Herzog was a French alpinist most famously associated with the conquest of Annapurna in June 1950. This was the first 8000 metre peak to be climbed, a feat made more remarkable by the climbers' decision not to use supplemental oxygen during the climb. Although the climb was successful the descent became a two-week epic, from which Herzog narrowly escaped with his life.
Herzog's book of the expedition, Annapurna, has long been regarded as one of the most significant and inspirational texts in the mountaineering genre.
Herzog subsequently enjoyed successful careers in politics (including as French Minister for Sport from 1958 - 1963) and sports administration (including as a member of the International Olympic Committee from 1970 - 1995).
Herzog's military service during WWII was recongnised by the French Government which awarded him the Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre.
Well written but pretty self-aggrandizing account of the 1st summit of 8,000 m peak.
On the one hand it's cool to read about how they did things 60 years ago - starting with finding the actual mountain! Since no 8,000 m peak had ever been climbed (this was 3 yrs before Hillary/Tenzing on Everest) nothing was a given including what face to assault and how to actually get there in the first place!
Later learned Herzog forced all other members of his party to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (legal waivers that prohibited them from writing personal accounts of the climb) - thus making his account the ONLY one out there. Right there I began to have a problem with his story and it appears there are many views on this.
Google the 'controversy' surrounding this book if you're interested as it appears Herzog's account of his magnificent summit is suspect.
As for the account of 2 guys making their way up/down mighty Annapurna, dodging snow storms, crevasses, avalanches and all the other fun stuff that can happen 8,000 m in the Himalaya (while outfitted in 1950's gear) it definitely delivers. Add to this that smokes and sleeping pills were a routine part of their day and you start to get an idea of how crazy this expedition was!
Seen by many as the bible of mountaineering it also is a reminder that 'history' is written by the winners (and those with legal contracts!). Apparently his summit partner Louis Lechenal was completely left out of celebrations, acclaim and awards to such a degree that when you google Herzog's name there is virtually ZERO mention of him!!
Contrast that with the graceful and dignified manner employed by Hillary after climbing Everest - giving as much credit to Tenzing Norgay as himself and even going so far as to refuse to say who actually summited first to ensure neither member of this team would gain credit over the other!
The writer or the translator described the events in this book in a way that made it not worth my time. I was astoundingly impressed with what was accomplished considering the technology they had, while smoking, but found myself scanning through pages that left a lot to be desired.
The summit of Annapurna was a masterpiece of climbing, and the book is nothing short of a bible for enthusiasts… however, if you’re new to the genre I would still recommend Eiger Dreams by Krakauer. Its much more approachable and far less studied. Annapurna took a while to get off the ground both for the men tackling the rock and for the narrative. They had to find and scout the mountain, set up supply chains, and it was all very tedious, necessary and excruciating. The narrative suffered for it, unless you are really into rudimentary logistics as a hobby- its important that’s its there, it shows the scale of their feat, patience, and tenacity, but it’s a bit tiresome to read.
Their successful summit was miraculous, and would not be repeated again for many years. Even today, in the face of the growing commercialism of Everest, Annapurna remains one of the deadliest mountains, having only been summited around 200 times. Reading about the summit is mind boggling, and fills the reader with a heady dreaminess. I know there is controversy surrounding Herzog’s attitude/actions on the summit, Lachenal acting like a much more experienced climber, noting danger signs, etc… but given what we now know about the effects of HAPE and debilitated thinking with decreased oxygen, if it doesn’t explain some of his “out of body” experience and subsequent troubling decisions. Still, it is this section, and the sections pertaining to the gangrene and amputations to follow that are must reads for all would-be climbers. This was a beautiful endeavor, and while no lives were lost, livelihood was, it is always important to remember that the mountains can choose to exact their price whenever they choose.
I'm torn between one star and five. Five star for the high adventure, one star for how the the expedition team treated the locals. This book gives account of 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, where they have to actually locate the mountain first before climbing it. The book itself is a page turner, I practically finished the last half or more in one sitting. While all these are fine and dandy, what is NOT okay is to force, yes, literally force the villagers to work as porters, take the load of the expedition and even carry the injured members of the expeditions. What was it to the unsuspecting labor working in a paddy field who were forced to act as coolies that these white men lost their toes trying to summit a 8000 meter mountain? What part of all the glory and pride did they gain? What good is an expedition, if it has to be carried, literally, by slave labor?
I love mountaineering and this is the king of mountaineering books. The story of the first 8000 meter mountain to be climbed. The first to be climbed on the first try. Yet, Annapurna still remains the most difficult mountain on Earth to climb. Maurice Herzog's team of French mountaineers suffered greatly for claiming Annapurna's summit, but in the end all I could say is, "They just don't build men like they used to." This crew of post-colonialism adventurers bit off more than they could handled, but still managed to swallow while choking. A must read for anyone even if you have no interest in mountaineering.
This was one of the first adult books I read as a child about 60 yrs ago. I still remember how much I loved it. I have recommended it to a couple of my grandchildren as a reminder that there will be many challenges in life, most conquerable with determination.
As pretty much summed up in the description, this is the story of the first ascent of an 8000’er peak. Back in 1950, there was no idea of climbing a peak of such a status. The maps provided by Surveyor General of India and other governmental agencies were insufficient, inaccurate and sometimes misleading. With such maps and an appalling quality of climbing equipment, Herzog and team made it up to the summit of the mighty Annapurna. It surely was a huge feat and opened new possibilities in the field of mountaineering.
The book started with Herzog and team setting off from French Alpine Club. The team surely looked confidant and competitive, none who would lack any climbing skill. I liked the way how this entire expedition was thought of. The climbing from one camp to another, setting up a camp, going out for reconnaissance, finding routes, looking for possibilities, all sounded highly inspiring and motivating to a climber like me. It gave me a fresh outlook of how things were done in those times, how a real route finding/opening was done. At this point, Herzog looked like an elite mountaineer who knew what to do when and how to go about it. The team also kept pace with his thoughts and carried on the expedition.
