AUTHOR: Florian Scheimpflug
"A great pleasure for walking and much curiosity is what keeps me going"
Reinhold Messner is 70. What can one say about this? Much? Little? The usual? Something different? More than all the others? This is not an easy question. One that everybody has to answer for oneself. The answer that we found is simple: we say nothing — and let Reinhold Messner speak. Last but not least this interview is meant also as a gesture. A gesture of gratitude for a decade-long inspiration as well as one to submit our wishes with. With this in mind we wish you a Happy 70th birthday, Mr Messner!
As long as there are so many topics out there and as long as I feel the longing to describe and mentally digest them, I will continue to write even if I will write a little less than in the past. In the book I am currently working on I try to put to paper my experiences about the naked human nature. I will certainly not write about my past adventures anymore although I might briefly scan some of them to show where the experiences that I am describing are coming from. Of course, these experiences are distinct and subjective but in my opinion they can be transferred to anyone. Some of my future readers might say: "This is terrible, I can hardly believe what he is writing" and maybe this book will be a spark for a discussion about morals.
That's exactly what I want because for me every moral, be it law or religion, is insincere.
The fact that we (the traditional mountaineers) are moving within an archaic space following anarchic patterns because all responsibility rests on our shoulders alone, provides us a point of view on the human nature that civilisation does not allow. And this human nature is what I am going to describe. Nowadays those spaces where we can be on the way as"anarchists" become less and less. Gym-climbers know as little about this space as those who climb Mount Everest when there are more than 1,000 people in basecamp and themountain is perfectly groomed. 90% of the climbers want to climb harder and harder every day but they never sacrifice. Not the chalk, not the bolts and not the oxygen when they climb high mountains. It is therefore obvious that the idea of sacrifice hasn't been a successful one and remains a past period in alpinism. Nowadays alpinism is mainly a sport.
What is happening on the 8,000-metre peaks I call "extreme tourism".
This means that an organiser grooms the mountain to put a big number of people on top of it: the client walks a slope to the mountaintop. There's no doubt that this is exhausting and also great, because it gives people the opportunity to achieve something extraordinary. But we have to face things as they are: this kind of approach has nothing to do with traditional, independent and self-responsible mountaineering.
I am interested in what the British call "trad-alpinism". There exists loads of mountain and adventure stories that haven't been dealt with from a psychological point of view. In this regard alpine history is stuck for an answer. I am more and more interested in what happens to humans respectively the human nature when it performs crazy tasks: what have those people felt, in which fear trap have they tumbled? I have hundreds of such topics in mind but you can relax, I don't intend to work about all of them. In the future I will definitely not answer any denunciators anymore. There exist more than enough conspiracy theories about me already.
CHANGE OF PARADIGMS AND SENSE OF WELL-BEING.
Back when I traversed the Gobi desert I started off in a state of timelessness. I felt neither young nor old. But the Gobi traverse became a key experience. Afterwards I told myself: "You should not do anything like that anymore." I realised that my ability to suffer was not the same anymore as it always had been. Strength and skillfulness are the first qualities to decrease in the course of a lifetime. From a well-built endurance you can live off much longer.
The last thing to decrease is the ability to suffer.
In the past I did 2 - 3 expeditions per year. At the age of 55 I switched into politics for a short time and detached from that way of life. The older I got the faster the depletion progressed. I didn't do as much as I used to and mainly lost my endurance but for a long time I had the feeling I still could achieve anything if I only really wanted to. The Gobi experience has changed that for good, I have accepted it and backed off. Meanwhile I agree to be an elderly gent and I honestly feel good about it. For sure I am not going to deliver any sensations anymore. My 70th birthday is definitely no key experience for me. I see it in arelaxed manner. I will invite my good friends and we will celebrate in an alpine surrounding. Whoever intends to use my birthday to tell any stories may do it, I let it happen.
THE PRESENT AS A MEANS AGAINST BOREDOM.
I am not worried that I will be bored in old age and I am sure not going to suffer from the fact that won't be able to do this or that. I am really looking forward to pursuing my doings with neck and crop. The passion is still there. I am currently working on an idea, indulging in a passion or in other words: I am working on financing my new project. Besides that there exist plans to climb a few moderate routes in the Dolomites in the next year but this will be irrelevant for high-end alpinism. On the other hand I do feel a huge enthusiasm for all these young guys who achieve those crazy things - be it in the walls, in sport climbing or in alpine realms. Some of them push limits and go beyond boundaries which I haven't even considered. For example David Lama and his project on Masherbrum (7,821 metres, Karakorum/Pakistan) or Hansjörg Auer. I have gazed up some of their walls when I was young only to decide that this wasn't for me. Impossible! All the bigger is my respect for their attempts. As far as my statements go, my purpose is to not let traditional mountaineering perish. In my point of view the professional alpinism of the present is more of a sport or a kick than it is adventure. In my opinion this is neither alpinism's greatest value nor opportunity. The task of a self-responsible being moving in an archaic world is what offers the most experience. Neither speed nor the product earned from an ascent play a role in traditional mountaineering. Nowadays every big route is being filmed and documentedprofessionally simply because it is possible. Fair enough. But photo and film only play a secondary role when it comes down to the experience. It holds true for "trad-alpinism" that the better an ascent can be represented the lesser it is worth as an adventure. Mountaineering is about experience and the fundamental question what happens to the human nature when it is exposed to all these difficulties and dangers in the vast world of the mountains.
