At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Reinhold Messner - mountaineer

Climber from Dolomites who conquered Everest


Reinhold Messner, pictured in 2012 at Castel Juval,  one of the sites of his Messner Mountain Museum
Reinhold Messner, pictured in 2012 at Castel Juval,
 one of the sites of his Messner Mountain Museum
Reinhold Messner, the Italian mountaineer who was the first climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and the first to reach the peak on a solo climb, was born on this day in 1944 in Bressanone, a town in Italy's most northerly region of Alto Adige, which is also known as South Tyrol.

Messner was also the first man to ascend every one of the world's 14 peaks that rise to more than 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) above sea level.

His 1976 ascent of Everest with the Austrian climber Peter Habeler defied numerous doctors and other specialists in the effects of altitude who insisted that scaling the world's highest mountain without extra oxygen was not possible.

Born only 45km from Italy's border with Austria, Messner grew up speaking German and Italian and has also become fluent in English.  His father, Josef, introduced him to climbing and took him to his first summit at the age of five. He soon became familiar with all the peaks of the Dolomites. 

From a family of 10 children - nine of them boys - Messner shared his passion for adventure with brothers Günther and Hubert, with whom he would later cross the Arctic.  He and Günther, two years his junior, began climbing together when Reinhold was 13 and by their early 20s were among the best climbers in Europe.

The Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, on the  descent from which Messner's brother Gunther sadly died
The Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, on the
descent from which Messner's brother Günther sadly died.
Their partnership ended tragically, however, on Messner's first major Himalayan climb in 1970, after the two had reached the summit of the previously unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. Günther was killed in an accident after the two became separated on the descent of the Diamir face. The circumstances of his death were never conclusively established but Reinhold, who himself lost seven toes to frostbite, claims Günther was swept away by an avalanche.

Messner's motivation for attempting Mount Everest without taking supplies of bottled oxygen stemmed from his belief that climbs assisted in that way were not true tests of human capability, that in a way it was cheating.  He pledged that he would ascend Everest "by fair means or not at all." Having succeeded once, he repeated the feat from the Tibetan side in 1980, which gave him the distinction of achieving Everest's first solo summit.

Reinhold Messner pictured at Everest base camp
Reinhold Messner pictured at Everest base camp
He became the first to complete all 14 of the so-called 'eight-thousanders' on 1986, a year ahead of the Polish mountaineer Jerzy Kukuczka.  All 14 are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in Asia and Messner again scaled them all without extra oxygen.

Messner, who has crossed Antarctica on skis, has written 63 books, which include his autobiography Free Spirit: A Climber's Life, his Everest account The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent and All 14 Eight-thousanders, all published by Mountaineers Books.

As well as climbing, Messner became interested in politics and from 1999 to 2004 he was Member of the European Parliament for the Italian Green Party (Federazione dei Verdi).

Nowadays, he devotes much of his time to the Messner Mountain Museum project, which consists of five museums in his home region of Alto Adige, established to help educate visitors about the science and history of mountaineering and rock climbing.

Travel tip:

The small city of Bressanone - Brixen in German - became part of Italy only at the end of the First World War. It is characteristically German in its culture, with three quarters of the population of 21,500 speaking German as a first language. Located in a valley where the Eisack and Rienz rivers meet, it is shadowed on one side by Monte Telegrafo (2,504m) and on the other by Monte Pascolo (2,436m).

The Piazza Vescovile in Bressanone with the two towers of the Cathedral in the background
The Piazza Vescovile in Bressanone with the two towers
of the Cathedral in the background
Travel tip:

The third largest city in one of the richest regions in Italy, Bressanone has a cathedral that was rebuilt along Baroque lines in the 18th century but originates in the 10th century, and an unusual round Church of Saint Michael that was built in the 11th century with a Gothic bell tower added in the 15th century. Bressanone is a stop on the railway line from Verona in Italy to Innsbruck in Austria.

More reading:


Walter Bonatti - outstanding career marred by 50-year row

(Photo of Nanga Parbat by Daniel Martin GFDL 1.2)
(Photo at Everest base camp by Sanjay Kodain CC NY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Piazza in Bressanone by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)

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