However, things changed after they decided to abandon their original plan of climbing Dhaulagiri and turned their attention to Annapurna. The prospect looked good. But, there was something about the way they climbed that troubled me.
I found Maurice highly dominating and somewhat a narcissist. All I read in the book was about “I did this, I planned this, I called out for this, I risked this, I went through this, etc.” There was no “we” element in the entire account. I think he just focused on what he wanted or what he felt.
Surprisingly, everybody in the team blindly followed him even when it seemed wrong. Nobody seemed to express their views. I was getting a little suspicious about the entire account and searched online about this expedition. Turns out that there are many conflicting views of Herzog and other climbers. In fact, Herzog had made all his fellow climbers sign some papers stating that no one should write their own account about the expedition for a stipulated amount of time. This came in as a surprise and sadly my suspicions were confirmed.
Since, we are talking only about this account of the ascent of Annapurna; I will rest my suspicion aside and consider this book to be a true account of the climb.
There were many unsettling things in the way Herzog conducted himself. After reading this book, I felt that he had a habit of imposing his opinions on others, highly conceited, inconsiderate towards the safety of his fellow climbers. Moreover, he didn't even treated the Sherpas right. Calling them coolies and forcing tasks over them is certainly not what a mountaineer does! A few extracts from the book:
“Looking all about me, I felt an exhilarating sense of domination, and complete confidence in our victory.”
“I was delighted to be able to tell them that Annapurna was practically in the bag!”
Coming to the story, according to the hazardous situation explained about Camp V, I think it was pointless to carry on the expedition beyond that. It was becoming pretty obvious from the analysis of Herzog himself that the weather is uncertain, it will be highly dangerous to carry on climbing that too with little pieces of information they had about climbing Annapurna.
Lachenal who came across as a sensible man wanted to go back to lower camps. Somehow, because Herzog wanted to carry on, Lachenal decided to go on with him. On the retreat, both somehow managed to make it to Camp V but with frostbitten feet and hands. The descent from Camp V to lower camps looks a little sketchy. Also Herzog and Lachenal because of their medical condition hardly did anything on their own to climb down. Thanks to the rest of the team and sherpas, both were brought back alive. But isn’t a summit of any mountain just a halfway of the entire expedition? Isn’t climbing down more difficult than just ascending and summiting a peak? Will this even qualify as a true summit? I don’t know. I leave this question to pioneer mountaineers reading my review.
The entire time after coming down to Camp V, Herzog was only interested in his treatment and how he will get down (obviously with the tremendous effort of his team and sherpas). He continuously blabbered on about his medical condition paying less or no heed to what other climbers were going through. Didn’t he have any moral sense of responsibility towards them? After all he was the one who lead everybody in such a disaster. I didn’t see any remorse in his speech. The last few chapters were full of unimportant information and Herzog’s pain and agony. I kept rolling my eyes now and then as it had started to bug me.
Herzog’s only motivation to climb Annapurna was glory. I don’t know how much love he had for mountains, for climbing and for himself but glory was the only thing we was concerned with even if it meant to have it at the cost of his and his fellow climbers’ life.
“Henceforth only one thing would count- the victory that we had brought back, that would remain forever with us as a miraculous consolation.”
After reading this book, I went into my shell to really take all this in. I introspected a lot about what climbing means to me, is glory more important than someone’s or my own life? I will not call myself a mountaineer. I am a routine climber who likes to go hiking in the Himalayas. I have done a few mountaineering courses though. I have been taught and have experienced living a rugged life. I have felt the pain of not being able to scale a peak, have rejoiced moments when I did, have had a few ups and downs like every other climber.
This book posed a very important question to me. Will I ever want to risk my life for glory? Will I ever want to risk all that I have for one summit? The answer is NO. I do not think that any mountain summit is worth giving my life for. No summit/expedition is worth risking my hands and my feet. Though, I will never shy away from going to THE next level, I will not shy away from taking calculated risks. I will not think twice if my expedition leader thinks that it is worth going for. That is totally a different scenario. But if it is already clear that proceeding for the summit means inviting danger and peril to me or my fellow climbers, I will not be able to climb further. I remember my instructors telling me that “if you are alive and well, you can scale a peak/climb anytime. The peak will not go anywhere. But if you die/get injured it is impossible to come back and climb the peak”.
In today’s time, when mountaineering has been highly commercialized, I think this is the most relevant question and topic of all times. We hear reports and news about so many accidents on Everest and other peaks where the climber did not listen to his expedition leader and put his life and his team’s life in danger. We hear people climbing Everest for a record “x” number of times to claim records. Today, people climb only for glory and not for the love of mountains or climbing. It is indeed a sad plight. In this book too, Herzog climbed and acclaimed glory but at what cost? He was not able to climb for the rest of his life. He could have easily aborted his mission when he realized that the weather is bad and it will be perilous to go further. With fresh start and fresh information, the team could have easily summited next year. I feel bad for the rest of the team. I understand that Herzog has been acclaimed as a pioneer mountaineer but to me he came across as a total jerk!
Then why the 3 stars? I liked how Herzog explained how he carried on the expedition initially. At that time he had a clear and a logical way to go around things. The 3 stars are just for the initial chapters.
Recommendations: I would recommend this book to mountaineering enthusiasts to learn how reconnaisance can be carried out. On the other hand, also to learn what not to do in an expedition.
A readable telling of the first summiting of an 8000m mountain - a few years before Hillary climbed Everest with Tensing. It was the days of bare-footed porters, climbers smoking cigarettes at any given opportunity and Indian Survey maps which only vaguely resemble to actual lie of the land. In fact a chapter is devoted to wandering about attempting to locate Annapurna. There is some controversy over whether the climb eventuated the way this book is told, where Herzog does take a lot of the glory of the expedition.
Regardless of how romanticised the story told is, and despite the fact I have read quite a lot of mountain climbing books, I really don't fundamentally understand the personal drive required for climbing. To me it is absolute madness to push on regardless of common sense, knowing that if you somehow do survive, frostbite and the loss of fingers, toes or worse will render you less able to climb again in the future, let alone anything else!
