Hello True Spirit Community, Coach Nick here! I will be writing the blog posts for the next few weeks while Leslie is enjoying a well-deserved vacation! On Mondays I will be writing about stories of human accomplishment that I find fascinating and very motivational. In Crossfit we talk about the term “perceived effort”. This essentially means that we all have a different tolerance for work and even though we may be using different weights or doing different movements we are all working hard and getting better! A lot of these stories will be extreme examples of mental toughness and endurance but we can all use them to find some motivation and put in similar amount of “perceived effort” in our daily lives! It is inspiring to see you all come into the gym and work so hard to get better every day!
Today I want to highlight the story of a man named Maurice Herzog and his team. Maurice was a French mountaineer who together with his climbing partner, Louis Lachanel became the first humans to ascend an 8,000m summit in the Himalaya. They accomplished this feat by climbing Annapurna I which stands at 26,545ft and is the 10th highest mountain in the world.
What makes this story so fascinating is that the expedition set out from France with the rather obscure goal of climbing an 8000m peak, they didn’t even know which mountain they were going to climb! On March 30th 1950 the expedition flew from France to New Delhi, India, which at the time was the only way to access the Himalaya region. Equipped with a few very inaccurate maps, a mountain of gear, and no idea here the mountains actually were, the group made the long trek across India into Nepal.
After spending weeks scouting for a route up another 8000m peak called Dhaulagiri the party determined that there was no route that they could use to ascend. After much debate they turned their focus to Annapurna and found a route that seems feasible. During this time they were quite literally rewriting the map since it was almost completely wrong. They spent weeks trying to find a route that would even allow them to get to a basecamp! After waiting out extreme weather conditions and spending considerable time apart trying to reconnoiter different routes the group finally decided it was time for a summit attempt.
Due to various injuries and extreme weather Maurice Herzog and his partner Lachanel were the only members of the group to summit Annapurna after a harrowing ordeal to even reach the summit. As is the case in many mountaineering expeditions, reaching the summit turned out to be the easy part as troubles began for the pair of climbers immediately upon their descent. On the summit, Herzog made a mistake that would make any experienced climber cringe, he took off his gloves! He watched in despair as his gloves slid down the mountain at an elevation of over 26,000ft. By the time he reached a lower camp where his friends were waiting his hands were frostbitten beyond recovery and he was still over 22,000ft up the mountain. At the same time his partner Lachanel was missing and nowhere to be found. That night the group heard Lachanel calling for help, it turned out he fell and was about 500ft below the camp by himself in the dark. The group spent a miserable night in camp nursing their frostbite and preparing for the descent the next morning.
Unfortunately for the two climbers tragedy struck again the next morning when they fell into a crevasse and were completely buried in snow. Herzog had to use all of this remaining strength to pull himself and his partner (who lost his boots) out of the hole they were stuck in. In this debacle they also lost their camera that had all of the pictures of their summit attempt! Luckily, after exiting the crevasse another member of their expedition found them and the rescue operation to get the two injured climbers off the mountain commenced. Herzog and Lachanel were basically carried off of the mountain and through miles of treacherous mountain trails, jungle, and desert to reach the relative safety of India where they flew home and received a hero’s welcome at home in France. Throughout the entire journey home Herzog and Lachanel barely clung to life and were miraculously saved by the doctor on the expedition. The two climbers spent years in recovery but were eventually able to climb again and both remain legends in the climbing community.
What makes this story so fascinating is that Annapurna is STILL universally recognized as the most dangerous of all the 8000m peaks in the Himalaya. Even with the help of modern equipment and technology, statistically 1 in 2 climbers that attempt this expedition die. The trek to even get to the basecamp of Annapurna is extremely dangerous and still causes serious injuries and fatalities along the way. Herzog’s expedition had 1950’s mountaineering equipment and clothing (no GORETEX!) and didn’t even know where the mountain WAS let alone the route to get there. Was it luck or pure grit and determination that allowed this party to be successful? I will let you decide, but this story of human accomplishment is certainly one for the books!
In the year following his expedition Herzog wrote the book Annapurna, which I certainly recommend reading if this story interests you. There’s so many more harrowing moments and inspiring events than I had room to write about here. Herzog ends his book with the quote “Annapurna, to which we had gone emptyhanded, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.”
Back to the theme of “perceived effort”, I doubt that any of us have plans to climb Annapurna in the near future, but all of us have goals and challenges in our lives. What is your personal Annapurna? Hopefully, you can draw on stories of achievement like this to take steps to conquer your goals. It’s amazing to see all of you work so hard every day to tackle the one hour “Annapurna” that you face at the gym. Let’s get motivated this Monday to keep moving forward and reach our goals!
Have a great Monday everyone!
P.S- I have a copy of this book if anyone wants to borrow it!
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