Annapurna I - Northeast Face - 1950

Annapurna was climbed for he first time in 1950, by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lacahenal

First ascent of Annapurna I ( 8091m )

Northeast Face

Himalaya, Nepal

3 June 1950

Climbed by Maurice Herzog, Louis Lachenal

Other members of the expedition: Jean Couzy, Marcel Schatz, Lionel Terray, Gaston Rébuffat, Jacques Oudot, Marcel Ichac

Annapurna I was climbed for he first time in 1950, by French climbers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lacahenal. No supplementary oxygen was used.

Annapurna I is the highest of the Annapurna peaks. It is the tenth highest mountain in the world and was the first  8000m peak to be climbed.

The 1950 French expedition was led by Maurice Herzog and was made up of a total of 8 members. Only film-maker and photographer Maurice Ichac had any previous experience of the Himalaya. The French climbers were supported on the mountain by a team of Sherpas.

The expedition was of an exploratory character, with either Dhaulagiri or Annapurna as a potential objective. In the end Annapurna was chosen.

An attempt was made on the mountain's north spur, but led to a dead end at about 6000m. A more practible route was then discovered via the Annapurna North Glacier and the northeast face of the mountain. However, the time spent on reconnaissance left very little time for the climb before the onset of the monsoon.

On 23 May, Camp 1 was established on the north glacier. In effect, it was the advanced base camp for the northeast face. Progress was then rapid.

Camp 5 - the camp from which a summit bid was to be launched - was established on 2 June, at about 7400m, by Herzog, Lachenal and Sherpas Angtharkay and Ang Dawa. The Sherpas then returned to Camp 4, while Herzog and Lachenal spent the night at Camp 5.

The night was windy and drifting snow piled onto the tent. By dawn the climbers were too exhausted to make a hot drink. Nevertheless, they set out for the summit.

After a while Lachenal realised that he could not feel his feet. Fearing frostbite, he asked Herzog: "If I go back, what will you do?" Herzog replied: "I should go on by myself."

Lachenal was a guide, and much the more experienced climber of the pair. He died in a skiing accident in 1955, and it was not until 1996 that an uncensored version of his account of events appeared, published in a new edition of his book Carnets du Vertige (the first, heavily edited version had been published in 1956). He wrote:

"I knew my feet were freezing, that if I went to the summit I would lose them. This climb was like any other to me, higher than in the Alps, but nothing more... I didn't owe the young people of France my feet. I wanted to go down. I asked Maurice what he would do if I did. He said he would go on. It wasn't for me to judge his reasons; alpinism is a very personal thing. But I considered that if he went on alone, he would not come back. It was for him and for him alone that I did not turn around. This summit climb was not about national prestige. It was about a climbing partnership."

They reached the summit. And then the descent began. Right away, Herzog dropped one of his gloves. Forgetting that he had spare socks in his rucksack, he continued bare-handed. At Camp 5 Herzog and Lachenal were met by Terray and Rébuffat.

The next day the weather was bad. The four climbers attempted to descend to Camp 4, but could not find it in the mist. Instead they spent the night in a crevasse. Lachenal's feet were now very stiff, and Herzog's hands and feet were freezing. Rébuffat's feet were also giving cause for concern.

In the morning an avalanche poured into the crevasse and buried everyone's boots, which were only found with difficulty. Terray and Rébuffat, it turned out, were both snowblind, having taken their goggles off the previous day to search for the way down. The team began to grope their way downwards. In the end Marcel Schatz, coming from Camp 4, found them and took them to the camp. Jean Couzy was also there, as were several Sherpas.

Herzog and Lachenal were in urgent need of medical attention, so the whole team set off downwards from Camp 4. An avalanche caught them on the way down, but nevertheless they got off the mountain.

Herzog lost all his finger and toes, and Lachenal lost all his toes.

More about this ascent

External references for this climb.

Annapurna I in the Ascent Book

Other climbs on Annapurna I in the Himalayan Climbs mountaineering database

Mountain Facts

Annapurna I, Nepal

N 28° 35′ 44.4336″ W 83° 49′ 13.9224″

Elevation: 8091m