/ Maurice Herzog has died
That's sad news
His "Annapurna" was the first mountaineering book I read in the 1950s
My brother and I attended a lecture in Chamonix in 2008 to hear him speak about the ascent. It was a real privilege.
First (with Louis Lachenal) to summit an 8,000m peak - his gripping account of the Annapurna expedition and near-tragedy remains my all-time favourite mountaineering read.
Considering how close he came then to the other side, Herzog would have been very happy to have lived another 62 years and achieved as much as he did away from the mountains.
"there are other Annapurnas in the lives of men"
Does seem to have been a year with many deaths :-(
Unutterable wisdom. What a great man. May his soul rest in peace.
Read it. An absolute masterpiece, more like a novel.
> Read it. An absolute masterpiece, more like a novel.
Finished reading it again a few weeks ago... Kindle version this time; the copy I bought in Pilgrims in Kathmandu is too fragile to read these days. What a pioneering adventure for those guys! First find your mountain, then find a route, then learn about acclimatisation... a real epic.
In France he is not admired by all, the Guardian article touches on the problems of the Annapurna "victory", which cost Lachenal, his toes, his living as a guide and not long afterwards his life. Herzog, driven by nationalism and personal ambition, refused to turn back when he and Lachenal really should have done so. Lachenal and the two other guides - Terray and Rebuffat - payed a heavy price, but Herzog got most of the glory... going on to a political career in the Gaullist party and mayor of Chamonix.
The Lachenal affair was quite sordid, involving doctoring of his memoirs amongst other things, it came out over the years but not to Herzog's credit. IIRC the story is covered in Terray's autobiography and Rébuffat's and other more specialized books.
Yep, the controversey is examined in detail by David Roberts book, True Summit, a really interesting read, although the original Annapurna by Herzog is a true classic.
I made a mistake, Lachenal lost his feet, not just his toes. Herzog's daughter, Félicité Herzog, has published a very less than complimentary book on her father, setting him as fine precursor to Dominique Strauss Kahn...
The title of the article is "mon père, ce zéro"
Not a nice man, by any standards...
Nevertheless it is well written and considered a classic of mountaineering literature. I would not disagree and treasure my signed copy, obtained by a friend of mine who visited Herzog in Paris a couple of years ago.
I expect prices will creep up now, but signed, it always was expensive.
If anyone has a signed copy, hold on to it and pass it on through your family.
According to Roberts, Lachenal as a professional guide refused to abandon Herzog, who was suffering from summit fever and possibly hyped on pills. As a result he and the other professionals not only went through hell but Herzog controlled the story to minimise their contribution.
Again, Annapurna was one of my first books on climbing to read, so Roberts' story was devastating.
The problem is that Roberts had an axe to grind. His animus spurts out more than 100 (?) pages into his book where he raises the issue of Terray doubting his Alaskan ascent (Denali? Deborah??) Obviously he did do the route (and good on him) but Terray never knew because of his untimely death in the Vercours (1964?) But this issue should have been raised right at the beginning of the book - in a Foreword - so we knew exactly where Roberts was coming from.
For once I agree with Bruce. Herzog shouldn't have gone for the summit. But he did. He may have been out of it with pills and exhaustion. He may have felt that losing his life for an 8,000 metre peak was worth it to give France a boost after the occupation. Obviously he placed Lachenal in an untenable position.
But hey, we're sat at out keyboards while those guys were giving it their all. And, if mistakes were made, well we all made mistakes.
If I was up against it on the hill, would I want Roberts on the other end of the rope? Or would I want Herzog, Terray, Lachenal or Rebuffat? No contest. And not just for technical ability. For spirit.
I wasn't really taking a position. I wasn't there and don't know the people. But from what I read I'd have been honoured to climb with Terray, Rebuffat or Lachenal. I would have avoided being on a rope with Hertzog. I would have been nervous about Roberts: he had a bad history of losing partners!
Stuff happens. I thought 'Mountain of My Fear' was a wonderful book. And I can understand Roberts' heart being broken by personal loss (as mine has been). And he undoubtedly did uncover some of the 'shadow side' of Annapurna. So he's not without credit.
