Reinhold Messner
November 13, 2012 7:07 AM   Subscribe

"Murdering the Impossible" - a 2006 National Geographic profile of Reinhold Messner, "the greatest climber in history".

The Crystal Horizon is Messner's account of becoming the first man to summit Everest solo and without supplemental oxygen:

Only quite seldom can I overcome my separation from the world, can I feel myself at one with the cosmos - when I am climbing. And then only if through extreme stress, and concentration on the greatest difficulties, I reach a state in which my ego dissolves itself.
posted by Egg Shen (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
So Reinhold Messner climbs to escape his ego? Makes sense, I guess.
posted by brokkr at 7:26 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of his unauthorized biography.
posted by Mcable at 7:30 AM on November 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

And then only if through extreme stress, and concentration on the greatest difficulties, I reach a state in which my ego dissolves itself.

He's going to be kicking himself when someone finally tells him about drugs.
posted by Theta States at 7:36 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like that he promoted alpine style ascents in an age where giant sieges were the norm. To me that's a much more pure way of climbing a peak. I love the idea of a self-sufficient team getting themselves higher and higher, rather than a pyramid approach starting with hundreds of porters eventually putting a couple people in to position to bag the summit.

I've never felt climbing without oxygen was something that made a climber great. Not to diminish their accomplishments, but climbers like Messner and Ed Viesturs were basically able to do what they did due to a freak of their physiology. No matter how great a climber is, if he's not able to climb high without oxygen due to the way his body works, that's it. He can train and acclimate until the cows come home but he's still going to get up into the death zone and lose his mind. Messner and Viesturs and others were just lucky in that regard. In fact after reading Viesturs' autobiography it was clear that most of the routes he did on the 8k peaks were walk-ups. Not that K2 is a "walk up", but it's not like he pushed for new, harder routes. He was just able to climb those mountains without oxygen and that's what made his accomplishments special.

There's also the argument that they set a precedent, causing other climbers, those whose bodies were not up to the task, to attempt climbs without oxygen. I know not everyone agrees with Jon Krakauers' criticisms of Antoli Boukreev, but he makes the case that Boukreev's decision to climb (as a paid guide) without oxygen prevented him from properly caring for his clients. I suppose if Messner hadn't started the trend someone else would have though.

In any event, Messner is a fucking amazing super-human and I'm not worthy of carrying his shit down a mountain, much less even dreaming of accomplishing 1/100th of what he's done.
posted by bondcliff at 7:47 AM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

To me that's a much more pure way of climbing a peak.

Göran Kropp rode his bicycle, alone, with all of his gear, from Stockholm to Everest Base Camp. On his first attempt to summit, solo, without oxygen, he came with 300 ft of the top and turned around because it was too late in the day.

While waiting for his chance to make a second attempt, a bunch of other climbers got themselves killed (this was the infamous 1996 season.) Kropp assisted in the search and recovery. When all was done that could be done, he made another solo attempt on the summit and reached the peak. And then he rode his bicycle, and all of his gear, most of the way back to Stockholm (the bike got stolen.)

To me, that's an even more pure way of climbing a peak, but YMMV.
posted by three blind mice at 8:21 AM on November 13, 2012 [20 favorites]

Feh. Two wheels? A real purist would have used a unicycle.
posted by bondcliff at 8:22 AM on November 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of his unauthorized biography.
posted by Mcable at 7:30 AM on November 13 [6 favorites +] [!]

My goodness that's a great album, thanks for the blast from the past.
posted by resurrexit at 8:29 AM on November 13, 2012

There's a story around Lake Louise (possibly apocryphal) about when somebody or other was guiding some clients up the regular route on Mount Victoria, which is the huge wall of rock, ice and snow that makes up the background of the classic view. It's not a particularly difficult route, but it is a steep hike up a glacier with all the attendant risks, and for which most sensible people rope up and use crampons and ice axes. This party though was surprised by a bearded, shaggy haired guy just jogging up and past them in sneakers and adidas shorts: Reinhold Messner.
posted by Flashman at 8:31 AM on November 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Not wishing to derail the discussion this early, but none of Boukreev's clients died.

I'd actually make the case for Walter Bonatti being the better climber. He took part on the first ascent of K2, didn't summit, but got to 8100m, and was forced to bivouac there overnight, completely without oxygen. But he did this in 1954, 20 years before Messner. If it hadn't been for the scandalous conduct of the other climbers on his team, he could well have summited.

