Last weekend I picked up a second hand (1954) copy of Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. For the uninitiated, this recounts the first successful summit of an 8000m peak, Annapurna 1, by a stellar French team in June of 1950. The book has gone on to sell over 15 million copies and is believed to be the best-selling mountaineering book in history.
I’ve only just started, but I was struck by the heartfelt and well crafted words from Lucien Devies in the preface. I thought I should share the best bit, which for all lovers of mountains may well strike a chord.
The wonderful world of high mountains, dazzling in their rock and ice, act as a catalyst. It suggests the infinite, but it is not the infinite. The heights only give us what we ourselves bring to them. Climbing is a means of self-expression. It’s justification lies in the men it develops, it’s heroes and it’s saints. This was the essential truth which a whole nation gasped when it offered its praise and admiration to the conquerors of Annapurna. Man overcomes himself, affirms himself, and realizes himself in the struggle towards the summit, towards the absolute. In the extreme tension of the struggle, on the frontier of death, the universe disappears and drops away beneath us. Space, time, fear, suffering, no longer exist. Everything then becomes quite simple. As on the crest of a wave, or in the heart of a cyclone, we are strangely calm – not the calm of emptiness, but the heart of action itself. Then we know with absolute certainty that there is something indestructible in us, against which nothing shall prevail.
A flame so kindled can never be extinguished. When we have lost everything it is then we find ourselves most rich. Was it that this certainty that all was well that gave Maurice Herzog the steady courage to endure his ordeal?
The summit is at our feet. Above the sea of golden clouds other summits pierce the blue and the horizon extends to infinity. The summit we have reached is no longer the Summit. The fulfillment of oneself- is it the true end, the final answer?
President du Comite de l’Himalaya et de la Federation Francaise de la Montage