One thing I found strange about the translation, as I suspect that is where it occurred, is the constant changing of units of measure. Metres, feet, millimetres, inches, miles... it is just all over the show, sometimes within the same sentence or paragraph. Obviously a French expedition, so the metric system should have been relevant. Maybe Herzog himself was too used to conversing with those peoples who were still suffering the imperial system of measure... given the year, most had not metricated by this time. There are even three hold-outs today - lets hear it for the USA, Liberia and Myanmar.
In the fog of war, as they say, the first casualty is the truth. And then there's that age-old question: "What is truth?"
In recounting battles, human struggles involving multiple and shifting individual perspectives -- from individuals focused intensely on their own pains, goals, survival fears and tunnel visions -- which of their accounts best tell a tale? This perpetual conundrum, it seems, applies just as equally to the avocation of mountaineering, typically a group activity where humans are struggling to conquer in the face of great suffering. When you're struggling up a vertical ice glacier, trying merely to keep a toe hold and not fall to your death, can you see much of what's going on around you? After the famous disaster on Mt. Everest in 1996, a slew of books from different participants on that fatal tragedy all presented their own takes; different fingers pointed different ways. Who were the heroes and who were the villains depended on which witness you asked. One, as a reader, has to consider the kaleidoscope through different prisms to settle on one's own version of what happened.
For decades, this Ur-text of the mountaineering literature, Annapurna... by French mountaineering leader, Maurice Herzog, was the only book about the famous 1950 expedition and successful summiting of Annapurna in the Himalayan range, the first conquest of an 8,000-meter peak in history. It told the story entirely from Herzog's view, with his prejudices, his self-serving motivations, his perspective on what it meant to climb and to relate to others, both his French companions and the "backward" locals. The book held generations of mountaineering aspirants in thrall. In the days before mountaineering books became as common as vampire romances, there wasn't much to choose from, and this book held sway among the sparse pickings. It's easy to see why it made such an impression. It's flavorful, highly detailed, sometimes exciting, often banal in the way that detailed things can be, occasionally wryly humorous, and variable in its quality. Herzog can be a poet one minute and a dullard the next. As a non-writer, he did pretty well, all told.
Years later, controversy emerged as historians, mountaineers and others affiliated with the Herzog expedition began to discount large parts of his story. Much of it seems to center around Herzog taking too much credit for things other people did, or for being a less chivalrous leader than he depicted himself to be. The recent book, True Summit purports to deflate some of these alleged myths and offer a more balanced account of the adventure. Until I've read it, I can't proffer a judgment. I can only work with the book at hand.
Reading this, Herzog seems to take great pains to be charitable and fair to his companions. Maybe this is a kind of bluster or false humility, but I can't quite see it.
I'm not gonna lie, the first half of the book is a bit of a slog. After awhile, the details of traversing this pass or that pass become kind of generic. Herzog's crew wandered into virgin territory for Western men; the maps they were using sucked and they had no idea where they were or how to actually get to Annapurna. Their first plan to scale the even-taller Dhaulagiri I, was thwarted by their failure to find a feasible approach, necessiting a shift toward Annapurna. All this mucking about caused them to lose so much time that by the time they'd found a way to Annapurna they were too far behind schedule, and the monsoon season they feared was only days away. This, as it happened, turned out to be a big problem.
The second half of the book is best. The actual climb up Annapurna and the even more hazardous descent, that led to severe frostbite and the sacrifice of a lot of fingers and toes to amputation and painful treatments at crude field hospitals, is the best prose in the book.
The book can't escape the casual racism common to Western accounts of other lands and peoples, though Herzog does often express sensitivity, particularly to the religious ceremonies. That doesn't obviate some fairly cringe-inducing periodisms. At one point, Herzog seems a bit too taken by an adolescent mountain girl, hanging around to comb her hair and remark on her beauty. Hey, they call him Maurice, the Pompatus of love...
Still, in all, I can't discount the courage of these guys. Herzog, a French partisan in World War II, was working with men hardy from the war, and their use of terms like "assault" and "attack" in surmounting their obstacles seems understandable and appropriate. This insane pursuit is a kind of warfare, not far from a suicide mission. After surviving Nazi occupation, there's a certain poignancy to stalwart men wanting to live life this large.
The most interesting takeaway from this account, perhaps, is the working out of the logistics of a large-party climb up a world-class Himalayan peak. There were no good maps, no established trails, no pitons left in the rocks and ice by any previous parties. These guys were working completely from scratch. No Euros had attempted this before, and there was no blueprint, no known dos and don'ts established for such missions: how to divvy up the loads, what was actually essential to take in the heavy packs, how to utilize the Sherpas, where and how often to set up intermediate camps, how long to acclimatize at these heights, whether to risk climbing under severe time constraints or sit it out, etc. Everything, including the gear, was untested in this scenario. The waxing and waning of each man's endurance demonstrates the difficulty in getting all hands in sync at any given time.
Oddly enough some of the best writing in this has nothing to do with mountaineering, as toward the end of the book when the sickly Herzog refuses to take nourishment and his companions chide him into eating protein-rich kidneys to get his strength up. These little moments really add flavor to the account; no pun intended. Herzog even injects a bit of gallows humor as his fingers are being hacked off, which takes the French attitude of c'est la vie to a whole new level.
A question is, does this mountaineering book hold up, now that great writers like Jon Krakauer and Robert Macfarlane have written on the subject in their inimitable ways? Perhaps not, and I'd even hesitate to call it essential at this point, but it's worth the doing if you have an abiding interest in the history of mountaineering.