But I, like you, am old enough to remember the 1950s. We weren't as media savvy as today. History was a bit black and white - good guys and bad guys. So, even if Herzog made a mistake with terrible consequences, from what I can see, he did so with the best of intentions. Arguably it might have been better if he had gone for the summit on his own, a la Buhl. But he didn't.
Whatever the circumstances of writing the book ('Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage' is supposed to have been ghost-written but Buhl's spirit still shines through) and whatever the consequences of Annapurna, the humanity of that train journey back across India touches my soul. Herzog gave France a resounding win; he also paid (and incurred for others) a terrible price. Rightly or wrongly he gave his all. For this - and for the unbearable wisdom of the last line of 'Annapurna' - I will respect him until my dying day.
Just one thing Bruce, when you say:
I don't understand how the Annapurna saga cost Lachenal his life. He died falling into a crevasse whilst skiing down the Vallée Blanche in 1955.
The differences of opinion are moot, and not surprising. Climbers are obsessive, egotistical, and driven to their deaths (or survival) sometimes.
In later life, Herzog became Chief Executive or Chairman of Triton Oil and Gas. He was larger than life, charismatic, he always had a very beautiful and younger lady on his arm. Some said his one finger was the busiest finger in the World!
They always smiled.
We should not judge.
After losing his feet he suffered enormously psychologically, according to his friends, took to driving like a madman and so on, he never recovered mentally. He died in the skiing accident but his attitude, according to those who knew him he was just looking for danger, made this altogether probable. Unlike Herzog guiding was his only means of earning a living as well as being his life.
It's all in one of the biographies, either Terray or Rebuffat, I'm not sure which. The details of what Herzog went on to do are worse though, he used relationship with the family to distort the truth of the expedition, even falsifying Lachenal's diaries in the first publication. The original and complete texts were published in the 90s and people started to see the truth. The members of the expedition all had to sign away their rights to any photos taken on the expedition and were bound by contract not to divulge information that would have challenged Herzog's version - his second book was, apparently, even further from the truth than the first, concerning details about his lost gloves and so on.
The whole story has similarities with what happened on K2 during the Italian expedition and the resulting decade long conflict between Bonatti and the Italian climbing establishment. Bonatti eventually proved his point and cleared his name but it poisoned his life - the problem when nationalism and personal ambitions get involved in climbing. Both Italy and France hoped to regain prestige after WW2 and the climbers found themselves given a job not all of them cared for. Herzog and Dessio played somewhat similar roles as did Bonatti, Lachenal and Rebuffat, on opposite sides... in general, obviously not in the details, I don't think Dessio had the same reputation of a hot potato that Herzog did!
When I read your sentence that I quoted I googled Lachenal. Here's the very last part of the entry:
It just seemed to me to be too far removed from the Annapurna saga to have a bearing...?
Best to check out what people who knew him at the time said, I just had a look but I haven't got the books concerned, they must have been from the local library, I read a whole load a few years ago. The gist was that he lost it mentally after the loss of his feet - that he could ski at all was pretty impressive - but I don't think he could earn his living easily - couldn't guide, plus he was bitter at the way he, and Rebuffat and Terray for that matter, had been "erased" from the official story of Annapurna, whereas in reality the three guides took Herzog to the top, and then Rebuffat and Terray carried them down - Terray literally.
Someone called Ballu has written on the subject too, there's loads in the French press at the moment, most of it pretty mitigated concerning Herzog. Some even question the reality of the ascent, although I've no idea how convincing the arguments are - Herzog's daughter suggests this in her recent book, but in the conditional.
But committing suicide by falling into a crevasse - which is what I took you to mean - does seem a rather unlikely method!
Herzog's daughter's relationship with her father does seem particulary bitter. It can't be that unusual - powerful womanising father and neglected daughter - but how many daughters would seek to destroy their fathers by writing a book about it? i remember all this blowing up last year(?), but didn't really take much notice at the time. Isn't she further suggesting that he never went to the top, or have I made that up?
Ah, I didn't see your last sentence!
The fact is that he did lead a significant and momentous expedition, he himself was the first to climb an 8000m peak; he generated a genuine and deserved pride in France that was much needed after WW2.
I don't suppose many heros - Mallory, Buhl, Bonatti, Whillans - were flawless characters who many of us would choose as friends.
