Sunday, March 22, 2009
Born in Brixen, Italy and a native speaker of German and fluent in Italian,
he grew up in Villnöß and spent his early years climbing in the Alps and fell in love with the Dolomites. His father, Josef Messner, was a teacher. He was also very strict and sometimes severe with Reinhold. Josef led Reinhold to his first summit at the age of five. Reinhold had eight brothers and one sister: he later climbed with his brother Günther and made Arctic crossings with his brother Hubert. When Reinhold was age 13, he began climbing with his brother Günther, age 11. By the time Reinhold and Günther were in their early twenties they were among Europe's best climbers.
Since the sixties, and inspired by Hermann Buhl, he was one of the first and more enthusiastic supporters of alpine style mountaineering in the Himalayas, which consisted of climbing with very light equipment and a minimum of external help. Messner considered the usual expedition style ("siege tactics") disrespectful towards nature and mountains.
His first major Himalayan climb in 1970, the unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, turned out to be a tragic success. Both he and his brother Günther Messner reached the summit, but Günther died two days later on the descent of the Diamir face. Reinhold lost six toes, which had become badly frostbitten during the climb and required amputation. Reinhold has been severely criticized for persisting on this climb with an insufficiently experienced Günther.
While Messner and Peter Habeler were noted for fast ascents in the Alps of the Eiger North Wall, standard route (10 hours) and Les Droites (8 hours), his 1975 Gasherbrum I first ascent of a new route took 3 days. This was unheard of at the time. And similarly his second solo Everest ascent was also done in a short time.
In the 1970s, Messner championed the cause for ascending Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen, saying that he would do it "by fair means" or not at all.
In 1978, he reached the summit of Everest with Habeler.
This was the first time anyone had been that high without bottled oxygen and Messner and Habeler proved what most doctors, specialists, and mountaineers thought impossible. It changed mountaineering forever. He repeated the feat, without Habeler, from the Tibetan side in 1980, during the monsoon season. This was Everest's first solo summit.
In 1978, he made a solo ascent of the technically difficult Diamir face of Nanga Parbat. In 1986, Messner became the first to complete all fourteen eight-thousanders (peaks over 8,000 metres above sea level).
Messner has crossed Antarctica on skis with Arved Fuchs. He has written a number of books about his experiences, many available translated into English and other languages. He was featured in the 1984 film The Dark Glow of the Mountains by Werner Herzog.
Messner today carries on a diversified business related to his mountaineering skills. From 1999 to 2004, he held political office as a Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Green Party (Federazione dei Verdi. He was also among the founders or Mountain Wilderness, an international NGO dedicated to the protection of mountains worldwide.
In 2004 he crossed 2000 kilometres through the Gobi desert. He has now mainly devoted himself to the Mountain Museum, a complex of museums, about several mountain-related themes, of which he is the founder.
He has carried that heavy burden to the literal ends of the earth. Messner, 62, is not only the greatest high-altitude mountaineer the world has ever known; he is probably the best it will ever know. His 1980 solo ascent of Mount Everest by "fair means" — without sherpas, crevasse ladders or supplemental oxygen — remains the most primal test conceivable of man against the earth.
That ascent, and Messner's subsequent conquest of the world's 13 other peaks of 8,000 m or more, set the gold standard for mountaineering. "He had nobody's footsteps to follow," says Ed Viesturs, an American climber who completed the fair-means ascent of all 14 of those peaks in spring 2005. "After Messner, the mystery of possibility was gone; there remained only the mystery of whether you could do it."
Messner's obsession was formed early in the Dolomites and other Alpine ranges — he was born in a narrow German-speaking valley of Italy's South Tyrol. His first venture to the Himalayas in 1970 ended in tragedy when his younger brother Günther died after summiting Nanga Parbat. Several members of that expedition accused Messner of abandoning his brother in an egotistical push to open a new route of descent, but the discovery of Günther's body last year confirmed Messner's contention that he had been killed by an avalanche.
Messner later traversed Greenland and the Gobi Desert, and tackled both poles by fair means. He served a term in the European Parliament for the Italian Green Party, and now heads a range of museums about the lure of mountains and raises a family back in South Tyrol, where it all began. He's been decried as arrogant, defensive and abrasive. But in answering to no one but himself, Messner obeys a higher calling. His achievements will inspire lone wolves and stubborn dreamers for generations to come.