On second thoughts, this feels like a double derail...
posted by daveje at 8:32 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Better than Judge Reinhold
posted by stormpooper at 8:36 AM on November 13, 2012

"The Unauthorized Biography of Judge Reinhold Messner"

A lot of songs about climbing Phoebe Cates I assume.
posted by Cosine at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

And there is also the acrimonious story of Reinhold Messner's 1970 first ascent, with his brother Guenther, of Nanga Parbat.
posted by Flashman at 8:51 AM on November 13, 2012

There is this fantastic documentary about Reinhold Messner on Hulu. It's less than an hour long and he talks about summiting Everest without oxygen as well as the disaster of his first ascent of Nanga Parbat with his brother. Worth watching!
posted by ruhroh at 8:57 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ahhhh...Walter Bonatti.

Growing up in Italy I devoured my father's bound collection of about a decade of Epoca (a large-format colour weekly, not unlike Time magazine) and I read all about his incredbile (for me and at the time) exploits... You've just sent me back 20-odd years, Daveje. Not sure whether to thank you or not as I will probably now spend the evening looking at old, old stuff....
posted by MessageInABottle at 8:59 AM on November 13, 2012

"Murdering the Impossible"

Though admirably referring to the negative effects of technology on the purity of the sport, I still find that title/quote rather loathsome.
posted by fairmettle at 9:48 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah... Messner. That dude is about as badass as it gets...

There's a really great bit of footage of Messner and Werner Herzog hanging out naked in some hotsprings somewhere. Best teamup ever.
posted by ph00dz at 10:50 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any article, book or interview on big mountain climbing that does not mention Shishapangma several times is, in my opinion, a poetic failure.
posted by relish at 10:54 AM on November 13, 2012

People such as Messner seem other-worldly to me, maybe they are -- where does the remarkable discipline come from, the drive to do things when no one is watching, when it's just the person and their will against a remarkably difficult and dangerous wall?

I've been reading a book of a soldiers three years of hard-fought war, and within the first eighth of the book he says that he should not have already spent the words "horrific" and "terrifying" because the things he saw as the war continued made his first looks at war as nothing, in comparison. So this idea of spending words, without consideration, it's been in my mind these past few days, and as I wrote "difficult" and "dangerous" above, I know that it could seem that I've chosen without wisdom; it can be said, correctly, that changing the brake shoes on your truck is difficult, or that riding a bicycle without a helmet is dangerous.

But the difficult and dangerous that Messner, and men and women like him, the difficult and dangerous they face each step on those faces, it's just another level of consciousness than I will ever face in my life, and likely you, too, whoever and wherever you are, reading this on a bright screen in a safe place, probably in a comfortable chair; I'm sprawled out on my bed as I key this in, a warm blanket on my legs and feet, this laptop very literally a laptop.

Which brings to my mind another writer, or perhaps this same writer but further on in the book, which I've read before but am now re-reading -- the writer said that reading about war, about battle, about being a soldier in war, he said that reading of that should never be done in a chair, in front of a fire maybe, a cup of tea at hand; no, it should be read to your knees in freezing mud, a fever wracking you maybe, hungry, terrified. He said only then can a reader *begin* to get a sense of it.

And of course it's the same with reading of mountaineers, of which I've done plenty, in comfortable chairs, in warm rooms, or cool rooms, depending upon the time of year, climate controlled rooms I guess. No winds raging around and through me, and threatening to tear me from my stance, no unbelievably intense cold numbing me, no staying up for 34 hours of hugely intense and life-threatening work, damn sure no real understanding of what it is to do these things alone, solo, the unbelievable confidence and commitment needed for just that piece alone, that solo piece. Unreal. These people are outlandishly cool.

And I'm not talking "just" about no oxygen in the death zone, and probably that does take a different physiology than the average. Even if these people, these sorts of people, even if they do not do that, the feats that they accomplish are pretty much unbelievable. Except of course they are believable; these people have done these things. Exceptional. Outstanding. Courageous. Larger, as is said, than life.

Thanx for posting this -- you've taken care of my evening time, here in my warm home.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The footage of Herzog & Messner may be in the 45 minute documentary (by Herzog, c 1980?) In the Dark Glow of the Mountains. It seems like I've seen it, and I probably saw it there.
posted by mr. digits at 3:34 PM on November 13, 2012

Yeah... that's where it's from. It's... uhh... findable online, but not on youtube or netflix or anything for some reason. Definitely worth watching.

Anyway... Göran Kropp, that dude is amazing and that is a totally fantastic story, but as far as I'm concerned, a solo trip up Everest without oxygen, that stuff is just out of control, so beyond what anyone could / should do that you just have have to be in awe. 'Course, I've got room for all those guys in my heart -- Viesturs, Steck, Bonatti...

Lately, I've become an addict for a particular kind of climbing porn -- specifically, The Alpinist.

The centerfolds are amazing.
posted by ph00dz at 5:36 PM on November 13, 2012

The Herzog-Messner hotsprings footage is in the Hulu video linked to above (just finished watching it). It's an excerpt from In the Dark Glow of the Mountains like mr. digits said.
Definitely a great watch.
posted by highway40 at 6:25 PM on November 13, 2012

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