Maurice Herzog | French mountaineer, 93

Maurice Herzog
Maurice Herzog
Posted: December 16, 2012

Maurice Herzog, 93, the first man to climb a 26,5454-foot Himalayan peak despite losing all his fingers and toes to frostbite, died Friday.

The mountaineer, who went on to scale the heights of French politics, became a household name after his 1950 Annapurna climb.

A statement from the Elysee Presidential Palace said he died in France, but it gave no further details. He had lived just outside Paris.

A photograph of Mr. Herzog waving a French tricolor atop the peak in Nepal captured a seminal moment before the grueling descent, during which subzero conditions led to the amputation of all his fingers and toes.

"The marks of the ordeal are apparent on my body," he later said.

Although the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay somewhat eclipsed Mr. Herzog's achievement, Annapurna was not scaled again for about 20 years. Although Everest was the highest mountain in the world, Annapurna was said to be the most dangerous.

His book about the epic expedition, Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak, was called "the most influential mountaineering book of all time" by National Geographic Adventure and made Sports Illustrated's list of the top 100 sports books of all time. It has sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages.

Mr. Herzog parlayed his post-Annapurna fame into a career in French politics, first as a minister for sport under President Charles de Gaulle and later as a national lawmaker and longtime mayor of Chamonix, a famous mountaineering town in the French Alps. He helped France obtain the 1992 Winter Olympics.

Still, later in life, Mr. Herzog's legend was tarnished when it came out that he sought to diminish the role of his climbing companion Louis Lachenal, who died in 1955, by editing his memoirs, which were published after his death.

Lachenal reached the summit of Annapurna with Mr. Herzog and also lost his toes to frostbite. - AP

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