Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teamwork & Reality

There's a certain adventurous, fearless, and driven spirit that one needs to embark on an expedition such as Herzog's team's summit of Annapurna. As Herzog said, "Let me put it clearly on record that their zeal for the adventure was entirely unselfish. From the start every one of them knew that nothing belonged to him and that he must expect nothing on his return. Their only motive was great ideal; this was what linked together mountaineers so widely dissimilar in background and so diverse in character." (4) I wonder what inculcates such a powerful, selfless outlook in people. In comparison to solo expeditions that we have talked about previously, this one required a more or less complete relinquishment of individual priorities in deference to the team's success. It also raises some pretty intense psychological struggles and logistical concerns. In order to safely complete the trip, this expedition demanded teamwork in its truest meaning. Compared to individual climbing quests where the goal may be to escape society, this Annapurna mission attempted to instill different life skills such as group leadership, working together, and understanding.

There's such a strong sense of reality on this expedition; life is about survival, success, and teamwork. As Herzog said at the beginning, "We were happy to be in the mountains at last and to be able, from now on, to devote ourselves to the real object of the whole expedition." (15) To me, that pure devotion is one of the most appealing things about spending time out in nature. Granted, I have never remotely attempted anything to the extent of what Herzog's team set out to do, but I can appreciate that resignation from outside concerns, for nature demands clear focus and priorities. As leader of his expedition, Herzog realized the respect that Annapurna necessitated. To talk a little bit more about the concept of 'reality,' until their expedition began, Annapurna was simply a dream: "Everyone had formed his own personal idea of these mountains. Were [they] going to be disappointed?" (11) Their first glimpse of the Himalayas "exceeded anything [they] had imagined" (11), however, and put their expedition into perspective. In a  climb that is challenging both mentally and physically, I can imagine getting consumed by the details of the climb and losing the appreciation for the greater natural landscape. However, it is this grounding and other momentary appreciations of the gravity of where one is that make an outdoor adventure so powerful. The unknown is, arguably, one of the general public's most prominent fears. I can't quite imagine tackling an expedition to a previously un-summited mountain, yet the unknown also harbors a distinct air of excitement and possibilities, and I understand how this is an incredibly attractive feature. 


  1. I thought similarly, and as I read their descent I was also impressed by the faith that Herzog had in his team and the Sherpas to carefully lift him down the mountain. Lachenal urges him to go out of fear of catching frostbite, but unfortunately, they do anyways. Herzog seems utmost concerned about the members of his team even though he has the most severe frostbite. He notes that he might be beyond the point of sadness for himself because it seems inevitable that he will lose at least some portions of his hands and feet. The pain of frostbite doesn't seem fully realized until it is time for Oudot to give him the injections. He howls like a baby and asks for Terray to be there for him. Herzog notes how having him there made it possible for him to persevere, showing the value of the team even after the ascent had been completed. It also reinforced the real danger of the descent and the price one pays.As leader of the expedition, Herzog rightfully was the first to sacrifice body toward reaching the goal. He also shows humility and courage by admitting that the comfort of his friend is vital to him making it through the operation.

  2. The devotion and implicit trust of the team struck me, as well. Herzog stresses repeatedly that this expedition would not have been possible without the efforts of the entire team, something he deeply appreciates as he relies on the supplies coming from Base Camp and the men who carry him down the mountain. As the expedition's leader and the narrator of the text, Herzog is always at the center of the action, and he is one of the only two men to reach the summit. But Noyelle, given the task of organizing supplies and porters, is the member who is always prepared to send more tents and food, without which the expedition could not have succeeded. And regarding his role as a leader, the complications of Herzog's frostbite force him to relinquish all duties on the journey down the mountain and across Nepal. I think that his gratitude and acknowledgement of the strengths of the rest of the team was the most moving part of the book for me, as it showcased the good and the true elements of the team.