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This book is a romanticized, sanitized account of the 1950 French expedition to the Himalayas by its ostensible leader, Maurice Herzog. It is a book that is reflective of the times in which it was written. Still, it should be a must read for anyone who is interested in high altitude climbing.
I first read this book in the early 1960s as a young teenager. I recall being enthralled by it and amazed at the hardships the climbers endured to bring glory to France. In reading it again as an adult, I find myself still enthralled, but more attuned to the fact that it is written in a somewhat self-serving style.
The book itself chronicles the attempt by the French to climb an 8,000 meter peak in the Himalayas. They had two alternatives: Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. In those days, the Himalayas were largely uncharted and any topographical maps which existed at the time proved to be largely incorrect. So, the French expedition spent a large portion of their time in reconnaissance. Not only were they there to climb the mountain, they had to find a way to get to it and then map out a route on the unknown terrain to the summit. Ultimately, they chose to climb Annapurna.
In reading this book, one must remember that the climb took place without the sophisticated equipment or protective clothing available today. This was before gortex and freeze-dried foods. This climb was made before Nepal or climbing the Himalayas became a major tourist attraction. The conditions for travelers were extremely primitive and difficult under the best of circumstances.
When the expedition finally finds a route to Annapurna, the reader almost feels like cheering for them. When they start to climb, one senses that, in comparison to latter day expeditions, they are not so well equipped or savvy about the dangers one can encounter during a high altitude climb or the risks in doing it without supplemental oxygen, as they did. Then one realizes that they were pioneers. They were paving the way for others.
The climb to the summit by Maurice Herzog and his partner, Louis Lachenal, is interesting, but it is their harrowing descent and return to civilization that is riveting. The two summiteers begin their descent but run into difficulties. They are fortunate to encounter two of their fellow climbers, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, who are contemplating their own summit assault but, instead, choose to aid their comrades in the descent, foregoing their own quest for the summit.
The travails which the climbers encounter on the descent would have finished off less hardy souls. Maurice Herzog loses his gloves during the descent and has no spare pair. One of them falls into a crevasse, which, believe it or not, turns out to be a good thing. They are caught in an avalanche. They get lost in a storm. They become frostbitten, and two of them are, ultimately, forced to endure amputations.
The medical treatment they received by the expedition doctor is unbelievable and almost primitive. Employing treatments for frostbite that have since fallen onto disrepute (excruciatingly painful arterial injections, for example), the doctor is almost frightening, at times. The reader cannot help but feel pity for the suffering the injured climbers endured: maggot ridden flesh, amputations without anesthesia, and lack of proper medical care for a protracted period of time.
The heroics of some of the Sherpas, as on most expeditions, go largely unsung. One must, however, pause to reflect on the fact that as this all took place before airlifts were available, the injured climbers had to be carried. Their exodus back to the frontier took about five weeks. Who carried them down the mountain, over the moraines, on makeshifts bridges over flooded, raging rivers, through dense jungle? Who else but the Sherpas. What thanks did they get? None, as usual.
Anyway, when the expedition finally return to France, Maurice Herzog is lauded as a national hero by the French. He becomes the media darling. The other three climbers, as are the rest of those on the expedition, are largely ignored and forgotten. Therein lies the tale. If you want to know how this polarization came about, I highly recommend that you also read "True Summit" by David Roberts. It gives you the inside scoop about the expedition and how things really were.
Notwithstanding its idealization, romanticism, and everything is hunky-dory routine, Herzog's book is still a must read for all climbing enthusiasts or those who simply enjoy a fascinating adventure.
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on 1 November 1998
The story line in "Annapurna" rivals that of the recent book, "Into Thin Air", by John Krakauer, but being half a century old, and having been translated from the French, is written in a slightly less exciting prose. It tells of a three month French expedition to the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna region of the Himalayas which began with much correcting of erroneous maps, and ended in near disaster. Two men did summit, but suffered severe frostbite for their efforts. Also interesting were some of the difficulties in transporting equipment from the railways in India to and from the Himalayas, which are probably not so great for moderen climbers. I enjoyed the read, and recommend it to anyone interested in high adventure stories.
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This book is a romanticized, sanitized account of the 1950 French expedition to the Himalayas by its so called leader, Maurice Herzog. It is a book that is reflective of the times in which it was written. Still, it should be a must read for anyone who is interested in high altitude climbing.
I first read this book in the early 1960s as a young teenager. I recall being enthralled by it and amazed at the hardships the climbers endured to bring glory to France. In reading it again as an adult, I find myself still enthralled, but more attuned to the fact that it is written in a somewhat self-serving style.
