Obituary: Maurice Herzog

Maurice Herzog

Story and photo by Cam Burns 

Maurice Herzog died December 13, aged 93, in Paris. He became internationally famous when he and Louis Lachenal made the first ascent of a peak over 8,000 meters — in this case, Annapurna (10th highest on earth) — in the summer of 1950. The ascent was remarkable because no useful maps of the Himalaya were then available, and the expedition didn’t just climb the peak (without the use of supplemental oxygen), they had to find it first. On the descent, Herzog lost his gloves, and both men were wearing lighter-than-normal boots. Subsequently, they lost all their toes, and Herzog lost most of his fingers.

Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat, who were high on the peak at the same time, didn’t reach the summit but instead helped Herzog and Lachenal down. Terray would later make the first ski descent of Mt. Blanc’s steep northern side with Aspen’s late Bil Dunaway. Herzog’s book about the climb, “Annapurna,” would go on to become the best-selling book about mountaineering on earth, and has sold an estimated 11 million copies since it came out in 1951.

In 1958, Herzog was named French Minister for Sport, and would go on to serve as a member of the International Olympic Committee for more than two decades. If you ever get a chance to see the film, “Annapurna,” do so. The cigarette smoke pouring out of the tents is one of the more interesting sights you’ll ever see in a “climbing” film.

Herzog had many friends in the Aspen area through his involvement with winter sports and the Olympics. He was also mayor of Chamonix, one of Aspen’s sister cities. As such, he was invited to Colorado to serve as Grand Marshall during 2000’s Winterskol parade in Aspen, and later showed his film “Annapurna” at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House.

Cutline: Maurice Herzog as the Grand Marshall at Aspen’s Winterskol parade in 2000 (he shared the carriage with climber Neal Beidleman).

Cam Burns is a writer based in Basalt, Colorado. His latest books are
“Climb: Tales of Man Versus Boulder, Crag, Wall, and Peak” and “The Essential Amory Lovins: Selected Writings.”