Monday, February 3, 2014
When Do You Stop?
While reading Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna, the question I could not get out of my mind was: at what point do you stop climbing? Admittedly, I was in awe of the description Herzog gave immediately after reaching the top of Annapurna, as he explained that “I was stirred to the depths of my being. Never had I felt happiness like this- so intense and yet so pure” (114). And yet, as amazing as this description sounded, as amazing as the experience most likely was, I couldn’t help but wonder if Annapurna was worth the risk. Herzog explains wondering the same thing to himself, as he states “there was no doubt about frostbite being a very real danger. Did Annapurna justify such risks?” (141). We know from the book that Annapurna was clearly worth the risk to these men, even when frostbite becomes a reality rather than just a danger. However, from my comfortable position as the “armchair adventurer,” reading the memoir some fifty years later, I could not help but keep asking that question. After that questioning of whether Annapurna is worth the risk, Herzog lets us know just how much he sacrificed. He gives detailed description after detailed description of Oudot clipping off his fingers and toes (he never gives a final tally, but from what I counted, he lost almost all of them) and tells us how his amputation sites get infected and he becomes the host for a half-pound of maggots. As I read this, I asked again: When do you stop climbing? When does the risk, or reality, of horrific danger outweigh anything else? When does the near-brush with death become too near and you stop? Or do you never stop?