He's a foreigner, anything goes. I'm pretty sure this thread would have been pulled by now were we dissecting a deceased British climber.
Not suicide but they said he just took excessive risks, especially driving, his life was ruined and he didn't take it well. Putting this with what are undisputed facts now - that Herzog forced him to accompany him to the summit when Lachanal already had frozen feet, when asked he said that if Lachenal didn't come he'd go it alone, leaving Lachenal, a professional guide, in the impossible position of leaving Herzog, effectively his client as he was already acting strangely, to what he considered to be certain death, something he knew would be held against him, or risking his own body. Lachenal gave in to what was a pretty unpleasant black-mail, and did lose his feet. Then, even after this sacrifice, of his body but also career and "raison d'être", Herzog claimed all the credit for the ascent!
It's not hard to see why he flipped. There's no proof in the legal sense that his death was a direct consequence of this, I'm only repeating opinion, but I don't think anyone denies that his behaviour changed after the expedition more than just a little bit.
You mentioned Yves Ballu higher up. This is interesting: http://yvesballublog.canalblog.com/archives/2011/02/13/20375038.html Clearly Rebuffat wasn't very impressed either.
My French is not good. Are those Rebuffat's annotated comments ?
..Ah, yes they are. Now just need to translate the text & comments.
Yes. Ballu has picked out the main ones. These are probably easier to understand rather than Gaston's difficult to read scribbles - or in fact Mr Google can probably translate them.
Well usually yes, but in this case his own daughter was on the TV the night he died slagging him off...!
Cheeky thing, I was 4 at the time!
I don't remember seeing it though, thanks. I'm looking for part 4 now.
It certainly does, on the Ballu blog he says Rebuffat hated him. I recall reading, in his auto-biography I think, that one thing that really got on his nerves was that all the expedition members had to sign an engagement to hand over all films they took to the expedition. As a professional who made his living from photos this hit a raw nerve.
What's striking is how long Herzog and his allies kept it all hidden for so long, it's been coming out since 1995ish and now hardly a newspaper article on the subject of Herzog's death avoids mentioning the controversy... his daughter's book is the clincher, especially after the DSK business.
It's true though that it is all very sordid, like the K2 affair, but it's better out than hidden, like for DSK... mind you in his case it was always out :-)
And though I can't be a***ed to look it up now, I suspect that members of the Brit Everest espedition also had similar restrictions placed on them - after all the Times (in the form of Jan Morris) had exclusive rights to the story, and it was - and is - a sensible way of financing expeditions.
Like Scott, Shackleton, Shipton and any number of others there's a pendulum at work here, one minute they're heroes, next minute someone (usually with a hidden agenda or an axe to grind) presents a completely different view.... the truth, seldom pure and never simple, lies somewhere in between.
In the meantime, he's just died, many people respected him, and he achieved at least one great thing in his lfe. More than I will, I suspect.
You better tell him that as it is written in accounts of the expedition... either his own or Terray's, as I've already said above.
Perhaps if you spent less time stalking you could learn a little French and read some of the articles linked in this thread, such as Ballu's blog showing Rebuffat's hand written corrections to Herzogs text. You might also look at the present French newspaper articles concerning Herzog's death, there's not that much love lost either.
Nobody's perfect but Herzog seems to have set a lot of people against him, including his own daughter... he may have been in the resistance during the war but he ended up making friends with Le Pen, something which tipped the balance for her and decided her to write her book denouncing him for who he was. I hope for your sake you have achieved less than him in that sort of domain.
Now if you could stop following me from thread to thread and go back to pulling legs off spiders or something to get rid of your anger I would appreciate it.
I'm not sure that it's me that's got the anger management issues, tbh.
Surely we can all at least agree on this:
At last a sensible point of view. Regardless of opinions I don't think it's right to be having this discussion after the man has died.
> At last a sensible point of view. Regardless of opinions I don't think it's right to be having this discussion after the man has died.
Why not? When would be a better time? Some posted praising the man, I just felt it was worth giving some sort of perspective, as nearly all the French press has.
He did an awful lot of harm to an awful lot of people, so just presenting the "heroic" side, which in itself many now think was phony, doesn't make much sense. Nothing is innocent, if you praise him you hurt those he harmed.
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