make up for any understandable, and very human, error in judgment or oversight earlier in the day. But that possibility ended when the turmoil of Everest partially influenced Anatoli to seek out the most ambitious, and in his mind, redemptive of routes on Annapurna.
As for me, unsuspectingly, the insidiously dangerous and unforgiving effects of high-altitude climbing tapped me on the shoulder again, forcing me to relive not just what happened, but how it can all happen to anyone, even Anatoli, one of the strongest climbers of his generation. With it, reconciliation came while climbing with Anatoli and Scott’s presence to the summit of Everest a second time. It has given me a greater understanding and, with that, peace, than I ever anticipated could come from returning. And for that I am thankful.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEAL BEIDLEMAN