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January 15: The Mountaineer

January 15, 2014
obit1.afpMaurice Herzog, who led the first expedition to scale a mountain higher than 26,000 feet — Annapurna I, a Himalayan peak that is the 10th-highest mountain in the world — was born in Lyon, France on this date in 1919. The mountain was reconnoitered and climbed all within one season, in the summer of 1950, without the use of supplemental oxygen, and the summit was reached (by Herzog and Louis Lachenal) on their first attempt. On the way down, frostbite caused the expedition’s doctors to perform emergency amputations, and both Lachenal and Herzog lost all of their toes and Herzog most of his fingers. Their feat caused a huge public sensation that was only eclipsed by the “conquest” of Mt. Everest in 1953. The peak of Annapurna would not be reached again until 1970; it has been described as the “world’s deadliest peak,” and as of 2009, 60 climbers have died on the mountain, a fatality rate of around 40 percent. During World War II, Herzog joined the French Partisans and Riflemen and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his deeds as captain of a troop of mountain fighters. His book about his 1950 expedition, Annapurna, is the best-selling mountaineering book in history, with some 20 million copies sold. Herzog died at 93 on December 13, 2012. “In overstepping our limitations, in touching the extreme boundaries of man’s world, we have come to know something of its true splendor.” —Maurice Herzog