The many lives of reinhold messner

Others would be consumed with pride, but in the case of Reinhold Messner it is actually a gross understatement to call him "only" the most important mountaineer of the present day. An appreciation at its 75. Birthday.

Plus: We are giving away 3 copies of his new book "Save the mountains"!

The many lives of Reinhold Messner

Yes, Reinhold Messner was the first person to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders. Although, yes, this is purely a numbers game, because the English and the Americans measure in feet and actually climb 25.000s or 26.000m. But the South Tyrolean from Villnob was not only the first to complete the collection in 1986 – after 16 years as a professional alpinist – he also defined for the world how desirable, indeed ultimate, these 14 are as an alpine goal. During this time he proved to be a gifted mountaineer and alpine survivor. But not only: he was able to bring the ice giants of the Himalayas or the Karakorum into our living rooms, shared his passion with us, could explain himself and motivated many people to go to the mountains themselves.

Ambassador of the mountains

That nimbus of his stories, of his adventures, still resonates today when we hear about climbs of the highest mountains. Although today's climbs are well organized, logistically perfectly planned, and oriented to the highest possible safety and comfort, they cannot be compared to his "wild seventies": In those days, a hand-picked group of climbers were on the move in these areas, mostly the best in their country, and they were often looking for new routes and approaches.

And Messner was their guiding light. He retired the traditional expedition style with its legions of porters and raised the bar of skill significantly with the much more athletic "alpine style," which requires independent climbers working in small teams. In doing so, he set milestones that are still valid today: Double crossings of eight-thousanders as well as solo ascents, but above all the ascent of the highest, Mount Everest, without bottled oxygen – something that had been considered impossible for humans until then. Only the winter ascent of one of the 14 peaks eluded him despite several attempts – although he has always seen failure as a learning opportunity, as an essential step in his development. Turning around had never been his challenge.

The many lives of Reinhold Messner

Innovator of mountaineering

To be a pioneer, however, he had not learned in the mountains of Asia: as one of the outstanding dolomite climbers of the 1960s, he was already at that time in the lower eighth degree and quasi specialized in first ascents: Not only on his home mountains such as the Sella Towers, the Heiligkreuzkofel or the Marmolata, but also on the Eiger, the Walkerpfeiler or the Grande Jorasses in the Western Alps he set accents.

The fact that he climbed his first three-thousand-meter peak at the age of 5, accompanied by his father, does not mean that his career as a mountaineer was preordained: Reinhold Messner belongs to the rare species of people who could have been very much else in their lives, and probably at the highest level: an architect, he had studied technology, as well as a lawyer or human rights activist. With the end of his impressive career as a high-altitude mountaineer – he had promised his mother that after the 14. When he was about to finish his eight-thousand-meter climb, he gave himself exactly this chance to be even more in his life, to let go of the familiar and to live out his other talents.

Although his thoughts and actions would still oscillate around the mountains, the radii became wider: from his fascination for art and culture and thanks to his enormous knowledge of alpine history – no one combined theory and practice better – the "Messner Mountain Museums" came into being. Starting with Juval Castle in 1995, there are now 6 sites in Italy on 6 alpine themes, which Messner ironically, but not unjustly, calls his "15 eight-thousanders": In the 20 years of their genesis, he has had to put in at least as much visionary power, engineering spirit and persuasiveness, and they have probably cost him more nerves and substance than the famous mountains put together. But the project was completed in 2015 and Messner moved on, exploring new fields.

The many lives of Reinhold Messner
The many lives of Reinhold Messner
The many lives of Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner at a monastery festival in Leh in the Himalayas

Multi-talent and border crosser

The physical experience, his desire to go to the limits, which always has a philosophical superstructure with him, should also not come completely too short during this time: After the vertical, he had discovered the fascination for the great horizontals of the earth: he crossed Antarctica and Greenland (lengthwise) on skis, as well as the Gobi Desert and the Taklamakan on foot. The fact that he took on a mandate in the EU Parliament for the Greens from 1999 to 2004 had not only to do with his rhetorical talent, but his deep concern to shape the world, to change it himself. In this case, it was people in his environment who suggested that he should actually be a politician. And he did not want to be accused of never having ventured onto the slippery terrain that is conceivable for a mountaineer.

Reinhold Messner did not only speak out in parliament and at lectures: In debates over five decades, he never shied away from controversy, was just as prone to extreme positions as he was on the mountain, and knew how to defend them eloquently, often bitterly and irreconcilably. With his opinion the South Tyrolean – proverbially – never kept behind the mountain. He was and is intense as a human being, he knew and still knows how to polarize, to praise, to condemn, as well as to make big connections and to create awareness for the important issues of our time – like the protection of the Alps and the mountain peoples.

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