Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reinhold Messner – All Man, No Myth, Pure Legend

Spring is starting to bloom. The weather here is a little more hospitable, and the nearby Rocky Mountains are beckoning. In the meantime, my mind is drifting to thoughts of mountain biking trails and alpine peaks. Seeing how April is “Adventure Month,” I couldn’t think of a better way to usher in a new season of outdoorsy escapades than with a post on one of my all-time favorite adventure celebrities: Reinhold Messner.

If there is one man whose name is synonymous with mountaineering, it is Reinhold Messner. His legend is ubiquitous in the world of alpine climbing, and for good reason. In the long history of the sport, few have even come close to accomplishing what Messner did in just a few years, and more than likely no one ever will. “To non-climbers it may be difficult to convey the extent and grandeur of Reinhold Messner’s accomplishments,” explains Caroline Alexander, writer for National Geographic. I would say that is an understatement.

Born and raised in northern Italy, a stone’s throw from the Austrian border and the foot of the Alps, it’s no surprise that a young Reinhold Messner began climbing mountains with his father at the age of five. “We had no football place in the valley . . . we had no swimming pool—I'm still not able to swim. The only possibility to do something to express ourselves was to go on the rocks. So we learned very early.” Reinhold said, reflecting back on his youth.

By the time he was in his 20s, Messner had already become an accomplished alpinist, and had even begun soloing new routes. He had also become a vocal proponent of alpine-style mountaineering, a more minimalist form of climbing that forgoes the so-called “siege tactics” typically used by climbers of previous generations. According to Alexander, he even wrote an essay on climbing ethics entitled "The Murder of the Impossible" when he was 27.

Messner’s most notable accomplishment came in 1978, when he and fellow climber Peter Habeler became the first to summit Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen, a feat which, up until that time, had been considered suicidal. Even more astonishing was his solo ascent of Everest two years later, again without any breathing aids. As James Graff of Time puts it: “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.”

Even after securing his position as one of the best climbers in the world, Messner continued bagging ‘eight-thousanders,’ and in 1986 became the first person in history to ascend all fourteen 8,000-foot peaks, including the infamously dangerous K2 and Annapurna peaks. Then, after accomplishing what most would only dream about, Messner more or less retired from high-altitude climbing altogether.

Today, at 66 years old, a gracefully aging Messner is a testament to the alpine lifestyle. For at least part of the year, he lives in a castle nestled in the mountains of South Tyrol, not far from his boyhood home. He has published more than 50 books, and is sought after vigorously for guest appearances and interviews, few of which he accepts. As an individual, Messner has gained somewhat of a reputation for his often cantankerous demeanor.

“Although he’s known to be occasionally charming, he’s famous for his tirades and grudge-nursing, both on and off the mountain,” writes Brad Wetzler of Outside. “After the 1978 Everest climb, he abruptly ended his 12-year relationship with Peter Habeler after Habeler published a book that implied Messner exaggerated his leadership role in their expeditions. The two have barely spoken, nor have they climbed together since.”

I, for one, would say that Messner has likely earned the right to speak his mind. He is clearly a force to be reckoned with in the climbing community, and the world of outdoor sports in general. In his continued quest to lift up the pastime that has been his life’s one true passion, he has also helped to create not one, but five museums dedicated to mountaineering. The project is called the Messner Mountain Museum. “I give all of myself, all of my energy, my time, my money, my enthusiasm,” Reinhold said back in 2006 in reference to his museums. The museums, which incorporate both interior and exterior elements, are open to the public during the warmer months.

Whether you are a mountain climber, a school teacher or a humble blogger like myself, it is clear that we can all learn something from Reinhold Messner.

Put yourself out there, put one foot in front of the other, and you will likely surprise yourself at just how far you can go.
This article was originally published in blog: Reinhold Messner – All Man, No Myth, Pure Legend started by bgoguen

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