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Maurice Herzog, French mountain climber, dies at 93

Maurice Herzog, who died Dec. 14, 2012. (Anonymous/AP)

Maurice Herzog, a French mountaineer who became the first person to scale 26,545-foot Annapurna in the Himalayas but lost all his fingers and toes to frostbite on the way down, died Dec. 14 . He was 93.

A statement from the French presidential palace said he died in France but gave no further details. He lived just outside of Paris.

A photograph of Mr. Herzog waving a French tricolor atop Annapurna, the 10th-highest mountain in the world, on June 3, 1950, made front pages around the world.

French President Francois Hollande praised Mr. Herzog for the historic climb “that is engraved enduringly in our collective memory,” his wartime engagement in the French resistance and his second career in public life.

All of Mr. Herzog’s fingers and toes had to be amputated after the expedition to Annapurna, which he later described in a best-selling book. His partner on the expedition, Louis Lachenal, died in a skiing accident in 1955.

Though Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mount Everest three years later, Annapurna was not scaled again for 20 years.

Annapurna has been described as “the world’s deadliest peak.” As of 2009, 60 climbers had died on Annapurna, according to the climbing statistics Web site, for a fatality rate of around 40 percent.

Mr. Herzog, who was born on Jan. 15, 1919, parlayed his post-Annapurna fame into a career in French politics, first as a minister for sport under Charles de Gaulle and later as a national lawmaker and longtime mayor of Chamonix in the French Alps. A member of the International Olympic Committee for 25 years, he helped France obtain the 1992 Winter Olympics for Albertville.

Last year, Mr. Herzog was decorated with the Grand Cross in France’s Legion d’Honneur, the country’s highest civilian honor.

His book about the epic expedition, “Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak,” was called “the most influential mountaineering book of all time” by National Geographic Adventure and made Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 sports books of all time. It has sold millions of copies and has been translated into dozens of languages.

Later in life, Mr. Herzog’s legend was tarnished when it came out that he sought to diminish the role of his climbing companions by editing Lachenal’s memoirs, published after his death.

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