Herzog’s expedition up Annapurna involved an incalculable amount of gains as well as sacrifices. The gains, primarily emotional, mostly occurred throughout his ascent of the mountain. While making his way to establish Camp III, Herzog recounts, “I felt in splendid form and as if, somehow, I had found a perfect balance within myself—was this, I wondered, the essence of happiness” (111). Similarly, immediately after summiting the mountain, Herzog exclaims, “How wonderful life would now become! What an inconceivable experience it is to attain one’s ideal and, at the very same moment, to fulfill oneself” (144). These periodic feelings of ultimate happiness and fulfillment were interspersed with physical sufferings of altitude sickness, such as loss of appetite and deterioration of mental processes (141). The benefits of an adrenaline-induced emotional high seemingly outweighed the physical injuries.
Yet the question remains: Did Annapurna justify such risks (141)? Herzog’s near-death experiences in such a desolate, removed environment certainly made me question the tradeoff between gains and sacrifices. Certain ultra-descriptive portions of the text evoked overwhelming feelings of nausea and disbelief at the thought of Herzog’s physical ailments. After suffering from severe frostbite, for instance, Herzog experienced what he considered the worst suffering of his life at the hands of Dr. Oudot. Herzog explicitly describes his physical convulsions, shriveled arteries, and clotted blood that all gravely threatened his life (182). After surviving various amputations, Herzog later discovered that his “foot was harboring a batch of wriggling maggots” (218). I originally intended on including the entire description but could not bring myself to review the remainder of the passage. To what extent is one willing to sacrifice to reach the summit?
On a completely different note, I found Herzog’s interspersed commentary on local Nepalese inhabitants, including both women and his sherpas, peculiar and slightly offensive. Upon entering the village of Tinigaon, Herzog views the natives as “extremely primitive and revoltingly dirty” (42) and later accuses locals of being unreasonable, for “here we were still in the dark ages” (201). Granted, life in the 1950’s did not involve nearly the extent of global sensitivity and respect of cultural differences as exists today, but I still found his commentary a bit naïve. Herzog also observes the local women with an almost voyeuristic eye, desiring to take pictures and forming infatuations with young girls (65-66). Giving Herzog the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that his interactions simply reflect a sort of culture shock; however, such expressions would not be as widely accepted in literature today.