Continuing my recent kick of reading the classics of mountaineering literature, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Maurice Herzog‘s account of the first successful expedition to the summit of an 8000m peak, the titular Annapurna. Written in language both vivid and straightforward, Herzog details the trials, challenges, and eventual successes of a trip that set out to climb two of the world’s tallest peaks without knowing even how to travel to the base of the mountains.
After having given up on attempting Dhaulagiri, Herzog and company dedicated all of their efforts towards Annapurna, where against all odds they succeeded in climbing (eventually in near alpine-style) the mountain now known as the deadliest of the 8000m peaks and that has claimed half as many lives as have successfully reached its summit. Although the language is occasionally stilted, Herzog has no difficulty in revealing either the deep personal motivation of the mountaineer or the great sacrifices of body and soul made in search of beauty and conquest.
It has been said that mountaineering is the art of overcoming, and Herzog makes it clear that that is what these men did, day after day, until they reached the summit and miraculously made their descent losing limbs but not life. Nonetheless, climbing is not the only means of testing oneself and overcoming, for as he so famously concludes, “there are other Annapurnas in the lives of men”.