Maurice Herzog led an expedition of French Alpinists that in 1950 became the first to summit an 8,000 meter peak, Annapurna. His stirring account remains the best selling mountain adventure book to this day – more copies having been sold than even Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Herzog’s final line: “There are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men” has been an inspiration to many.
Herzog died last week which is why I dug up my copy of the book, the cover of which you see above. Interesting how cartoonish the image appears to us these many years later. Had to be that way, I guess, because the nature of the narrative had not yet entered the common consciousness, hadn’t become part of the zeitgeist. Sir Edmund Hillary, National Geographic, and the likes of Patagonia have changed all that.
Subsequent books, one by Herzog’s daughter, portray him as having been controlling and egocentric. Other members of the team had to sign a pledge not to publish their own accounts of the climb until long after his was on the market. This resulted in the diminution of the heroic efforts of the others, particularly his partner on the summit Louis Lachenal. M Lachenal remained essentially unknown while Herzog was highly decorated and went on to hold important government posts.
Whatever happened, it remains an incredible and famously macabre tale. According to Herzog, Lachenal suggested that conditions were too severe, that they retreat. They of course did go on to make it to the top and back down, but at the cost of terrible frostbite. The attempts by Dr Oudot to minimize the ramifications of exposure to high altitude and low temperature can only be described as horrific. They lost all fingers and toes.
Whatever he may have been, his description of his first time in the Alps sure makes me think about doing something other than stare into a screen: “I believe what I felt that day closely resembles what we call happiness. I also believe that if I felt such happiness in such rigorous circumstances it is because the planned, organized, predigested happiness that the modern world offers is not complete. It leaves certain sides of man’s nature unsatisfied”.
He wrote that in 1953. Jeesh.
*The quote appeared in his NYT obituary – 12/15/12