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Maurice Herzog, first to summit 8,000-meter peak, dies at 93

By Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
updated 9:25 PM EST, Fri December 14, 2012
French climber Maurice Herzog on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 2005.
French climber Maurice Herzog on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 2005.
  • Maurice Herzog and a fellow climber reached the top of Annapurna in 1950
  • Later he became the French minister for youth and sport
  • Herzog's legendary status was marred by the 1996 publication of the fellow climber's account
  • "He was a great mountaineer, beyond all controversy," a former French official says

(CNN) -- Maurice Herzog, a celebrated French mountaineer who was the first person to reach the top of an 8,000-meter peak, died early Friday in France, the French presidential palace announced. He was 93.

Herzog and fellow climber Louis Lachenal arrived at the summit of the 8,091-meter (26,545-foot) Annapurna in the Himalayas in June 1950. They did not use oxygen masks during their ascent.

In his best-selling book "Annapurna," Herzog gives a painful account of the difficult descent, which cost him and Lachenal several fingers and toes due to frostbite. But without this expedition, Herzog said, "I would not have had the life I had after."

Back in France, Herzog, who had taken part in the resistance during the Second World War, turned his attention to politics. Under President Charles de Gaulle, Herzog became the French minister for youth and sport in 1958, and he served a mayor of Chamonix from 1966 to 1977.

Herzog's legendary status was marred in 1996 by the second publication of Lachenal's "Vertigo Notebook," which included sections omitted in the from 1956 version. The book challenged Herzog's version of events and he was criticized for stealing the glory and ignoring the fact that the ascent had truly been a team effort.

Reaction to Herzog's death poured in from veteran mountaineers and high-powered politicians.

"He was a very complex character who was undeniably charismatic, and a number of gray areas will remain over his mountaineering career," Denis Crabieres, head of the French Mountain Guides Association, said in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV.

"He was a great mountaineer, beyond all controversy, who was able to reinvent himself and succeed in public action," former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told French radio RTL.

French President Francois Hollande issued a statement expressing his condolences to Herzog's family, and added that the climb was an "exploit that will remain in our collective memory."

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