There is no shortage of books out there about mountain climbing. Sadly much of it is dramatic stories of disaster or rescue. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, of course…like most climbers (I would imagine) I’ve read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and I found it riveting and fascinating. I flip through the climbing related magazines at the book stores (Rock and Ice, Mountains, Alpinist, etc) looking at gear, gear reviews, the amazing photos, and the stories. But at this very moment I am reading Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. This is a great book. The politics and issues surrounding the different accounts of this climb aside, the book is a stellar read about the first serious attempt to summit Annapurna.
The book is Herzog’s account (as team lead) of their 1950 adventure to make the first summit of Annapurna, which also happened to be the first successful climb of anything above 8000m. Herzog was french, as was the team he had put together. What made this so spectacular was that the peak had yet to be truly explored or reconnoitered in a fashion to allow Herzog’s team to develop a plan of attack to climb it. Once they arrived in-country (which in 1950 was no small feat), they worked first to simply find (!!!) the peak. Once successful in locating it, they needed to figure out how to get up it. Annapurna does not sit alone, it sits in a range of other peaks of similar heights. Thus to climb Annapurna you needed to tackle a significant portion of the range in which it sits.
Herzog’s team found their way out there, and with the help of local Sherpas, explored the area for quite some time before finding to them what was the best route up the mountain. I’m only half-way through the book thus far, but it’s a great read (and I highly recommend it).
Two things in particular stand out for me with this book. The first is that the gear used by the team seems antique compared to the gear used now by climbers to tackle Himalayan peaks. This includes the fact that there was no bottled oxygen used by Herzog or his team. Second is that while the gear seems antiquated, the teams experience in the India and rural/remote Nepal doesn’t seem terribly different from what today’s climbers and trekkers experience in the same area. The more things change, the more they stay the same.