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French Himalayan Expedition 1950.


[Herzog on the Northwest Spur]

In 1950, a French expedition set out to climb a Himalayan peak over 8,000m.
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 mountain.
[Sherpas at Camp II] 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.
[Sherpas at Camp III] 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 summit.
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.
[Summit photo] 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.
[The slope below Camp IV] 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.
[Herzog carryed by a sherpa] 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 infected fingers.
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 Maurice Herzog


page updated : 12.sep.98