Monday, February 10, 2014

Conquering versus Climbing

Herzog and Blum take very different approaches to recounting their expeditions.  Herzog’s account of conquering Annapurna utilizes a militaristic approach to illustrate the team overpowering Annapurna.  The first way this comes through is his discussion of reconnaissance, attack, conquering, and retreat. Furthermore throughout most of the narrative he projects himself as a firm leader who is in complete control of the expedition, at least while climbing Annapurna. Finally in Herzog’s discussion the team members he primarily discusses their contributions to the group.  This single-minded analysis of how each part fits into the whole reminds me of recounting of military operations. On the other hand, Blum’s discussion of the American expedition has a significantly different feel. First off, while she at one point mentions the siege technique the military imagery is largely absent from her account.  In considering Blum’s recounting her leadership style she does not appear to be fully in control of the expedition. This can be seen from her continual feeling that they should turn back, the Sherpa strike, and Vera W. and Alison’s second summit attempt despite Blum’s protests. Also, where Herzog largely demonstrates his expedition overcoming the mountain and pushing through obstacles, Blum’s narrative largely feels reactionary in the way their logistics were continually being rewritten to deal with mountain conditions. Finally, the way that Blum discusses her team members is very different than Herzog. Where Herzog discussed people largely by role and skills, Blum spends a lot of time discussing less tangible things like personality and emotional states. This difference helped the readers better understand the emotional state of the leader but also made the team seem less effective or efficient. Overall I preferred Herzog’s account of conquering Annapurna due to the apparent control Herzog and his expedition had over the mountain.


  1. I think at face value, yes, the emphasis Blum placed on emotions and thoughts makes her and her team seem less effective or efficient, but in reality I think it made for a more realistic and compelling account of the expedition. I think Herzog came off as having a bit of an "I can do no wrong" attitude that may or may not have been an accurate representation of his mindset on his ascent. Being a leader is a complicated, taxing, and extremely difficult undertaking that, realistically, is heavily impacted by the group dynamic on an emotional level. I think Herzog and Blum were both good leaders but I enjoyed reading Blum more because I felt like I knew why she made the decisions she did and felt like she put a lot of thought into each decision, something I felt was lacking in Herzog's narrative.

  2. Herzog and Blum frame their narratives in certain ways by choosing to acknowledge certain things and omit others. While it may seem like Herzog has control over his surroundings, he doesn’t. No one has control over a mountain or any form of nature. It may seem like Herzog has control over his environment because he doesn’t voice his lack of control quite like Blum, who recognizes her lack of control over Annapurna and writes about it.

    When dealing with a mountain, one’s ability to control seems less important than one’s ability to react, so we must take into the way both narrators frame their reactions to events on Annapurna. Herzog had to react to changes in his environment much like Blum, but he recounted those reactions differently than Blum. While Blum described the group reacting collectively to mishaps throughout the excursion, Herzog described how he reacted to events or how others reacted separately from him.

    The narratives are framed differently because while both adventure narratives, they are geared to different audiences. Blum’s story appeals to less experienced climbers; to women in particular; to emotional and collective problem solvers. Herzog’s story appeals to a more experienced climbing audience; to an audience of pragmatic problem solvers.

    I prefer Blum’s account of her ascent of Annapurna because I could relate to it. How are personality and emotional states less tangible than role and skill? We all have a personality and experience a range of emotions throughout the day. I do not think that Blum’s characterization of her team, revealing their personalities, made them seem less effective or efficient, rather it made them seem more human. Where does effectiveness and efficiency come into play? Is there such a thing as an efficient climb? Personally, I would rather read about an “inefficient” climb that takes me to the edge of my seat.

  3. One of the main differences between Blum's account of her expedition as opposed to Herzog's account of his is that Blum was oriented to the goals of the individuals on her trip as well as the single group goal of making the summit. She was strongly concerned about having each of her members accomplish what each desired whether it be reaching a certain altitude or conquering a different summit from the one the expedition was keyed towards. She was also less concerned about reaching the summit herself and instead hoped to achieve her goal of seeing Tibet from Annapurna. Consequently, having all of these individual goals may have detracted from both having as absolute a focus as Herzog did on reaching the summit and from having as serious and driven an adventure story as Herzog's Annapurna.