Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Free Spirit: A Climber's Life, by Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner writes his autobiography in Free Spirit: A Climber's Life. He covers many of the most important climbs of his career (or is it a calling), from his introduction to the Alps, to solo ascents of Europe's most daunting climbs, to his Himalayan hat trick (climbing the fourteen 8000-meter peaks), the Seven Summits, and beyond. I appreciated getting an introduction to his early Alpine climbing, as my previous reading had focused on his Himalayan climbs, as well as to some of his adventures further afield. An early climb of Carstenz Pyramid was exciting, as was the story of his Breach Wall ascent on Kilimanjaro.

His Everest climbs are, of course, here too. The chapter on his first, without supplemental oxygen, in 1978 along with Peter Habeler, shows some bitterness still present in his writing. He focuses on the weather and the shortcomings of his partner, reducing Habeler's food poisoning to his not feeling well that day and making big news of Habeler's last-minute wavering. His second, solo ascent from the north goes better, even if he still did not get a view from the summit. He uses the climb's tale a bit as a pulpit to push for the abandonment of adventitious aids, such as oxygen and drugs.

For someone with so many adventures to share, this is a short work at 240 pages. His K2 climb warrants just under two pages, his walk across Antarctica, little more. He's written so many books on his various adventures, that taking them all in at once in such a short span is a bit disconcerting. He often leaves out introductions to his climbing partners and sticks to summit day on many of his climbs. Much his interior musing that makes his writing so distinctive is also missing. There are several mountaineers who have written six to seven hundred pages of autobiography, and I think that Messner is perhaps more justified in doing so than they. Then again, perhaps a short autobiography will lead readers to his other books, rather than substitute for them. His other books that I've covered so far include All 14 Eight-Thousanders, The Crystal Horizon, Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, and The Second Death of George Mallory.

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