Mountaineering pioneer Maurice Herzog, 93, dies

herzog

They say there are old mountaineers and there are bold mountaineers, but no old and bold mountaineers.

But there was an exception with French climber Maurice Herzog, who along with fellow mountaineer Louis Lachenal and their team were the first to climb an 8,000-meter peak, Annapurna, in 1950.

Herzog died Friday. He was 93.

At that time of his Annapurna ascent, many attempts had been made to climb Everest, K2, and other Himalayan giants, but Herzog led the group that did it first.

This is a huge feat. While Annapurna ranks No. 10 among the world’s highest mountains, it has proven to be the most dangerous. In its history, an average of one in three people who summit Annapurna end up dead, higher than K2 (about one in four) and certainly higher than Everest. Herzog and his team not only dared these odds, but accomplished their goal without supplemental oxygen.

Annapurna is known for its difficult approaches and is prone to huge avalanches. American mountaineer Ed Viesturs, the first from the U.S. to climb all of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, was turned back by Annapurna multiple times before finally reaching its summit.

Herzog’s book, “Annapurna,” became the most popular climbing book of all-time, according to this post from Outside Magazine, and indeed was an inspiration for Viesturs.

Herzog’s successful Annapurna summit came with a price. A rough descent left him severely frostbitten, and he lost all of his fingers and some toes.

What Herzog represents to mountaineering: He is among the first to finally break through the 8,000-meter summit barrier. We lost a pioneer who helped show the rest of the world that the daunting task of climbing the highest peaks in the Himalayas was indeed possible.

A final thought: Mountaineering was different back then. It was about exploration and national pride, and it’s fitting that a French team made the big breakthrough — climbing and mountaineering owes much to the French, who pioneered so much of modern mountaineering in the Alps (climbing/mountaineering lingo is filled with French terms). Most of the routes people climb now were established long ago by guys like Herzog.

Pause for a second to reflect what Herzog, his teammates and their predecessors did for the rest of us who are seekers of altitude.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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