This is a bit of a slog until they get to Annapurna and start the summit. After that point, it becomes a gripping story. A large part of me finds it hard to believe such adventures are called a success when the only reason many of the French climbing team is alive is because Sherpas literally carried them down the mountain and then all the way to India (while the white men's digits were literally rotting off). In fact the two who sumitted would almost certainly have died. I don't think their French climbing partners would have been able to rescue them as not enough of them were in decent shape. Two of them did provide critical help at Camp IV-V but at a certain point it was up to the backs of the Sherpas to carry these men out. Aside from the impressiveness of the physical challenge I question some of the decisions made high up on the mountain. I know they weren't thinking straight - and they knew that as well - but shouldn't such experienced mountaineers realize that living to climb another day is smarter than endangering so many people to be the first at something? That perhaps keeping all your fingers and toes is a much smarter decision? That taking an extra pair of gloves, in spite of the weight, is a good idea? We don't reward these kinds of smart decisions in western society - the holding-back kind. I wonder if we should. There are also many moments of cultural discomfort with Herzog praising the Sherpas and coolies (as he called them) and then constantly admonishing them to go slowly and be careful as he is carried on their backs. Towards the end of their travels it sounds like they were forcibly enlisting people to help carry things out. Many of these people didn't stick around to be paid but fled when they could. Herzog seems to think those who stayed were ok with being forced to labor as there were smiles all around. The book also leaves me with even more admiration for the modern climbers who do the solo/fast and light/no oxygen thing. Mountaineering is always a bit of a group activity, but for those who solo it as much as possible (thereby limiting the risks/dangers to only oneself) - my hat is off to them.
I'm not a climber -- I'm a tea shop trekker. I've trekked - walked - in approx 50 of Nepal's 75 districts. I love any trek where I know there's a tea shop at least every couple of hours, and some place for a hot meal and a dry bed at the end of the day. Ice picks and crampons are not my thing. That being said, I enjoyed this book immensely. Even if your interest is more about Nepal more than the climbing, I'd recommend this book. It provides a pretty rare look into the Nepal of 1950, that is to say the Nepal that was not yet open to the world. No roads, no embassies (except the British Embassy), so very little exchange with the outside world. These climbers set out to climb the 8000 meter peak Dhaulagiri (and ended up on Annapurna I) without so much as a good map to show them how to get there. Half of their Sherpa/porter crew was carrying nothing but *coins* when they started out, because paper money was not accepted in the villages where they were headed.
Sir Edmund Hillary who just died yesterday, didn't climb Everest til 1953; this climb was in 1950. It was a very, very different world back then. This book is as good a way as any to get a look.
Okej, czytając zdawałam sobie sprawę, że to książka napisana w 1951 roku, a więc powinnam przymknąć oko na pewne rzeczy. Jak rasizm, wyższość białego człowieka, takie tam.
To jednak książka o zdobyciu pierwszego ośmiotysięcznika w historii, co samo w sobie jest fascynujące, bo wspinacze musieli najpierw znaleźć samą górę. Przetrzeć szlak, gdy okazało się, że mapy są całkowicie niezgodne z rzeczywistością. Wyznaczyć trasę i jeszcze tam wejść.
I do pewnego momentu to się czyta dobrze. Ale potem jest już tylko ból dupy, męskie braterstwo, cierpienie, opisy amputacji, które radośnie omijałam, patetyczny styl i jeden wielki wyrzyg wszystkiego.
So! This is something different than nowadays (2022). The first 8000m peak ever climbed (8.091m, 26,483ft). In 1950. No known route. No helicopters to drop you off. Walking all the way from the India-Nepal border. Trial and error. Noone to prepare the way.
I enjoyed the journey very much. I read reviews about how Herzog gave himself all the glory, but I thought that this was not too bad at all. Herzog, more than once, ackknowleged that without his team he would never have made it. Just before the top he does remark that “Lachenal went splendidly.” Although it has to be said that afterwards Herzog got all the glory and Lachenal was not mentioned. That does put a stain on this achievement. It’s like “Into thin Air”, which caused a lot of controversy in the climbing world.
I liked the descriptions of the explorations to find a route. First to Dhaulagiri. But they could not find a route. It was deemed too dangerous and impossible. (Dhaulagiri: 8.167m, 26,795ft. It was first climbed on 13 May 1960 by a Swiss-Austrian-Nepali expedition. Annapurna I is 34 km east of Dhaulagiri)
So it became Annapurna. What follows is a description of setting up camps along the route to the top. What an endouvor! The expedition members (9 Frenchmen and 8 Nepalese sherpas) all had to carry loads. Nothing like how it goes these days. It seems that now all you have to do is follow ropes that sherpas have put up already. Camps are already established. Sure, one has to be in good shape. But it seems in the old days they were more hardened and determined. (Probably I romanticise it too much).
Herzog does not shy away describing the hardships they had to endure going up. Heavy snow, mist, avalanche danger, the proces of hacking steps in the ice and hard snow. It made it all real vivid for me. I am amazed how quick those guys recovered from exertions from day to day.
The push to the top makes for exciting reading.
The last pitch on the Sickle glacier: P.204: “I was perfectly aware of the low state of my intelligence.” P.205: every step was a struggle of mind over matter. Lachenal, concerned about frostbite: “Do you think it is worth it?” And then, read what David Roberts (author of the famous “The Mountain of my Fear” book) writes in his book “True Summit”: As he felt his feet go numb with frostbite, Lachenal initiated one of the most famous exchanges in climbing: ''If I go back,'' he asked Herzog, ''what will you do?'' ''I should go on by myself,'' Herzog replied. Continuing on meant the loss of Lachenal's toes; turning back meant the loss of Herzog's life. ''Then I'll follow you,'' the gallant montagnard said. And then Herzog’s reasening follows; P.206: “Must we give up? Impossible! My whole mind revolted against it…Today we were consecrating an ideal and no sacrifice was too great.” And so Lachenal goes with him... And they go on. Once determined they find new energy. Herzog feels an astonishing happiness. The summit: (took them 8 hours from camp V to the summit.) P.208. When on the top Herzog is elated: “What an inconceivable experience it is to attain one’s ideal and at the very same moment, to fulfill oneself.” It’s truly mind over matter.
And then they still have to go down…One look back. And that was it. Month of preparation for 5 minutes on the top. What is it about challenges? P210: “one last look at the summit which would henceforth be all our joy and all our consolation.” There you have it!
Once again I realize it’s the journey that counts. Although having not reached your goal the disappointment is immense, however the journey was. Coming back from a hike up a fourteener in Colorado, I’ve had to return without reaching the summit. But then that takes only a day to prepare. Really not comparable. But I do know somewhat of the elation of reaching a top. And then going back. For what else can you do? Reading this book I realize that I’m really an armchair mounteneer! Great fun!
