On this day in 1986, Reinhold Messner—together with his friend and fellow adventurer Hans Kammerlander—ascended to the summit of the fourth highest mountain in the world, Lhotse, standing 8,516 metres tall on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Upon reaching the top, Messner became the first person in history to climb all of the world’s fourteen mountains that are taller than 8,000 metres.
In order, the fourteen “eight-thousanders” that Messner conquered were: Nanga Parbat (8,125 metres) in 1970; Manaslu (8,163 metres) in 1972; Hidden Peak (8,080 metres) in 1974; Mount Everest (the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848 metres) in 1978; K2 (8,611 metres) in 1979; Shishapangma (8,027 metres) in 1981; Kangchengjunga (8,586 metres), Gasherbrum II (8,034 metres) and Broad Peak (8,051 metres) in 1982; Cho Oyu (8,188 metres) in 1983; Annapurna (8,091 metres) and Dhaulagiri (8,167 metres) in 1985; and Makalu (8,485 metres) and, of course, Lhotse (8,516 metres) in 1986. All in all, it took him only 16 years to climb to these 14 summits, although he climbed some of them more than once.
Reinhold Messner’s father, Josef, led him to his first summit at only five years old. And when Reinhold was 13, he started climbing seriously alongside his younger brother Günther, who was 11—a decade later, they were already recognised as among Europe’s very best climbers. Tragically however, disaster struck on their first attempt of an eight-thousander, when together they attempted the Rupal Face (the tallest rock face in the world, which had never been climbed before) of Nanga Parbat in 1970. Although they both reached the summit, Günther died on the descent and Reinhold—who has been heavily criticised for taking his insufficiently experienced brother on such an incredibly ambitious climb—lost six toes to frostbite. He climbed Nanga Parbat again in 1971, with the primary intention of searching out his brother, and again in 1973 and 1977 and 1978, but he was only successful in reaching the summit on the first and last attempts. It was only in 2005, after a heat wave on the mountain melted away the snow, that Günther’s body was recovered at long last.
Since his brother’s death, Reinhold Messner’s astonishing and ground-breaking climbs have caused some to call him “the greatest climber in history.” As well as becoming the first person to summit all fourteen eight-thousanders, on 8 May 1978 he—together with Peter Habeler—became the first to climb Everest without the use of any supplemental oxygen. On 20 August 1980 he repeated this achievement on his own, another first. And yet, after summiting Lhotse, his last eight-thousander, Messner has never again attempted another one.
Credit: Alamy BH1JB0
Caption: World-renowned climber Reinhold Messner sits in front of a Buddha statue at the Messner Mountain Museum in South Tyrol, Italy in 2006.