RM – Everest

by Per Jerberyd © 1997 – 2002

For many mountaineers, Reinhold Messners solo climb of Mount Everest in 1980 is unbeatable. This was truly an expedition to the ultimate! But Reinhold’s Mount Everest odyssey started two years earlier when he and Peter Habeler stated they would attempt the worlds highest mountain without using supplemental oxygen…


Reinhold Messner on EverestAfter climbing Hidden Peak in Alpine style, Reinhold wanted to take a step further. Reinhold’s own words about his Everest ventures: “To go a step further than your predecessors in mountaineering is a kind of quantum leap. How often I have pushed against the limit – that imaginary limit that for the moment is considered to mark the edge of the possible”. This quantum leap was to try climbing Mount Everest by “fair means”, without using supplemental oxygen. When “cheating” by using supplemental oxygen, the mountains actual height is lowered up to 2,000 meters, climbing Everest would then have a height of about 7,000 meters. Not really easy, but a quantum difference from 8,850 meters!

Again, Peter Habeler was invited by Reinhold to follow on his expedition. They had performed well together on Hidden Peak and Peter was sharing Reinhold’s idea of “fair means”. Once again pundits at home said that Reinhold Messner was crazy and the mission impossible. They would probably die, perhaps reach the summit, but definitely die on the way down – and if surviving, the thin air would leave them with serious brain damage. This criticism even came from other well-known high altitude climbers. Of course all talk about it being impossible had its effect on both Peter and Reinhold. Still, they where ready for a serious try.

Spring 1978. Peter and Reinhold where by now in place below Mount Everest. They where there as an independent part of an Austrian expedition led by Wolfgang Nairz. The originally plan to climb the South Pillar was abandoned due to extreme steepness and very bad ice conditions. Instead the normal route was chosen. At the end of April, Reinhold was already at the South Col with two Sherpas, Ang Dorje and Mingma. They had just established fixed ropes on the final stage of the Lhoste wall. Peter Habeler had felt bad the previous days and where in Base Camp. Reinhold now played with the thought to go for the summit alone. Then, a fierce blizzard started to blow over their South Col camp. Up there, at 8,000 meters, they where trapped for two days and nights. 

Reinhold radioed to base camp who where very worried about their situation: “Don’t worry. I’m not frightened; we’ll come through it somehow. Surviving is my great art!” And they of course survived after that Reinhold having nursed the two Sherpas who had been completely apathetic; they could do nothing and was sure to die.

In early May, both Peter and Reinhold was ready for the final push from the South Col. Peter was unsure about dong the climb at all, and even thought about using supplemental oxygen. Finally he had said to Reinhold, Lets do it, I’ll follow you anywhere! The idea was to go straight up from South Col to the summit and back. The summit was reached in record time of eight hours. Reinhold regularly stopped and filmed on the way up. On the summit: “We had focused for our attention for so long on getting here, we where for a while incapable of doing anything more.”

The descent was done separately; Peter Habeler hurried on, sliding on his way down on his pants. He wanted to get down as fast as possible to avoid brain damage due to the low air pressure. Reinhold stayed longer at the summit to film, take pictures and talk into his tape recorder. He wanted to bring exactly his memories and thoughts intact just from the time at the summit back down. By the time Reinhold reached the South Col, his eyes where in a terribly pain. All filming has been done without protective glasses. He had now developed snow-blindness and was in agony, only with tears in his eyes could he bear it. The tears took away some of the pain. The next day the wind was stormy, going down was a drama for Reinhold. Peter was ahead and waited in Camp III. From there, Peter went down ahead a second time, he had sprained his ankle while sliding down and was now also in need of help. Two wounded but proud men stumbled into Camp II. They had now proved that Mount Everest was possible to climb without supplemental oxygen, no matter what other people had said about their venture.

This was their last climb of partnership. During the expedition they had cooped well together, but afterwards in the media hysteria, Reinhold challenged Peters version of the events during the climb, it made him more unpopular than ever before. In year 2000, Peter Habeler returned to Everest to try a second oxygenless ascent. He was going strong as ever before until he got liquids in his lungs. He sadly had to abandon the expedition.


First Everest without supplemental oxygen, now solo – during the monsoon season! Reinhold Messner was again ready to try another unknown step in Himalayan mountaineering history. This time the climb was done from Tibet in the North, the same way that had been tried by George Mallory a long time ago. In July 1980 Reinhold made a first try. The intention was to first get to the North Col and acclimatise. The attempt was successful, but it also showed how dangerous this route is in deep monsoon snow. Deep snow is a part of the 
monsoon and Reinhold realized that he would need a few days of good weather to succeed. His only partner on this trip was Nena Holguin and a few porters.

In August he was ready for the summit attempt. The first day, Reinhold gained a lot of height, but not enough to finish the climb in two days as planned. Further on, it was impossible to follow the original Mallory route. Instead he had to traverse right and took a new bold line he previously had observed from Base Camp. Right under the North Col, Reinhold had taken a bad 8-meter fall into a crevasse, but was lucky not to get injured and managed to climb out: “with a bit of luck and skill I was able to get myself out. I immediately put it out of my mind.” The last way to the summit was a battle against his own body screaming for going down, crawling on his knees and hands he finally made it to the top! “I have never in my whole life been so tired as on the summit of Mount Everest that day. I just sat there, oblivious to everything.”

During the descent, a lot of loose snow made Reinhold fall and slide down more than climbing: “It was not at all that dangerous, because I fell like a cat. Luckily I have good-co-ordination and am able to dodge stone and crevasses quite neatly.” At the foot of the mountain he collapsed. Again he had succeeded and survived. This was the first and probably only solo climb of Mount Everest ever and forever. Today the mountain is overcrowded and it’s not likely that you will be alone on your route. Reinhold Messner was actually totally alone on the whole mountain during the whole climb.


“Reinhold Messner’s unique success in his mountaineering career is epitomised in what is probably his finest achievement of all – his solo ascent of Everest.”

– Sir Chris Bonington

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