French Himalayan Expedition 1950.
In 1950, a French expedition set out to climb a Himalayan peak over
The expedition members are the most famous and skilled alpinists:
Maurice Herzog - the leader of the expedition, amateur climber
Louis Lachenal - mountain guide
Lionel Terray - mountain guide
Gaston Rébuffat - mountain guide
Jean Couzy - amateur climber
Marcel Schatz - amateur climber
Marcel Ichac - photographer
Jacques Oudot - doctor
Francis de Noyelle - liaison officer
The primary target was the Dhaulagiri (8,167m, 26,795ft), so they
began the reconnaissance the little known east and north side of the
They found that the maps of the Indian Survey was quite inaccurate,
even the ridges and the glaciers were not in the right place and
direction. The experience of the reconnaissance was disappointing
about not finding such "easy routes" as the previous expeditions had
met in the Himalayas. There’s no possibility to pick up camps and
use the sherpas on that routes.
Thus the climbers decided to take a chance with the Annapurna
(8,078m, 26,493ft). After several reconnaissances only 12 days before
the estimated date of the monsoon they set the Base Camp at the
North Annapurna Glacier. The weather was fine and the expedition
established Camp I on the right bank of the North Annapurna Glacier,
and Camp II on the plateau of the glacier which descents directly
from the summit. There was some hard section on the route to Camp
III, and had to use fixed ropes. The progress was good, but the
climbers had problems with the acclimatization. The Camp III was
established on a steep slope, and used seracs and crevasses as
protection against avalanches.
Next day Herzog with two sherpas went forward and after crossing the
great couloir they cut away some ice and picked up a tent for Camp
IV. The storm and the deep snow forced Terray and Lachenal to turn
back without establishing Camp V.
The time was short and Herzog decided that he and Lachenal would
go up from Camp II to Camp IV, establish one more camp, and try the
On the 2nd of June the two climbers and two sherpas left Camp IV.
The terrain was very hard - the slope was steep (about 40 degrees)
and the snow was waist-deep. Finally they established Camp V at
24,600ft, and the sherpas descended to Camp IV.
After a terrible night Herzog and Lachenal started early morning.
The cold was bitter and Lachenal felt his feet begun to freeze.
From time to time he stopped and stamped with his feet hard to keep
the circulation on. The march was exhausting but they continued the
struggle to the summit. Near the ridge they found a steep couloir
leading upward. The climbers chose the snowy part of the couloir
to use the advantage of their crampons. The ridge come closer and
closer, and at 2 o’clock Herzog and Lachenal reached highest point
of the brown rocky ridge - the top of Annapurna.
Herzog tried to enjoy the greatness of the moment and took several
photographs. Lachenal was anxious about his feet, and hurried his
partner to go down. Finally he begun to descent into the couloir,
and Herzog followed him hundred yards behind. When Herzog undid his
rucksack, he suddenly dropped his gloves, witch slid down the slope.
Unfortunately he forgot to use his spare socks as gloves, so he
continued the descent with bare hands. The clouds grew thicker and
Lachenal - who had hundreds of yards advantage - went out of his
companion’s sight. Finally Herzog reached Camp V, where Rébuffat and
Terray picked up an other tent and waited for the climbers.
The smile of the happiness vanished when they recognized, that
Herzog’s hand seriously injured in the cold, and they worried about
the absence of Lachenal. In the temporary lack of mist Terray
caught sight of his old climbing fellow hundreds of yards lower.
In spite of Lachenal’s wish to go down in the storm, Terray lead
him up to the camp.
Rébuffat and Terray spent the night with restoring the circulation
of the other two’s limbs by beating the hands and the feet.
After another awful night the climbers started to go down. They
formed two healthy-injured party, and Lachenal wore Terray’s bigger
boots because of the wounds on his feet. The show fell in big flakes
and the mist was such thick, as the visibility was only some dozen
yards. The parties reached some familiar landmarks, but they didn’t
find Camp IV. The weather did not improved and in the end they had
to spend the night in a bivouac. There was no time to dig a hole for
the four people, thus Rébuffat found a small crevasse for the
bivouac. The climbers went down into the tight hole and after a ten
yard slide they found themselves in a small place, which was
definitely uncomfortable, but protected the men against the cold and
the wind. Terray shared the only sleeping bag with Lachenal and
steadily rubbed the feet of the injured alpinists.
The morning came with daylight, and an avalanche. The poured snow
buried the climbers, the boots, and the equipment. It took a time
to find all the boots and crampons, but the camera lost in the hole.
The weather was clearer than the previous day, but Rébuffat and
Terray was snowblinded, and Lachenal wanted to go straight down
without his boots like a maniac. Finally the team began the descent,
and soon they met with Schatz who came from the lower camp only two
hundred yards away from the crevasse. He and Couzy attend on the four
tired and injured men in Camp IV.
Then Schatz went back and lower down into the cavern, and finally he
dug out every important equipment, except the movie camera. With the
assistance of the sherpas and the fresh expedition members, the whole
team begun to go down. Crossing the grand couloir was quite dangerous,
because the heat melted the fresh snow. Suddenly large mass of snow
slipped below the two sherpas roped to Herzog, and the party slid
down few hundred feet. Fortunately a hard piece of snow caught the
rope in the middle, on one side with Herzog, and the sherpas on the
another. However the rope twisted around the neck and the foot of the
climber, he survived the accident without any serious damage.
Then came the hardest part of the descent, the almost vertical rocky
wall between Camp III and Camp II. Although the sherpas lower down
Herzog, he had to use his insensible hands to hold the fixed rope.
The skin on his hand broke in several places, and stuck to the rope.
At the end of the descent he fell about 3 feet, and only the sound
of a crack showed the sign of a broken bone in his frozen foot.
Finally after this epic struggle, the snowblinded, frostbitten and
exhausted team reached Camp II, where Oudot (the expedition’s doctor)
begun to attend on the injured alpinists.
The retreat from Camp II was easier, because the terrain enabled the
sherpas to carry down Herzog, Lachenal and Rébuffat who were not
able to walk. Oudot’s arterial injections helps to restore the
circulation in the frostbitten limbs, but later had to cut some
Despite the lots of injuries the expedition was successful - the
French climbers conquered Annapurna by a previously unknown route
at the first attempt.
Sketch of the lower part of the route
Sketch of the route near the summit
The legends of the photos (Click the pictures for the larger image)
- Herzog, first on the rope, climbing the northwest spur of Annapurna
- Sherpas at Camp II examining the Cauliflower ridge in the left background
- The sherpas at Camp III prepare tea, while Lionel Terray searches the horizon
- Victory! Maurice Herzog is photographed by Louis Lachenal holding up the tricolor on the top of Annapurna
- A sherpa crosses the ice slope below Camp IV at about 23,000 feet
- Sharki (left) helps the porter who is carrying Herzog in the cacolet down toward the Base Camp
From the book : ANNAPURNA, First Conquest of an 8000-meter Peak by
page updated : 12.sep.98