OK. Going back down now. On his way down Herzog looses his gloves. Not thinking clearly he forgets about his spare socks to be used as gloves. But he does make it back to camp V. And luckily 2 other climbers were there to assist them.
What follows is a descent in very adverse weather. And they know, even for experienced mounteneers, that even on familiar ground it is easy to make mistakes. In mist and heavy snow one gets easily lost.
The way down would be a harrowing experience. Snowblind, frostbitten, exhausted. Only with the help of others who came up to help, they made it to camp II, where they could be treated and get rest and food and drinks. They made it, but at great costs! Herzog would never be able to climb again!
“Then the incredible work of transporting the injured...beneath torrential rain (the monsoon had started) and over dangerously steep ground.” The further retreat took 5 weeks! It was not easy. And especially for Lachenal and Herzog painful. Their injuries caused a lot of pain and multiple operations barely saved their lives.
I did like this book very much. It read like a novel. And I thought Herzog gave all the members of the expedition the praise each one deserved. It was after all a team effort. No one can really do this type of climbing alone.
To put this glorious expedition in perspective: (The Guardian, 14 dec 2012, in Herzog’s obituary) “In 1996, Yves Ballu published his revelatory biography of Gaston Rébuffat, one of the Annapurna climbing team, and in the same year Michel Guérin published the diaries of Lachenal, previously expurgated in a 1956 publication by Herzog's brother Gérard after Lachenal's early death, but now restored. These fresh perspectives told a more complex tale of a great enterprise whose image was controlled and exploited for political and personal interests. They cast the leader in an altogether less flattering light. Herzog protested indifference, but in private was bitterly upset.”
I read an old original hardcover copy from a library, so it may be subtly different from the paperback and Kindle versions many others have reviewed - though I expect the text is the same. (Interestingly enough, this copy had been incorrectly shelved for so long it was no longer in the library's catalog system.)
Taken on its own merits and at face value, I enjoyed reading this book. It is very detailed and Herzog seems quite straightforward about mistakes he made on the expedition and weaknesses and failures on his own part, which required much assistance from his teammates and Sherpa assistants. There are some archaic references like the word coolies for some of the villagers that is a reflection of racial relations in that time period, but he shows respect to everyone they employ and indeed develops genuine affection for their Sherpas and reportedly paid them generous bonuses at the end of the expedition to reward them for their dedication and skill. The book covers the expedition from beginning to end and is written in an honest, "warts and all" style.
Having said all that, a bit of research or even a perusal of a few other reviews indicates that Herzog allegedly made his own efforts appear more expert than they were when he wrote this, and played down the contributions of the other expedition members. It has been reported that the other climbers had to sign a contract not to sell their story of the expedition for at least five years, which allowed Herzog's own version to be the only published version, which made him a national French hero. I could go on, but I will let you do your own research if you are interested in that aspect of the story.
It would be a shame if that is all true, but on one level it does not detract from the story itself. If you are doing a report or an essay on this historical event - the first climb of a mountain over 8000 kilometers - then that research must be done and in fact may never settle the conflicting stories. But for the enjoyment of reading about this adventure, it is enough to know that you must take it with a grain of salt. I would be surprised if any book about mountaineering or other adventures don't have some details inflated just a bit. (Though I must say, Ed Viesturs appears to be very humble about his accomplishments and immune to any temptation to dress up the descriptions of his climbs.)
As a side note which I made for another review I did, I admit I used to read a lot of non-fiction or dense classic fiction (such as Dickens), but since I started writing novels in which I feel dialogue and humor are my strengths, I find I am reading lighter books like my own to compare them. I mention this to point out that this book can be heavy sledding at times, so you may wish to read a lighter book at the same time in case you need to take breaks from this book.
Recently, I ordered a book from Flipkart "Annapurna, The first conquest of an 8000-meter peak". It was first written in French by Maurice Herzog, and then later it was translated into English.
Maurice Herzog, was a French mountaineer who became the first man to climb an 8000-meter mountain, Annapurna, which is the 10th highest mountain in the world.
I ordered the book on the same day that Maurice Herzog had died.
This is my first attempt at writing a book-review and I hope I don't give away the book and maintain the opacity, as far as the series of events, is concerned and just stick to the review.
We all know that they reached the summit. But how is what the book talks about. I mean that is obvious.
It is a very well written book and an in-depth account of how, in 1950, Maurice Herzog led the expedition and reached the top of Annapurna, with Louis Lachenal.
The book describes very nicely in detail about all the preparations that the team had to make before starting off on this long journey. The book slowly but steadily starts its own journey, as the mountaineers start theirs. It gains pace just as the mountaineers gain theirs.
There were a lot of hard decisions that the team and Maurice, as a leader, back in those early days of mountaineering, had to make throughout the trip. There is enough reasoning behind every decision and those reasonings as to why certain decisions had to be made, have been well stated.
How well integrated the team was, is a lesson to learn in itself and that has been described beautifully. There is something one can take from this experience.
What led them to the summit was their perseverance and determination. But how they had to push for the summit, in time, before the monsoons hit them hard, is also stated well.
The description of the turn of events and of the intense suffering that Maurice and Louis had to go through after they had bagged the summit, according to me, is grotesque and even heart-breaking at one point. The emotions of having found close friends and the personal losses, have been captured very well.
In hindsight, after I had finished read the book, I felt that Maurice, as a writer, did not do a good job of expressing what he felt throughout, before the summit was bagged. It was only a straight faced account of the events, of what had happened. But after the summit was bagged, there is an out-pour of emotions. (This is a review of a translated book, so am not sure if it was the translator, or Maurice himself, in the original french version, who was not able to capture these emotions throughout the book before the summit was bagged)
A very good book I would say and a must read for all mountaineers.
(Contains spoilers) Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna" is perhaps one of the best books I've read in 2021. It’s a documentary story of the first ascent to the 8,000m peak in history, accomplished by French alpinists in 1950.
