It’s winter here in Vermont, and our rolling hills and green mountain-sides are blanketed in soft snow. It looks sublime, and it inspires thoughts of wilderness adventure. We are reminded of those who have followed those kindled inspirations and trekked the great outdoors – Heinrich Harrer, Edmund S. Hilary – mountaineers of the early to mid Twentieth Century.
Harrer was involved in the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1938, and he traveled with German-Austrian group Andreas Heckmair, Wiggerl Vorg, and Fritz Kasparek. This route was considered the “last great problem of the [Switzerland] Alps.”Heckmair later wrote: “We, the sons of the older Reich, united with our companions from the Eastern Border to march together to victory” (Engel, 1950). Twelve years later Harrier would publish Seven Years in Tibet, chronicling his daring trek across the Himalayas, his happy sojourn in Tibet, and his tutorship to the Dalai Lama.
The 1950s saw the first ascents of most of the “eight-thousanders,” beginning with the climb of the Annapurna, Himalayas by French expeditioners Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal. Herzog’s Annapurna sold more than any other mountaineering title. It sensationally recounts the two climber’s summit dash. Their light boots, single sleeping bag, and Herzog’s accidental loss of gloves resulted in severe frostbite and gangrene infection that required emergency amputations. Both climbers lost all of their toes and Herzog most of his fingers.
The Annapurna summit was the highest attained for three years, until the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, Nepal (8,848 m) by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
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Engel, Claire Elaine. A History of Mountaineering in the Alps. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1950.
Herzog, Maurice. Annapurna. New York, NY: The Lyons Press, 1997.