reinhold messner close up

Reinhold Messner is a legend in the mountaineering community, and rightly so – but his achievements haven’t come without a price.

The Italian climber has made history on the world’s highest mountain Everest not once, but twice.

The mountain’s peak was reached for the first time ever on 29 May 1953 by Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay.

Then in 1978, Reinhold and Peter Habeler (Austria) became the first ever people to ascend Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Their feat is regarded by some as the first ‘true’ ascent of the mountain, since overcoming the effects of the altitude – like the low oxygen levels – is the greatest challenge facing high-altitude climbers.

But he wasn’t done there.

On 20 August 1980, Reinhold did the climb all on his own to achieve the record for first solo summit of Everest.

It took him three days to make the ascent from his base camp at 6,500 m (21,325 ft) and he did it without the use of bottled oxygen.

He told The Guardian back in 2003: “Climbing Everest solo... was the hardest thing I've done. 

“I was alone up there, completely alone. I fell down a crevasse at night and almost gave up. Only because I had this fantasy - because for two years I had been pregnant with this fantasy of soloing Everest - was I able to continue.”

He wrote all about his treacherous climb in The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent, one of many books he’s authored.

Reinhold’s journeys in the mountains began at a very young age, with him reaching his first summit when he was just five years old.

He went on mountaineering expeditions with his father, who taught him how to survive at high altitudes.

Reinhold has faced some incredibly tough times on mountains though.

In 1970, his younger brother Günther perished on Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. His body wasn’t found until 2005, when he was given a traditional Tibetan funeral.

reinhold messner

Reinhold made it out of the tragedy alive but lost seven toes and some of his fingertips to frostbite.

He was mentally and physically scarred by what happened but more determined than ever to succeed as an alpinist.

And that he did.

A timeline of Reinhold’s records:

First ascent of Manaslu without supplementary oxygen - 25 April 1972

First ascent of Gasherbrum I without supplementary oxygen – 10 August 1975 with Peter Habeler (Austria)

First ascent of Everest without supplementary oxygen – 8 May 1978 with Peter Habeler (Austria)

First ascent of Everest and K2 without supplementary oxygen – male – 12 July 1979

First solo summit of Everest – 20 August 1980

First ascent of the top three highest mountains without supplementary oxygen – male – 6 May 1982

• First 8,000-m mountain hat-trick – 2 August 1982

• First ascent of the higher 8,000ers without bottled oxygen – 16 October 1986

• First snowkite crossing of Antarctica – 12 February 1990 with Arved Fuchs (Germany)

Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Everest

Some other firsts on Mount Everest:

• The first ascent of Everest (female) was achieved by Junko Tabei (Japan) on 16 May 1975

• The first blind man to conquer Everest was Erik Weihenmayer (USA) on 25 May 2001

• Former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski (USA) became the first astronaut to summit Everest on 20 May 2009

• Tom Whittaker (UK) was the first amputee to climb Everest on 27 May 1998

• The first ascent of Everest (male) was on 29 May 1953, when Edmund Percival Hillary (New Zealand), and Tenzing Norgay (India/Tibet) reached the summit together

Update 18 September 2023: Read more here about reclassifying the 8000ers 

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