The book itself chronicles the attempt by the French to climb an 8,000 meter peak in the Himalayas. They had two alternatives: Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. In those days, the Himalayas were largely uncharted and any topographical maps which existed at the time proved to be largely incorrect. So, the French expedition spent a large portion of their time in reconnaissance. Not only were they there to climb the mountain, they first had to find a way to get to it and then map out a route on the unknown terrain to the summit. Ultimately, they chose to climb Annapurna.
In reading this book, one must remember that the climb took place without the sophisticated equipment or protective clothing available today. This was before gortex and freeze-dried foods. This climb was made before Nepal or climbing the Himalayas became a major tourist attraction. The conditions for travelers were extremely primitive and difficult under the best of circumstances.
When the expedition finally finds a route to Annapurna, the reader almost feels like cheering for them. When they start to climb, one senses that, in comparison to latter day expeditions, they were not so well equipped or savvy about the dangers one can encounter during a high altitude climb or the risks in doing it without supplemental oxygen, as they did. Then one realizes that they were pioneers. They were paving the way for others.
The climb to the summit by Maurice Herzog and his partner, Louis Lachenal, is interesting, but it is their harrowing descent and return to civilization which is riveting. The two summiteers began their descent inauspiciously enough but soon ran into difficulties. They were fortunate enough to encounter two of their fellow climbers, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, who were contemplating their own summit assault but, instead, chose to aid their comrades in their descent, foregoing their own quest for the summit.
The travails which the climbers encountered on the descent would have finished off less hardy souls. Maurice Herzog lost his gloves during the descent and had no spare pair. One of climbers fell into a crevasse which, believe it or not, turned out to be a good thing. They were caught in an avalanche. They got lost in a storm. They became frostbitten and two of them were, ultimately, forced to endure amputations.
The medical treatment they received by the expedition doctor was unbelievable and almost primitive. Employing treatments for frostbite that have since fallen onto disrepute (excruciatingly painful arterial injections, for example), the doctor was almost frightening, at times. The reader cannot help but feel pity for the suffering the injured climbers endured: maggot ridden flesh, amputations without anaesthesia, and lack of proper medical care for a protracted period of time.
The heroics of some of the sherpas, as on most expeditions, went largely unsung. One must pause to reflect on the fact that as this all took place before airlifts were available, the injured climbers had to be carried. Their exodus back to the frontier took about five weeks. Who do you think carried them down the mountain, over the moraines, on makeshifts bridges over flooded, raging rivers, through dense jungle? Who else but the sherpas. What thanks did they get? None, as usual.
Anyway, when the expedition finally returned to France, Maurice Herzog was lauded as a national hero by the French. He became the media darling. The other three climbers, as were the rest of the climbers on the expedition, were largely ignored and forgotten. Therein lies the tale. If you want to know how this polarization came about, I highly recommend that one also read 'True Summit' by David Roberts. It gives one the inside scoop about the expedition and how things really were.
Notwithstanding its idealization, romanticism, and everything is hunky-dory routine, Herzog's book is still a must read for all climbing enthusiasts.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2008
Robert Macfarlane mentions this book in his "Mountains of the Mind", and being a sucker for tales of high-altitude torment I gave it a go. It's worth reading from a historical point of view more than anything else. After all, Herzog conquered Annapurna three years before Everest was climbed. The world has changed since then and, as other reviewers have noted, this book is very much a product of its time, with references to "coolies" and the "gibberish" they are speaking (otherwise known as Nepalese). Still, there is no getting away from Herzog and his expedition's achievements. Before beginning to climb Annapurna, they first had to find out exactly where it was and how to reach it. Only then could they start the ascent and, with the monsoon approaching, time was fast running out. Success came at no small price for Herzog. His long journey home is punctuated by excruciating treatments from the team doctor as various frost-bitten appendages are "snipped" off.
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on 5 January 1999
Herzog's account of his 1950 expedition to Annapurna is interesting. However, because he is a climber and not a writer, and it is translated, the story suffers and the prose is at times ponderous. I had hoped the best part would be the details of the climb, but that was a let-down and all too brief for my liking. The details regarding the gear available at the time were interesting as well as the attempts to find a approachable route up Dhalaghiri and Annapurna. I found the medical details of Dr Oudot's treatment of the stricken climbers Herzog and Lachenal following their summit very interesting as a physician, but it is not for the squeamish. The last 50 pages are very anti-climatic. This is a mediocre read, but not the best book about climbing I've ever picked up.
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on 31 October 1998
This is the only book I've ever read that I was tempted to swipe from my local library. (This was before it was reprinted.) Finally found a used copy. Several things stood out for me: this was pioneering mountaineering -- they had to FIND the damned mountain and then settle in to climbing it. The idea of not being able to find an 8,000 meter peak was unexpected to me. The descent was the most outstanding feat, battling frostbite and gangrene and flood-swollen rivers -- no roads, no airlifts, this was Nepal before the tourist onslaught. Making this different from any other mountaineering book I've read is Hertzog's sensitivity to the land and people he was traveling in, his relationship to his companions, his descriptions of favorite climbs in the French Alps. I look for photos, see movies (like IMAX Everest) and have found nothing that compares to the visual images Hertzog managed to convey in Annapurna.
