Famed French mountaineer, 93, dies
France loved him for his indefatigable, pioneering spirit — the first man to climb an 8,000-meter Himalayan peak despite losing all his fingers and toes to frostbite, a man who later went on to scale the heights of French politics.
Six decades after his 1950 Annapurna climb made Maurice Herzog a household name, the famed French mountaineer died Friday at age 93.
The statement from the Elysee Presidential Palace said he died in France but gave no further details. He had lived just outside of Paris.
A photograph of Herzog waving a French tricolor atop the 26,545-foot (8,091-meter) 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 Herzog’s achievement, Annapurna was not scaled again for some 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 — the IOC said more than 20 million copies — and has been translated into dozens of languages.
"In overstepping our limitations, in touching the extreme boundaries of man’s world, we have come to know something of its true splendor," Herzog said in the best-selling book.
The International Olympic Committee expressed its deepest sympathy to Herzog’s family. He had been an honorary member of the IOC since 1995, after some 25 years as an active member.
Tributes came in praising Herzog as an inspiration.
"Our nation will miss Maurice Herzog," said French President Francois Hollande, evoking the historic climb "that is engraved enduringly in our collective memory."
Hollande also praised Herzog’s wartime engagement in the French resistance and his second career in public life.
Herzog was "a great figure of the mountains, Haute Savoie and France," said Sophie Dion, a deputy in the French parliament from Herzog’s much-loved home region in the Alps.
As a symbol of the place he occupied in collective French hearts, Herzog was decorated with the Grand Cross in France’s Legion of Honor last year, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Annapurna is ranked the 10th highest peak in the world and has been described as the "world’s deadliest peak." Up to 2009, 60 climbers had died on Annapurna, according to climbing statistics website 8000ers.com, for a fatality rate of around 40 percent.
Herzog, who was born on Jan. 15, 1919, 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 long-time mayor of Chamonix, a famous mountaineering town in the French Alps.
He also helped France obtain the 1992 Winter Olympics for Albertville.
Still, later in life, 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 Herzog and also lost all his toes to frostbite.
There was no immediate information on survivors or funeral arrangements.