When reading this book, what strikes you first is how different the world was back then. No mobile phones (of course) - they used radios to communicate on the mountain, but it didn’t work very well at high altitudes most of the time. They had the top-of-the-line equipment by 1950 standards, but it doesn’t compare with the high-tech mountaineering equipment and gear that we have today. No paved roads, even - in Nepal at that time, they had only 20km of the road around Katmandu (the capital of Nepal) and a few cars.
Interestingly, they first had trouble finding their summit target - Mt. Annapurna. Back then, maps of the Himalayas were approximate at best. So Maurice and his team had to explore the surrounding mountains for several weeks in a row before they could identify Anapurna and find the potential route to the summit.
But what is truly remarkable is how difficult it was not only to summit the mountain but to get back alive. Only two of eight alpinists in their team (Herzog & his other teammate) did summit Annapurna. Due to bad weather, lost orientation, and utter exhaustion, they barely made it back. Maurice eventually lost all the fingers on his hands due to the frostbites, and his teammate lost significant parts of his feet for the same reason. Moments, where Maurice describes how he had to keep the rope with his bloody hands, are truly shocking.
What follows in the book is an even more incredible account of true human grit. During the next month or so, when the expedition was moving back to India (primarily by feet), Herzog had to be frequently operated (often, just in the open air), mostly without anaesthetics, and barely survived. He took an incredible amount of pain and suffering, but he made it and came back to France alive.
What this book teaches, first, is the value of teamwork. Herzog says multiple times in a book that he would not be able to summit Annapurna if the whole team did not work hard towards this extremely difficult goal. Also, he praises local sherpas who provided crucial support for their expedition.
It also makes you think - how difficult is your life actually, compared to all the challenges these guys went through to get to Annapurna and back? And also that we’re all capable of withstanding more than we think.
Jesteśmy w Azji ,w sercu Himalajów , otoczeni najwyższymi górami świata. Tego ranka,22 kwietnia 1950 roku, łagodne ciepło panuje w dolinie Kali Gandaki;rzeka szumi w oddali.(......) Mnie nie dało zasnąć pragnienie ,by ujrzeć miejsca , o których tak wiele myśleliśmy."
Annapurna pierwszy ośmiotysięcznik zdobyty przez Maurice'a Herzoga oraz Louis'a Lachenala . Jakim kosztem zdobyty ? To była ciężka wyprawa z tragarzami , żeby porozumieć się z drugim obozem ,wysyłało się kuriera . Szczyt został zdobyty ,ale jakim kosztem ???? Przyznam się szczerze że prawie czułam ten ból , ja kiedyś przemroziłam tylko dłonie ,a tu przemrożone zostało prawie całe ciało . Z jednej strony podziw dla tych ludzi z drugiej strony to czyste szaleństwo . Przy schodzeniu z ośmiotysięcznika ,panowie nie mieli łatwo ,krew mi cierpła w żyłach czytając te opisy , zdarta skóra na odmrożonych rękach ,bolesne zastrzyki i na koniec amputacja bez znieczulenia . Bolało czytanie tych wspomnień ,bo jakim trzeba być zdeterminowanym człowiekiem żeby poświecić tyle i aż tyle . Stracić częściowo lub w całości części rąk czy nóg .
Mocna i wstrząsająca książka ,polecam nie tylko miłośnikom wspinaczki górskiej .
Książka którą ja posiadam została wydana przez Wydawnictwo Iskry w 1960 roku .
I was expecting something different. I thought this was a story about an avalanche and/or a fall off a mountain resulting in a couple climbers' unimaginable struggle to return to base camp.
So there was an avalanche, there were a few minor falls, and there was a struggle to return to base camp but ... there were Sherpas and others (a large crew) helping. There were two men who reached the peak alone but they had support crews at the five camps leading all the way up. They were never in danger of being stranded or isolated. The first 250 or so pages of the book are about mountain reconnaissance, finding the best path/their way up, finding the right mountain, gear details, food and clothing details, where and how ice-axes were placed, pretty much mountaineering lingo, a full mountaineering geek-out.
And all of this is fine and was sort of interesting! I read a lot of mountaineering books! This was more mountaineering in the early days, the pioneers, and that was the beauty of the book. The struggles with these first accents. And it wasn't until I finished the book that I realized the tribute it made to these brave, sacrificing (toes/fingers), often reckless, pioneers. I had to read it - it's a classic.
At long last I've read the "granddaddy" of mountaineering first-person accounts, and it is still a nerve-wracking adventure story more than sixty years later. From being "lost" between two of the iconic 14 peaks of the Himalaya with totally mistaken maps, to the intuitions and skills that would plot a route, to the supreme efforts to haul supplies, to the beauty and glory of the summit achievement, to the excruciating details of the descent and retreat from the mountains, this book has it all. This is told by Herzog in the style of 1951, and first-person is what it is. You can just sense between his words that there must have been huge disagreements about finding routes and doing the work. No surprise that his record has become controversial. Yet he does give credit and praise to all. A mere 10 years after France's shameful defeat, this triumph was to inspire all of France, and his tone is inspirational in spite of his own utter defeat and death wish after the horrific descent. Next on my list is reading David Robert's take on the controversies, but Herzog's book will always remain a classic for me.
Took about half the book to get into it but then it became interesting
I found Annapurna to be a bit of a slog to read for a classic adventure novel. The main reason for this was because the first half of the novel, involving the logistics and how they got to the base of Annapurna, were somewhat uninteresting for me. A lot of the route planning, described by Herzog uses jargon that non-climbers like myself may find difficult to comprehend.
Having said this, once the team does get to Annapurna and starts climbing, as well as the subsequent devastating outcomes of the climb, I found the book became much more interesting and accessible.
There is a great documentary (by team member Marcel Ichac) which is in French and titled Victoire sur l'Annapurna and is a great accompaniment to the book - it is available on YouTube. I also intend on reading True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna by David Roberts, which as the titles suggests, might give an interesting alternative to Maurice Herzog's account of the adventure.
