|Image from hec.fr
While browsing Twitter this morning I read the sad news that Maurice Herzog, first man (along with Louis Lachenal) to climb an 8,000m peak, has died at the age of 93.
In 1950 he made the first ascent of Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world. The early 1950s were a climactic time for mountaineering, when strong teams from a variety of nations competed to be the first to climb the highest peaks. This era ended with the first ascent of Everest in 1953. Some say that these events were the last echoes of a dying Imperialism, but I think it’s something more splendid than that: the irrepressible, unconquerable desire to explore the highest places on Earth.
Herzog’s 1950 expedition explored and climbed the peak all in the space of one season, and without the use of supplemental oxygen. They achieved the highest point, but the descent took two weeks and both climbers suffered severely from frostbite. Gaston Rebuffat is another name you might know from the era; he was also on the expedition, and his experiences can be relived in his enchanting books.
Herzog’s book on the expedition, Annapurna, is one of the most important classics in mountain literature and a stunning piece of work. However, as the great man himself says so clearly, “There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men,” and Herzog was more than just a climber: he was also a politician, leader, businessman, and soldier. He was also mayor of Chamonix from 1968 to 1977.
I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture in Chamonix, 2008, in which Maurice Herzog spoke about his Annapurna adventure. He was an inspiring speaker and remarkably humble when talking about his extraordinary life.
The climbing community has lost yet another legend of the 20th Century.