Shattering barriers

messnerUntil it was done, most people believed no one could run a mile in under four minutes or climb Mt Everest without bottled oxygen.

Nowadays, neither feat gets much attention because Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954 and Reinhold Messner summited Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Achievements seem to go through three stages. First, they’re ridiculed as being impossible, second, they’re strongly opposed as foolhardy to even attempt, and third, they become accepted as self-evident and not note-worthy.

But Messner did something more. He shattered another barrier by climbing the tallest mountains in the world without a team, using a fast and light “alpine style” to get up mountains. This style was the opposite of the “siege style” of the day that used expedition sized assaults on the tallest peaks. Messner climbed not only without oxygen, but also without Sherpas, fixed ropes, or crevasse ladders and usually getting to the top in just a handful of days, instead the usual month plus for the siege style climbers.

I just wanted to tell you about an innovator and game changer. Messner’s still around and has continued and succeeded at other adventures. He’s 68 and doing well, living in northern Italy where he grew up and got his taste for the mountains. His accomplishments are extensive and impressive, if you’re curious google him and see for yourself.

Ed Viesturs, one of the top mountaineers today, put it this way, “After Messner, the mystery of possibility was gone; there remained only the mystery of whether you could do it.”