Yesterday the mountaineering community lost a legend when French climber Maurice Herzog passed away at the age of 93. Herzog is best remembered as the first man to summit an 8000-meter (26,600-foot) peak when he, along with climbing partner Louis Lachenal, successfully summited Annapurna back in 1950, an accomplishment that wouldn’t be replicated for another 20 years.
The ascent was not an easy one and the men struggled to climb without using supplemental oxygen. Near the summit, Herzog lost his gloves, which would later prove to be a costly mistake. On the descent, he, Lachenal and two other teammates were forced to camp over night without shelter and only one sleeping bag between them. Huddled in a crevasse, they managed to survive and complete their descent the following day. But severe frostbite in their fingers and toes forced the expedition doctor to perform emergency amputations, removing most of Herzog’s digits.
The following year, the Frenchman would publish a book about the climb entitled “Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8000-Meter Peak,” which would go on to sell more than 11 million copies in 40 different languages, making it the best selling mountaineering book of all time. Some of Herzog’s account of events on the climb have proven to be controversial over the years, but his book has served to inspire generations of mountaineers that followed.All told, there are just 14 mountains that rise above 8000 meters on our planet and of those, Annapurna is the tenth tallest. It is probably the hardest of all of those peaks to climb, however, claiming more lives per successful summit than any other. It is well known for having terrible weather, tough technical challenges and a predisposition for avalanches, all of which can make it a nightmare to climb. For comparison sake, Mt. Everest, has seen around 5000 successful summits over the years, while Annapurna has been climbed less than 200 times.
In honor of the passing of Maurice Herzog, here is a video of a recent expedition to scale the mountain, which provides some context on its challenges. After watching the short film, consider what it must have been like for Herzog and his team more than 60 years ago.
[Photo Credit: Wolfgang Beyer]