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True Summit

What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna

The first conquest ever made of an 8,000-meter peak occurred in June 1950, when a French team reached the summit of Annapurna in the Himalaya. The achievement was a source of great pride in postwar France, and the expedition leader, Maurice Herzog, became a national hero. His account of the expedition, Annapurna, remains to this day the best-selling mountaineering book ever.
But there is more to this story than Herzog's book reveals. Annapurna is one man's version of a triumph that came at a tragic cost, as Herzog lost all his fingers and toes to frostbite, his partner Louis Lachenal all his toes. The book describes a valiant effort by a unified, self-sacrificing team. The reality, however, was otherwise. The expedition was torn by dissent. The honors heaped on Herzog were not shared by the other climbers, some of whom deserved them as much as their leader. In truth, the triumph of the expedition was all the more remarkable, and the story of what really happened is far richer than Annapurna suggests.
In place of Maurice Herzog's idealized version of the conquest, David Roberts offers in True Summit the real story of the Annapurna expedition. Drawing on original manuscripts and letters, some of them unpublished, as well as books recently published in France, he gives the three superb climbers who accompanied Herzog -- Lachenal, Lionel Terray, and Gaston Rébuffat -- long overdue recognition for their achievement. At the same time, he has interviewed Herzog, the lone survivor among the climbers, and puts his account of the climb in proper perspective.
Annapurna fired the imaginations of millions of readers, including thousands of young climbers, the author among them. Roberts writes about the effect that the book had on him and other climbers he knew. He explains why it has taken nearly fifty years for the full story of this famous expedition to emerge and how the revelations will change forever the way we think about this victory in the mountains and the climbers who achieved it.

Photo by Irene Owsley/Irene Owsley Photography

David Roberts is the author of twenty-four books on mountaineering, adventure, and the history of the American Southwest. His essays and articles have appeared in National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. He lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.

More books from this author: David Roberts