Reinhold Messner is arguably the most famous name in mountain climbing in history. He was born in South Tyrol in Italy in the year 1944. Climbing since he was just five years old, this 61-year old had the gumption to climb the mighty Everest, solo and without oxygen in 1980. His other achievements include such death defying trips like crossing vast deserts, reaching the feared poles and also tracking the yeti, on which he did not have belief till he saw it with his own eyes.
With this signature beard and Richard Branson looks not to mention the charisma, Messner faced a personal tragedy when his younger brother Gunther died in an avalanche when conquering the Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. His 40th book, “The Naked Mountain” describes the spine-chilling tale of how the brothers ascended the peak successfully and how an ensuing avalanche took his brother with it. Diamir Valley turned to Death Valley for Gunther. The ugly controversy that followed is described later in this article.
The Younger Days
Messner’s father was one of nine children and also an active Nazi. He actively climbed mountains in the 1930s and this enthusiasm rubbed off on his children. He tried curbing his children’s overwhelming interest in climbing, but by then it was too late. Before he was thirteen, Reinhold had scaled the Eastern Alps. By the 1960s, the brothers had become the best of the contemporary climbers. This was enough for Reinhold to earn a place in the Nanga Parbat expedition. In the period between the wars, there was this craze among the German and Austrian climbers to conquer the Nanga Parbat, the Western Himalayan region in Pakistan. Their father lobbied for Gunther too to join that fateful trip, unaware that he would never come back.
His Various Sojourns
Reinhold preferred partnering with his younger brother right from an early age. By the time he (Reinhold) reached 20, the duo had climbed some of the toughest, most dangerous routes in the Dolmites and the Western Alps. Reinhold expressed the desire for lightweight Alpine style climbing at that young age itself. His definition of Alpine goes thus. “The start of the climb is done from the bottom of the mountain and one carries all the gear on the way. Route preparation should not be done and supplemental oxygen is not to be used.” Many found this a crazy idea, but Reinhold believed that “Nothing should come between me and my mountain.” He became the first person to climb all the fourteen 8000-feet mountains in the world. In fact he has more “firsts.” He was the first to climb Mount Everest without Oxygen, a feat which doctors said would “be impossible,” and also the first to conquer the treacherous Nanga Parbat, alone. He was also, in 1990, the first to cross the icy Antarctic continent by foot.
The date with the Yeti
Messner was one of the many disbelievers of the Yeti. Though he had seen the footprints of the fabled creature in pictures, he did not exactly put much thought into it. It was in 1986 when he first had an encounter with the Yeti. By the time he reached the place where the hairy monster had been, it had vanished but Messner was able to capture photographs of the footprints, and those closely resembled the ones he had earlier seen. He is firm in his belief that the description of the Yeti matches a rare kind of bear found in Tibet. “This Tibetan bear,” he says, “is 8 feet tall and either black when big, or reddish when it is small. It is strong and can kill a yak with one fist.” Finally, he also has a theory about Big Foot. “Believe me! Big Foot is in reality only the grizzly.”