Monday, 29 February 2016

Book Review: Annapurna by Maurice Herzog

Before Everest, there was Annapurna. Maurice Herzog led an expedition of French climbers to the summit of this 26,000-foot Himalayan peak in 1950. At the time of the assault, it was the highest mountain ever climbed, a remarkable feat in itself made all the more remarkable by the fact that it had never previously been charted. Herzog and his team not only had to climb the darn thing, they had to find the route. As riveting as the tale of the ascent remains nearly half a century later, the story of the descent through virtually unsurvivable--think avalanche and frostbite, for starters--conditions is unforgettable. Herzog's masterful account, finally back in print, is a monument of courage and spirit, an epic adventure excitingly told.

My Review:
I have never climbed a mountain in my life-never really felt the urge to climb anything except the stairs in my house! But I do love reading about expeditions and this is without doubt one of the best. There is so much detail about getting ready for the trip, the trek to the mountains, the climb and then trying to trek back out. It really was a dramatic read.

It starts with the arrival in India and being held up at customs for two days as they are cheerfully told by staff 'Your equipment can all be impounded for the duration of your expedition. It will come to no harm!' Um yeah, not very handy when you actually need all these things to do the climb! That was a bizarre start to the trip! They then have to trek across India and into Nepal to have a look at the first mountain they are considering-Dhaulagiri. They spend a lot of time assessing the mountain from all sides before deciding it is too difficult. Instead they go looking for Annapurna. Due to the poor quality of their maps and cloudy days, they cannot find it. It takes days of trekking to find the correct area and more time to find a route to the mountain itself.

So much time has been wasted that they now have 12 days until the monsoon rains are expected so they have to get all their camps on the mountain fully stocked and get the climbers to the summit and back within this time window. Modern expeditions would probably never have attempted this and I was knackered just reading about it! The men had to take huge loads up the mountain with only overnight rests and no real time to rest and recover in between. It hardly helped that fresh snowfalls meant breaking trail every day and I'm shocked that they actually continued with the mad plan! Already suffering from cold feet, Herzog and Lachenal decide to make a summit bid.

What follows is a shocking tale of frostbite, open air biovack, snow blindness, getting lost, avalanches, horrific medical procedures that I don't even want to THINK about ie arterial and groin injections that had men screaming in agony and amputations without painkillers, and then the long trek back to get help in dreadful weather and life endangering conditions. It really was a shocking story and why people put themselves through these things to climb is beyond me! The detail of the medical side had me cringing. I just can't imagine what these guys were thinking and feeling. *shudder*

When you read about these early expeditions where they have to trek to the mountains, you actually wonder how any of them had the strength to climb when they got there. They don't have all the high tech equipment and help that is available now to make things a bit easier. These men really achieved amazing things with what was available to them and I do salute their courage, even if I think they are a bit bananas!

This is a fascinating read and it really shows you what happens on a climb where everything seems to be conspiring against the climbers. Highly recommended to fans of mountain climbing books.
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