Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My practical head

I don't know if this is just my practical head taking over, but while I am awed and impressed by the scale of the mountains, I am even more taken with the scale and level of this logistical operation. Not only is Herzog a reputable and well established climber, but he also is the guiding force of this operation. He is so impressive to me as a leader! While reading I am overwhelmed by his role as the ultimate decision maker in this expedition.

First of all, I was struck by the oath that each member of this expedition must take:
"I swear upon my honor to obey the leader in everything regarding the Expedition in which he may command me" (pg 5).
Clearly, this oath is not taken or received lightly. I cannot imagine being in a situation where eight people swear to do what I say in this manner. Reading further and further on, I have come to understand the necessity of this leader, but starting the book this way set the dramatic tone from the start.

Secondly, I did not realize that in order to attempt to summit a mountain that rises over 8,000 meters, the members of the expedition first had to find it! I have never been to the Himalayas, but I was just surprised that a mountain that rises that high would have to first be located. This seems like a logistical nightmare! Not only did Herzog have to make the ultimate decision which mountain to climb, but first he had to find both of the peaks, and a potential way up each! Herzog becomes more and more impressive to me as he delegates and organized his team so efficiently on excursions to scope out the terrain. Almost more impressive than the way he delegates and organizes is the way that he interacts with the members of his team. While Herzog makes the ultimate decision to turn their full attention toward Annapurna, he makes sure that everyone on his expedition is content on this shift in attention before anything is finalized. He is the ultimate leader- clearly everyone on his team respects him enough to do what he says no matter what, but he will not make decisions without the input on everyone on his team, including the photographer and the doctor.

One great example of Herzog's logistical prowess comes in his letter to Tukucha, when he is telling the other members of his team that they are going to make a full out assault on the peak, and detailing instructions to each person. To Noyelle he gives detailed instructions about what gear he needs, listing about 25 different types of items with specific amounts of each.
"...2 gallons of gasoline, one 100 foot 8 mm. rope, two 50 foot 9 mm. ropes, 650 feet of 5 mm. line, 15 ice pitons,..." (pg 91).
How can one man keep all of this straight?

Herzog continues to impress me as the story progresses. I cannot help but admire and appreciate his superb leadership skills in the face of such a logistically heavy expedition.


  1. I was also struck by Herzog's leadership, not just in terms of the logistical operations that he was organizing but in how he managed the sometimes competing personalities of his team. Even when being called an "obstinate old devil" (115 in my version) he sticks to his decisions, and the members of his team eventually come around to respect his decision and run with it. Not only does this demonstrate strong leadership on Herzog's part, but it also shows strong followership on the part of the other members of the team. I was particularly impressed by the thought process he described as guiding his discussion of the "council of war" (99). He writes, "I wanted to appear to be defending possibilities which I really knew were hopeless" (99). And then once the group settles on Annapurna and is all excited and ready to go, Herzog immediately quiets everyone down to assign tasks in an organized and methodical manner. The logistics of such an expedition are so great, and I had trouble keeping track of everything when I was reading about it. Who was at which camp, how much gear was at each camp, who was going where, communicating with everyone, etc. Just reading about it seemed overwhelming so I can't imagine what it would be like to actually be doing it. I think it provides an example of the necessity of having a single person in charge. I feel like too many things would get lost along the way with more than one person in charge of so many people, and that would, to put it simply, not be good.

  2. At first I certainly was also awestruck by Herzog's leadership skills. He was doing everything right in my eyes. The planning seemed impeccable, despite the unforeseen difficulties. But it was at the summit, so to speak, that I began to doubt Herzog. We haven't quite had a chance to talk about this as a class yet, but he and Lachenal were the only ones on the whole expedition to make it up the mountain. Lachenal made it very clear during the last climb that his body was in terrible danger and that he wanted to go down. But Herzog wanted, for selfish reasons, to continue and chose not to accompany Lachenal back down given the choice. I think this was selfish of him because on some level both men knew Lachenal and probably most of the others on the expedition would have followed Herzog up. I just don't think that the consequences incurred were worth summiting. I became curious at that time about what the French peeps' decision about a retry the next year would have been. Or why they didn't plan for it in the first place. But anyway, I think Herzog was a talented leader at the beginning, but his friends and followers had to take up the mantle as soon as Herzog achieved what he wanted and essentially gave up, failed to follow through. I also got sick of Herzog complaining chapter after chapter at the end. At the end of the day, frostbite was a choice he made, and writing all that griping into the book immortalizes it. Lame. I'm also aware I'm being overly critical.