Video: Legendary Mountaineer Reinhold Messner’s Advice to the Next Generation

“Climbing for me is more than a sport,” writes mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner in his latest book, My Life at the Limit. “Climbing is all about freedom, the freedom to go beyond all the rules and take a chance, to experience something new, to gain insight into human nature… For me, imagination is more important in climbing than muscle or daredevil antics.”

Indeed, Messner has a decades-long laundry list of achievements. In the 1960s while he was still a teenager, he made groundbreaking 5.10 free solos on the rock walls of his native mountains, the Dolomites. In the ’70s and ’80s, he achieved legendary solos and oxygen-less, alpine-style ascents on the 8,000-meter giants of the Himalaya and the Karakoram. Then throughout the ’90s in the twilight of his adventuring career, he completed remarkable and often overlooked long-distance crossings of Greenland, the Gobi Desert, and Antarctica.  It’s easy to be so swept away by the empirical proportions of his success that one misses the determination and sense of artistry that were driving him. For all practical purposes, we’re talking about a guy who was elite rock climber Alex Honnold as an adolescent, then became speed alpinist Ueli Steck in his 20s, then morphed into 8,000-meter man Ed Viesturs and finally polar explorer Earnest Shackleton in his later years.

Now, at the age of 70, Messner seems to have comfortably settled into a final role in his career—that of communicator. In Europe, he’s spent more than a decade building a series of museums devoted to human interactions with mountains. On a recent trip to New York City to deliver the keynote address at the American Alpine Club annual dinner events, I had the opportunity to interview him for National Geographic Adventure. (See our video with climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on life after the Dawn Wall first ascent.)

Clearly, Messner knows a thing or two about mountains—and how to survive them. What’s was interesting to me was how he spoke of his greatest feats—climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen, for instance—as a general exercise in creative problem solving. “It’s starts with an idea,” he says, “and the idea becomes a vision.”

In the 21st century, it is painfully obvious that genuine exploration is an endeavor of finite geographic proportions— there’s no way to turn back the clock and re-discover the route to the summit of Everest, for instance. Reinhold Messner is apt to remain the greatest high-altitude mountaineer of all time simply because he had the good fortune to come along at precisely the right moment in history when the world’s tallest mountains were ready to be challenged on their own terms. This fact is something Messner himself is acutely aware of—and it helps explains why he periodically changed directions over the course of his life.

“Adventure has to do with private, personal experiences,” Messner says. “But, the possibilities, there are millions of unclimbed mountains—I have seen in the Eastern part of Tibet, mountains 6,000 – 6500 meters high, vertical walls twice as tall as the Eiger… but nobody is going there, because they aren’t 8,000 meter peaks.”


  1. Plan Your Trip
    March 7, 2015, 5:46 am

    Reinhold Messner is truly a legend, its so amazing to know that he climbed those mountains solo, really awesome. thanks for the info.

  2. ejaz hussain
    Rawalpindi, Pakistan
    March 12, 2015, 5:04 am

    He is living legend we all adore him. He has scaled all mountains in the world. Pakistan tour and travel really appreciate his efforts as he described the world about pakistan and mountains in Pakistan are phenomenal. Book K2 basecamp tour package

  3. Miglen
    March 12, 2015, 5:17 am

    Almost every sentence he says is an awesome quote. Such a great inspiration, long live adventure man!

  4. fabien
    grenoble Montreal
    March 12, 2015, 11:26 pm

    Reinhold is a legend respected by many alpinists,. He’s now one of the leaders for Mountain Wilderness, the association promoting a better approach for the practice of winter sports, in the alps or other summits.

    For other mountain information :

  5. Kernsie
    Golden, Colorado
    March 24, 2015, 2:14 pm

    i wonder how Peter Habler feels about the gushing of these achievements…

  6. Robert L
    Aoraki/Mt. Cook Village
    March 24, 2015, 5:20 pm

    Messner comes-off as a little elitist in his critique as to what constitutes adventure. Pioneering-adventure would be a more apt phrasing to encompass his elitist view..

    Even when people set-out to explore what has already been explored – it can still be appreciated as adventure. Nor must the experience be deeply personal to qualify as adventure.

    I dig it when people share their experiences with others. It all clouds into self-promotion though when you seek to appreciate the ‘meaning’ of your exploits through the ‘value’ others place on your achievements. ‘Share but don’t tell’ is a hard thing to do.

    And the article’s author is somewhat incorrect. “There’s no way to turn back the clock and re-discover the route to the summit of Everest”. Sure you can. It’s a big mountain with several unclimbed lines.

  7. Dimitar Dimitrov
    March 28, 2015, 9:59 am

    He is NOT living legend, BUT living GOD.

  8. […] was none other than alpinism’s grand master Reinhold Messner, the first person (along with Peter Habeler) to ascend Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978, […]

  9. […] an interview with National Geographic, Messner said something that I found to be true for the world of landscape and nature photography […]