Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, by Reinhold Messner

To go along with Peter Habeler's The Lonely Victory, I've read Reinhold Messner's book about the same expedition, Expedition to the Ultimate. In addition to these, there is a third book, the official account of the expedition, Gipfelsieg am Everest, by expedition leader Wolfgang Nairz, but it would put me above my current book budget, so it will have to wait!

In case you missed the post on Habeler's book, Messner and Habeler are the first to climb Mount Everest without the use of supplementary oxygen. They do so in 1978 in the pre-monsoon season as favored part of an Austrian expedition. On their first attempt, very early in the season, Habeler gets food poisoning, and Messner climbs to the South Col with two Sherpas to make an attempt alone, but is pinned down for 50 hours in a storm. They return to base camp, and after four other men make it to the summit, the pair heads up again in strong winds to reach the top. Two other men climb to the summit after them and confirm their accomplishment.

Messner is in his element and in a world of his own on this expedition. I find it interesting how unintentionally honest Messner is in his writing. He rarely mentions Peter Habeler and only seems interested in the larger expedition when something directly involves him or someone returns from the summit. Of course, only the parts he includes are honest. The parts of the expedition that Habeler writes about in The Lonely Victory that make Messner look fallible or even human are generally left out of this book. Messner is very interested in his own thoughts and emotions, and he includes plenty in the book. Additionally, he occasionally transcribes taped conversations during important moments in the expedition, such as Robert Schauer's return from the summit or Messner and Habeler on the South Col together. In contrast to the way they treat each other in their books, their taped conversation from the South Col really sounds like a talk between friends. (I also found it amazing how comfortable they were at 8000 meters, sitting in a tent and having a chat!) It's too bad they came to such conflict after the expedition; they were quite a pair.

Overall, Expedition to the Ultimate is for me an entertaining read. I don't think it's one of Messner's better books, but that's a bit like saying an expedition was not one of Messner's better climbs. I always find it interesting to get into the head of this mad climbing genius. He's not for everyone, though! On a side note, there's a little bit of information about Junko Tabei in an appendix to this book. It's the most I've come across in an adult book written in or translated to English so far. (Matt Doeden includes some info in his kids' book, Mountaineering Adventures.) Even though it's not much, I appreciated seeing it, especially from someone like Messner!

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