Top Read #4 (Annapurna)

10th Dec 2013

Annapurna is a mountain with a fearsome reputation.  Its slopes are notoriously avalanche prone and it offers no easy options for an ascent.  It also holds a unique place in mountaineering history because, in 1950, it was the first of the world's 14 peaks over 8000 metres to be ascended - although the successful mountaineers had to suffer greatly in order to bag this monumental prize.
The book that we've selected for the fourth in Peak Mountaineering's Top Read series is the story of this first ascent.  'Annapurna' was written soon after the team's return by the expedition leader, Maurice Herzog.  It tells a story of such suffering and endurance that you'll wonder how some of it can possibly be true.  The first clue to the ordeal they faced is evident even in the books opening paragraph.  Herzog writes that 'the whole of this book has been dictated at the American Hospital at Neuilly where I am still having rather a bad time'.
Herzog's team was comprised of an elite group of French alpinists who had their sights set on either Dhaulagiri or Annapurna.  At the time there was very little information about these mountains available so they spent a considerable amount of time seeking a suitable line and the initial section of the book covers these recces.  Eventually, with no obvious route revealing itself and time running short as the monsoon approached, they gave up on Dhaulagiri and raced for an ascent of Annapurna.  What unfolded was a battle to ascend this Himalayan giant in, effectively, semi-alpine style and without supplementary oxygen.  
Herzog and renowned French Alpinist Louis Lachenal reached the summit and Herzog describes his great joy at their achievement.  What he couldn't know at that point was that their descent would turn into a mind blowing fight for survival that, despite them living to tell the tale, would cost them and other members of the team a great deal of suffering.
Annapurna is a roller coaster of a read and highly recommended.  Just don't forget to buckle up for an uncomfortable ride! There seems to have been various editions but the one I have is available from Pimlico and the ISBN number is 0712673938.
Posted by Cal