Louis Lachenal, the unknown of Annapurna



“I knew my feet were freezing, that the summit was going to cost me them. I did not owe my feet to French youth. So I wanted to go down. I asked Maurice what he would do in this case. He told me he would continue. But I felt that if he continued alone he would not come back. It is for him that I did not turn around. This march to the top was not a matter of national prestige, it was a matter of rope. “

These lines, undoubtedly politically incorrect in the patriotic context of the 1950s, were written by Louis Lachenal a few days before his death at the bottom of a crevasse in November 1955, during a banal descent on skis from the Vallée Blanche (massif of Mont-Blanc). Freed from his confidentiality contract imposed for five years by the organizers of the Himalayan expedition, the child of Chamonix intended to give his own version of the feat. And she was much less heroic than that of the famous Annapurna, first 8,000, dictated on his hospital bed by Maurice Herzog with amputated fingers (Lachenal will only lose toes).

Maurice Herzog’s brother takes charge of censorship

“Herzog was leader by a decision of power and not by unchallenged Alpine supremacy” … “He had a very reduced sense of organization”, wrote Lachenal. These lines were not made public until 1996, during a reissue of Vertigo Notebooks, his autobiography published a few months after his death. And after a few serious scissors from Maurice Herzog, who had entrusted his brother Gérard with the task of removing any passage damaging the legend.

The vertigo notebooks published in 1956 were a great bookstore success, despite the unflattering portrait of the mountaineer, revised and corrected by Gérard Herzog. Louis Lachenal is presented as a crazy driver unstable. “Suicidal limit”, explains Charlie Buffet, editorial director of Guérin-Paulsen editions, which has just published the full version, free of Gérard Herzog’s additions (read below). “Already in Annapurna, first 8000, Maurice Herzog called Lachenal an unreliable guy ”, underlines the editor. For a long time mountain columnist in the press, Charlie Buffet had torn from Maurice Herzog a landmark confession about his companion in the rope: “Maybe I was unfair” (Release, May 24, 2000).

For nearly forty years, from 1956 to 1996, the official version will not suffer any challenge, especially as Maurice Herzog had taken Louis Lachenal’s wife and two children under his protection. But everything changes when Michel Guérin, an advertiser who has converted to the edition of mountain books, adds the embarrassing passages in a new edition of Vertigo Notebooks. “At that time, the star of Maurice Herzog, who had become a successful businessman, began to fade in Chamonix, Charlie Buffet explains. Lachenal’s son becomes aware of the manipulation and struggles to obtain the restoration of his father’s memory. “

“Louis Lachenal was one of the greatest mountaineers of his time”

Justice and lawyers get involved, managing to block the marketing of the book. “When I took over the editorial management, we had shelves full of the 1996 edition that we couldn’t sell for legal reasons”, continues the editor. Eight years after the death of Maurice Herzog in 2012, he wanted to celebrate the twenty-five years of the house through a new edition of this founding book, with the original texts, this time stripped of the interpretations of Gérard Herzog, which were still partly there in the 1996 edition.

“The idea is not to relaunch an old controversy, tempers Charlie Buffet, but to do justice to Louis Lachenal who was one of the greatest mountaineers of his time, a cheerful, reliable type and not at all the hothead presented by the Herzogs ”.

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The Complete Works of Louis Lachenal

Reminders is the title of the widely illustrated album published in mid-October and featuring all of the texts and photos by Louis Lachenal. If he brings back to life a great mountaineering voice that did not have the tongue in his pocket, he is not limited to the report of the ascent of Annapurna. We find there the story of the first ascent of Mont-Blanc of a very young man in 1942, or his feat on the Eiger (Swiss Alps) with Lionel Terray. But also that of his return to climbing after 1950, despite his missing toes, lost after the Annapurna expedition.

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