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This book is a romanticized, sanitized account of the 1950 French expedition to the Himalayas by its so called leader, Maurice Herzog. It is a book that is reflective of the times in which it was written. Still, it should be a must read for anyone who is interested in high altitude climbing.
I first read this book in the early 1960s as a young teenager. I recall being enthralled by it and amazed at the hardships the climbers endured to bring glory to France. In reading it again as an adult, I find myself still enthralled, but more attuned to the fact that it is written in a somewhat self-serving style.
The book itself chronicles the attempt by the French to climb an 8,000 meter peak in the Himalayas. They had two alternatives: Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. In those days, the Himalayas were largely uncharted and any of the topographical maps that existed at the time proved to be largely incorrect. So, the French expedition spent a large portion of their time in reconnaissance. Not only were they there to climb the mountain, they had to find a way to get to it and then map out a route on the unknown terrain to the summit. Ultimately, they chose to climb Annapurna.
In reading this book, one must remember that the climb took place without the sophisticated equipment or protective clothing available today. This was before gortex and freeze-dried foods. This climb was made before Nepal or climbing the Himalayas became a major tourist attraction. The conditions for travellers were extremely primitive and difficult under the best of circumstances.
When the expedition finally finds a route to Annapurna, the reader almost feels like cheering for them. When they start to climb, one senses that, in comparison to latter day expeditions, they are not so well equipped or savvy about the dangers one can encounter during a high altitude climb or the risks in doing it without supplemental oxygen, as they did. Then, one realizes that they were pioneers. They were paving the way for others.
The climb to the summit by Maurice Herzog and his partner, Louis Lachenal, is interesting, but it is their harrowing descent and return to civilization which is riveting. The two summiteers run into difficulties during their descent. They are fortunate to encounter two of their fellow climbers, Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, who are contemplating their own summit assault but, instead, choose to aid their comrades in the descent, foregoing their own quest for the summit.
The travails that the climbers encounter on the descent would have finished off less hardy souls. Maurice Herzog loses his gloves during the descent and has no spare pair. One of them falls into a crevasse which, believe it or not, turns out to be a good thing. They are caught in an avalanche. They get lost in a storm. They become frostbitten and two of them are, ultimately, forced to endure amputations.
The medical treatment they received by the expedition doctor is unbelievable and almost primitive. Employing treatments for frostbite that have since fallen onto disrepute (excruciatingly painful arterial injections, for example), the doctor is almost frightening, at times. The reader cannot help but feel pity for the suffering the injured climbers endured: maggot ridden flesh, amputations without anaesthesia, and lack of proper medical care for a protracted period of time.
The heroics of some of the sherpas, as on most expeditions, go largely unsung. One must, however, pause to reflect on the fact that as this all took place before airlifts were available, the injured climbers had to be carried. Their exodus back to the frontier took about five weeks. Who carried them down the mountain, over the moraines, on makeshifts bridges over flooded, raging rivers, through dense jungle? Who else but the sherpas. What thanks did they get? None, as usual.
Anyway, when the expedition finally return to France, Maurice Herzog is lauded as a national hero by the French. He becomes the media darling. The other three climbers, as are the rest of those on the expedition, are largely ignored and forgotten. Therein lies the tale. If you want to know how this polarization came about, I highly recommend that you also read 'True Summit' by David Roberts. It gives you the inside scoop about the expedition and how things really were.
Notwithstanding its idealization, romanticism, and everything is hunky-dory routine, Herzog's book is still a must read for all climbing enthusiasts.
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on 5 November 1998
This book is absolutely astounding. I had no idea how good this book was going to be. I hope that they never make this into a movie because they would slaughter it just like they did to Into Thin Air (also a great book). They would slaughter it because they can't put this into a good perspective on a screen. This story is meant for a book. Marice Herzog has taken this on masterfully and made the reader fel as if he or she is in with them on the expedition
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on 26 January 1999
I have given this book to two climbing friends to read. I enjoy Messner's and Bonington's accounts and thought Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" the best written of many books of this sort, but if you want to REALLY shed tears for the challenge of climbing an "8-thousander" there is absolutely nothing to match Maurice Herzog! I think he has written two other books, but they do not seem to be available from Amazon.
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on 2 November 1998
I had one of the original 1950's pocketbook and to date, it never fails to inspire me. Considering the times where Goretex and modern mountaineering gizmos were non existent ( and finding which mountain to climb!), Herzog and company were supermen. Read the book and find the soul of mountaineering.
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