Reinhold Messner didn’t just climb mountains, he conquered them the hard way, alone, without oxygen, or at record speed. Born and raised in northern Italy, Messner began scaling the peaks of the eastern Alps as a teenager.
After climbing more than 500 mountains in Europe, the 30year-old Messner led an expedition to the Andes Mountains in South America in 1974. There, he climbed the 22,834-foot Aconcagua Mountain. He completed the last 10,000 feet of the climb alone.
In 1978, Messner attempted a feat that shocked the climbing community. He proposed climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. No one can climb at such altitudes and survive without oxygen bottles, said critics. But Messner was undeterred. He and a companion, Peter Habeler, arrived in a base camp below the mighty face of Everest in March 1978.
By May, they camped at nearly 24,000 feet. The air was so thin that the two men gasped for breath. Because their muscles desperately needed oxygen, simple movements demanded great energy and concentration. On the morning that Messner and Habeler prepared to reach the summit, it took them two hours to get dressed.
Every breath of air was precious, and the pair stopped speaking and communicated with hand signals. Still, they climbed higher, pausing for a rest every few steps. Messner later wrote that he felt an exhaustion and numbness he had never experienced before.
Sometime after noon on May 8, Habeler and Messner struggled over the crest and reached the top of Mount Everest. Their daring climb astounded the world. The next year, Messner climbed K2, the world’s second-tallest mountain, without oxygen.
By 1982, Messner had completed an even greater feat, he had climbed the world’s tallest 14 peaks, all over 26,250 feet, without oxygen. He returned to his native Italy as the greatest climber in history.