Annapurna is a mountain climbing staple about the first 8000m peak ever climbed. I found myself googling many mountaineering terms, but that didn’t take away from the epic adventure that left me flying through pages. Certainly a captivating story, yet the writing style is somewhat bland and repetitive, maybe from the translating. I also wasn’t a fan of the author, the expedition leader, who I found to be arrogant and selfish. Nonetheless I greatly enjoyed the book and it’s a must-read for any adventure lover!
Annapurna is subtitled First Conquest of an 8000-Meter Peak and is the account of the 1950 French Himalayan Expedition. The first two-thirds of the book alternated between interesting information and slow going as the expedition was organized and arrived at the base camp. But the final third of the book was so gripping that I read it at one sitting.
Self flourishing narrative indeed. Author seems to give ZERO fuck about others. It's always about 'I' not 'WE' Maurice Herzog conquered the mighty Annapurna with partner Lachenal. If you google the climb you wouldn't find his partner's name in achievement!
But if you put controversy aside it's great read...
„Góry ofiarowały nam swoje piękno, które podziwiamy z dziecięcą prostotą i szanujemy jak mnisi myśl o bóstwie. Annapurna, ku której poszlibyśmy wszyscy bez grosza przy duszy, jest dla nas skarbem, którym będziemy żyć… Z urzeczywistnieniem tego marzenia odwraca się karta… Zaczyna się nowe życie”.
Annapurna to dziesiąty co do wysokości szczyt Ziemi, którego wysokość to 8091 m n.p.m. Nazwa góry w tubylczym języku oznacza Wypełnioną Pożywieniem, a tym imieniem nazywana jest również hinduistyczna bogini.
Annapurna jest pierwszym ośmiotysięcznikiem, który został zdobyty przez człowieka. Dokonali tego 3 czerwca 1950 francuscy wspinacze Maurice Herzog i Louis Lachenal, a ta książka jest świadectwem tej wyprawy.
Niesamowite było dla mnie to, że ci ludzie znaleźli się w miejscach, których wcześniej nie widział żaden inny człowiek. Nie mogli polegać na doświadczeniach innych wspinaczy, wszystko musieli ogarnąć sami. Okupili to niesamowitym wysiłkiem i cierpieniem, jednak dokonali rzeczy wielkiej i na zawsze zapisali się na kartach historii. 8/10
Ah, Herzog che si accende una bella sigaretta, come prima cosa, quando arriva ad un campo base… Herzog che si fa la barba ogni due giorni, perché… perché si fa così, nel 1950 anche se stai scalando un 8000… Questi sono i dettagli che rilevano quanto i tempi siano cambiati – questi sono i dettagli che ho adorato. Una bella storia vera. Alla Walter Bonatti, dove alpinismo, scoperta e sofferenza (non potrebbe essere Bonatti, senza!) si mescolano insieme. Una vicenda che in qualche modo comincia a chiudere coi libri di alpinismo “vecchio stampo”, cioè quelli dove le riflessioni dell’alpinista sono praticamente assenti perché è la scoperta, è l’azione che la fa da padrona, lasciando spazio (ma ancora poco) alle riflessioni personali. Ma è giusto così: quando la squadra francese partì per l’Annapurna, andava scoperto tutto e così la prima parte del libro è avventura – ma mi è piaciuta di più di quelli di Shifton, per esempio, che si concentrava sempre ed unicamente sui paesaggi e sulle difficoltà delle vie da aprire mentre Herzog bilancia bene sia la parte di scoperta che quella dei suoi protagonisti e quindi (se si conosce qualcosa di loro) è bello vedere Lionel Terray, Louis Lachenal e Gaston Rébuffat (che squadra!) in azione, tutti insieme, sentire le loro battute, i loro scherzi, le loro imprecazioni. Ma è la seconda parte del libro e quindi della vicenda, quella della discesa e del lunghissimo rientro in condizioni terribili sia perché Herzog e Lachenal stavano malissimo per i congelamenti alle mani e ai piedi ma anche per le difficoltà intrinseche del percorso, ricoperto in gran parte sotto le piogge torrenziali del monsone che la fa da padrona: le operazioni del medico, apprese durante la seconda guerra mondiale, e che applica in quei campi ancora alti per cercare di salvare il più possibile sia Herzog che Lachenal; il dolore fisico tremendo per quelle cure e il dolore per capire che comunque si sarebbe arrivati a casa mutali; la paura di affrontare una nuova vita con dei moncherini; e poi quel monsone incessante che li incalzava, che li infradiciava e quella strada infinita per arrivare alla civiltà che durò quasi tre mesi perché procedevano con estrema lentezza, visto che Herzog e Lachenal andavano trasportati a spalla e non c’erano né mezzi di trasporto o di soccorso nel 1950. In questo mi ha ricordato la storia di Joe Simpson, “La morte sospesa” perché lo stesso si può dire anche della sua storia: è la parte del rientro che resta ancora più impresso che l’impresa (anche perché, nel caso di Simpson, non c’era poi stata nessun arrivo in vetta, né si trattava di una qualche prima via). Forse un alpinista moderno avrebbe sfruttato di più la pena per imbastirne delle riflessioni sul senso dell’impresa, su come affrontare la vita prendendola da un altro angolo, in breve, su come Herzog sia riuscito a riprendersi dopo una durissima convalescenza di circa un anno in cui, lo dice lui stesso, spesso avrebbe voluto o preferito morire. Herzog invece fa solo qualche accenno di riflessione (e in quella sobrietà di parole, sono già molto commoventi) ma sia per il contesto storico, che per indole o per formazione, di più non dice. Ma quel poco è stato sufficiente per entrarmi molto dentro. Un bel libro anche se datato e che in qualche modo mi frena sul giudizio incerto e negativo su Herzog che mi ero fatta dopo quel libro (terribile!) scritto dalla Catherine de Baecque.
