Reinhold Messner is the king of the world's mountains. Now half-retired to his Sigmundskron Castle near Bolzano in the South Tyrol, he is most famous for having made the first successful summit of Mount Everest, minus additional oxygen supply. He is the author of numerous books about mountain climbing, biographies about other famous mountaineers, and a book about his quest for the yeti or abominable snowman. Messner has been a businessman, an elected MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the Italian Green Party, and established the Messner Mountain Museum. He is irascible, driven, impatient and has been the subject of controversy, but frankly does not give a hoot what anyone thinks. There have been seven famous summits and Messner has climbed all of them, and to the list added a summit of his own, which he claimed was more challenging. All of these mountains are on the following continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. Messner has been on many other expeditions all over the world.
This book is a compressed overview of Messner's lifetime achievements, told in his spare, direct writing style minus any dramatic overtones. His adventurous achievements do not warrant any hyperbole. The chapters are broken down chronologically starting with his early years growing up in Villnoss, a small community in the northern part of Italy, high in the southern Tyrol area. At the young age of five, Messner was taught how to climb by his father. And it is obvious that like high-achieving fencers, martial arts athletes, and ballet dancers, this early training frequently creates an advantage for later success. Add motivation, natural body attributes, an innate drive to conquer fear, and an exceptional mountaineer was born. Other than the first chapter which covers his idyllic childhood, the following twenty-nine chapters describe individual climbs, with details about equipment, terrain, weather, other climbers on the treks, and Messner's own emotions and thoughts. These climbs are not without loss and tragedy. He climbed Nanga Parbat five times. On one expedtion he lost four toes on his left foot and two toes on his right, but there was the greater loss of his brother, Gunther. Messner returned on another expedition to try and find his brother's remains.
Mountain climbers, ice climbers, perhaps even weekend mountain hikers will be roused by these descriptions, but so will other readers. I am not a mountain climber, having had fleeting moments of interest, but not the nerve, endurance and mostly desire to participate. However Messner’s life time adventures provide insights about the why and how of climbing, and more importantly lots of vicarious thrills.