He lived a long and what I can only assume to be a fulfilled life. He gained a fame (and maybe a fortune?) that most professional athletes can only dream of. While his record of his Annapurna climb has stoked controversy time and time again, he was certainly a hero in the eyes of the French. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor, just last year (which is still more than 60 years after the feat that gained him such fame and award).
His book was one of the first I read when I became interested in climbing. A quick search on eBay found me an english first edition, which I quickly devoured. The book is a tale of struggle and heroic feats as Herzog and his team reconnoiter and climb Annapurna in 1950, before the days of the “advanced” gear that my colleague and I used on Mt. Adams in August (that’s not to compare the climbs, obviously Adams is but a mole hill compared to Annapurna…but yet our gear for that mole hill was lightyears ahead of what Herzog had on Annapurna).
One of my favorite parts of the book is the very end, with his line “there are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men.” I’ve seen this quote interpreted a few different ways, but the way I understand it is that to Herzog, Annapurna was the unreachable goal, the challenge that he felt was worth the risk to tackle. For other climbers, their Annapurna might be Mt. Ranier, or Mt. Adams, or the local crag. For others, their Annapurna might be a personal challenge completely unrelated to climbing.
As one reads climbing literature published since Herzog’s climb or navigates to climbing related websites and watches climbing related movies, it’s amazing how many people cite Herzog’s book as their inspiration and/or introduction to climbing. Most of them describe how they found it when they were young, and it kicked them off into a life-long love of the mountains. I was a bit late to the game, and I was inspired before I read the book. But that didn’t change the effect that the book had on me. No matter your position in life, the story is invigorating and inspirational.
Herzog and his team could have easily perished on Annapurna in 1950. Instead they succeeded, inspired France and a whole generation of climbers, and he lived to be 93…dying in Paris.
Here‘s a link to his New York Time obituary.