As a young boy, I was bitten by the wilderness bug. Camping in the mountains and hiking the peaks around Ogden, UT. I had heard the stores of the 4 young people in our neighborhood who died in a climbing accident in Waterfall Canyon when I was a toddler. Most of my paper route money went to purchase outdoor gear. The early interest progressed to climbing and mountaineering. I was surrounded by world class climbers (Jeff, Greg, George Lowe and Jock Glidden). I followed everything I could about them and others. In high school, I worked in a local ski shop with Kim Lowe and whenever the older brothers would stop by I was like a star struck groupie. Later in college I took a class from Jock Glidden and would try to get him to tell us climbing stories.
In high school I found this book in the school library and started reading it. Not being much of a reader I never finished. For some reason I recently remembered the book and decided it was time to pick it up again.
This book although intended for a broader audience and released initially in France it received acclaim among the small mountaineering community, at the time a very small fraternity. Those without either interest or experience in mountaineering will likely get lost in the detail of the book. Written by the Maurice Herzog, leader of the French Himalayan Expedition of the first 8000 metre peak to be climbed, a feat made more remarkable by the climbers' decision not to use supplemental oxygen during the climb. Included are detailed maps of the area and technical tips on a variety of mountaineering subjects and descriptions of the "advanced" equipment of the era (primitive by today's standards). Being somewhat of a gear freak I found the descriptions of the gear fascinating and amazing given how far technology has progressed.
The assent was brutal and gruesome resulting in various amputations of the team members under primitive conditions. At the time this was considered the greatest mountaineering achievement in history. It was still three years before Everest would be conquered by Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The team were welcomed home to France as national heroes.
Some aspects of Herzog's account of the summit day have been called into question with the publication of other members’ accounts of the expedition, most significantly Gaston Rébuffat's , who died in a climbing accident 3 years later. His biography and the posthumous publication, in 1996, of Lachenal’s contemporaneous journals showed tremendous bitterness towards Herzog and challenged is account.
“I felt as though I were plunging into something new and quite abnormal. I had the strangest and most vivid impressions, such as I had never before known in the mountains. There was something unnatural in the way I saw Lachenal and everything around us. I smiled to myself at the paltriness of our efforts, for I could stand apart and watch myself making these efforts. But all sense of exertion was gone, as though there were no longer any gravity. This diaphanous landscape, this quintessence of purity--these were not the mountains I knew: they were the mountains of my dreams
I have never climbed a mountain in my life-never really felt the urge to climb anything except the stairs in my house! But I do love reading about expeditions and this is without doubt one of the best. There is so much detail about getting ready for the trip, the trek to the mountains, the climb and then trying to trek back out. It really was a dramatic read.
It starts with the arrival in India and being held up at customs for two days as they are cheerfully told by staff 'Your equipment can all be impounded for the duration of your expedition. It will come to no harm!' Um yeah, not very handy when you actually need all these things to do the climb! That was a bizarre start to the trip! They then have to trek across India and into Nepal to have a look at the first mountain they are considering-Dhaulagiri. They spend a lot of time assessing the mountain from all sides before deciding it is too difficult. Instead they go looking for Annapurna. Due to the poor quality of their maps and cloudy days, they cannot find it. It takes days of trekking to find the correct area and more time to find a route to the mountain itself.
So much time has been wasted that they now have 12 days until the monsoon rains are expected so they have to get all their camps on the mountain fully stocked and get the climbers to the summit and back within this time window. Modern expeditions would probably never have attempted this and I was knackered just reading about it! The men had to take huge loads up the mountain with only overnight rests and no real time to rest and recover in between. It hardly helped that fresh snowfalls meant breaking trail every day and I'm shocked that they actually continued with the mad plan! Already suffering from cold feet, Herzog and Lachenal decide to make a summit bid.
What follows is a shocking tale of frostbite, open air biovack, snow blindness, getting lost, avalanches, horrific medical procedures that I don't even want to THINK about ie arterial and groin injections that had men screaming in agony and amputations without painkillers, and then the long trek back to get help in dreadful weather and life endangering conditions. It really was a shocking story and why people put themselves through these things to climb is beyond me! The detail of the medical side had me cringing. I just can't imagine what these guys were thinking and feeling. *shudder*
When you read about these early expeditions where they have to trek to the mountains, you actually wonder how any of them had the strength to climb when they got there. They don't have all the high tech equipment and help that is available now to make things a bit easier. These men really achieved amazing things with what was available to them and I do salute their courage, even if I think they are a bit bananas!
This is a fascinating read and it really shows you what happens on a climb where everything seems to be conspiring against the climbers. Highly recommended to fans of mountain climbing books.
This story is of a true heroic mountaineering expedition. The conquest of Annapurna, while shadowed by that of the Everest, doesn't command much lower respect, given the harsh treatment meted out to the heroic mountaineers.
Starting from the immaculate arrangements of a large scale expedition, to the strategic moves of exploration within a given time limit, the book initially talks only about how Maurice and his gang slowly discovered and decided the routes and plans. It seemed to take ages, but then author himself points out that expeditions of this nature aren't supported by prior explorations and plans.
Once the actual assault began, things started being more fun while being more realistic too. Each danger, and the actual pain in climbing even one of the many obstacles they covered would be too realistic for some one without actual mountaineering experience at such terrains to imagine. But the writing is quite simple as it has been brought together from the first hand experience of the author and some other logs.
I could feel the effort and the caution required to just overcome some of these. With a wrong twitch of the muscle, any one of them could cost many lives and an entire expedition. Against such overwhelming odds, the tough members of expedition, ploughed on selflessly. They didn't attack the mountain senselessly. The calm and purpose with which each move was made shows the underlying discipline in these champions of the Alps. The harsh conditions of the Himalayas proved quite fatal to them. But still they persisted, suffering greatly though. For such great personalities, even the humiliation of being looked upon with pity could be the most painful experience.
Given the pride and grit with which the conquest was made, one couldn't stop feeling sorry for the disasters on the way back. The strong and able men reduced to wailing rags. It is unimaginable and hence tears ones heart apart to accept such notions. But when one thinks about what would have crossed their minds, you only feel great respect for them.
No doubt, this is one of Himalaya's tragic adventures. But the spirit of adventure and the love for the mountains saved these men from death - both physically and morally. A great read for mountaineering and adventure enthusiasts especially.