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Famed French mountaineer Maurice Herzog dies

By Greg Keller

PARIS -- French mountaineer Maurice Herzog, who became the first person to scale an 8,000-meter peak but lost all his fingers and toes to frostbite on the way down, died Friday. He was 93.

Herzog, a member of the International Olympic Committee for 25 years and a former sports minister, died of natural causes, said Pierre You, the president of the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing.

A photograph of Herzog waving a French tricolor atop the 26,545-foot Annapurna in the Himalayas on June 3, 1950, made front pages around the world.

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

"Our nation will miss Maurice Herzog," Hollande said.

All of Herzog's fingers and toes had to be amputated after the expedition to Annapurna, which he later recounted 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.

Herzog was "a great figure of the mountains, Haute Savoie and France," said Sophie Dion, a deputy in the French parliament from Herzog's home region in the Alps.

Annapurna is ranked the 10th highest peak in the world, and has been described as the "world's deadliest peak." Up to 2009, 60 climbers had died on Annapurna, according to climbing statistics website 8000ers.com, for a fatality rate of around 40 percent.

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 long-time mayor of Chamonix in the French Alps. He also helped France obtain the 1992 winter Olympics for Albertville.

Last year, 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.

In a statement, the International Olympic Committee expressed its deepest sympathy to Herzog's family. He had been an honorary member of the IOC since 1995, after some 25 years as an active member.

Later in life, 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.

There was no immediate information on survivors or funeral arrangements.


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