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF A SUCCESSFUL LIFE.
One of my basic statements - this can be also read in my upcoming book - is that a successful life does not exist. But in the moment of doing there exists a succeeding life. If we are close to our tasks, when we really merge in our issues and dare our things there is flow. The point is that no one can tell us that what we have chosen is not our thing. I have been close to my things throughout my whole life but I was also lucky to having had the opportunity to experience so many great moments. But all of them are gone irretrievably and can't be added up to a "successful" life. In sum they are my biography which I am responsible for. About a month ago my son found a notebook in my library which contains about 50 records of potential first ascents which I was interested in years ago. These are all first ascents that I never made. The tasks are well-documented: there's a photo of the wall and the line of the route is marked. My son was quite surprised: "Daddy, so many of the things you intended to do you didn't." That's true, there's a lot I didn't do. For example the "Fish" (Via attraverso il pesce, 7b+) on the Marmolada south face (Dolomites) or the Dhaulagiri south face (8,167 metres/Nepal). I failed on the Lhotse south face (8,516 metres, border of China/Tibet) as well as on the Makalu south face (8,463 metres, border of China/Tibet).
There's indeed a lot I didn't accomplish and even more which I neither tried nor finished.
Because I became scared or simply wasn't able to. On the other hand did I accomplish more that I ever dreamed to do. I owe this to great partners such as Sepp Mayerl, Peter Habeler, Hans Kammerlander or Friedl Mutschenlechner. But also to my wife who let me go without mourning and to my ideas as well as my creativity. I have been glancing at alpine history very early and have gained a detailed picture of the state of mountaineering and its current developments back then. All these sides are part of my life as an adventurer.
BACK TO THE FUTURE.
If I was 20 years again, I would not think that I'd be able to generate the same passion that used to carry me in my early years. I simply lack the talent that people like, for example, Stefan Glowacz have. I really admire him for his skills. Or Hansjörg Auer who is built like a spider. Because I always lacked those extraordinary skills the enthusiasm wouldn't be able to come up again. Back then when I was 20 years old I was a decent climber of the 6th UIAA grade. How safe or not safe I was may be left undecided but the 6th grade was the maximum of what was possible back then. I became extremely lucky to meet climbers who were two, three, seven years older than I was and were way ahead of me as far as skills and experience go. They taught me a lot and I was able to improve quickly. That happened without any rivalry or competition and I always faced them with admiration and respect. Skillfulness I approached their level quickly and that was when I got lucky again to meet famous mountaineers who I accompanied on much bigger ascents only to see that they were also the same everybody else. The understanding of where I was standing at that time helped me to leap forward because it showed me the state of my skills. This led to tensions of all kinds because those people felt outstripped, but without their unintended psychological help I wouldn't have dared to do a lot of things.
If I was 20 years again and climbing with Hansjörg Auer, I would quickly realize that my skills are by far not well-developed enough to get closer to him.
If that enthusiasm hadn't struck me like it did, I wouldn't know what could have carried me and what I would have become. One thousand and one attempts led to my self-empowerment. This self-empowerment helped me to understand who I was within this scene. I owe my career great teachers such as Sepp Mayerl and Peter Habeler but also Toni Hiebeler who gave me a push from a wholly different side to leap forward.
I grew up in a valley in the Dolomites and from when I was five years old I have been confronted with death almost automatically: grandparents, neighbours, friends. Death was self-evident but it never concerned me. I had my first "real" death experience that lasted for a few days when I was on Nanga Parbat (8,126 metres/Pakistan). To me it seemed clear that I would die and not only my brother who was struck down by this destiny.
Back then I was content to die because it would have been a redemption. Last but not least this didn't happen. The attitude to see death as part of the game disappeared after this experience. I have been climbing before this experience as well as after it and I have always done some spicy stuff but I never had the feeling that I would die. "I got it, I am not going to die" was my attitude. Now at the age of 70 I feel that death is slowly becoming part of my life. My view on the world is made out of realities. My father was already dead at this age.
THINGS THAT DISAPPEAR. THINGS THAT REMAIN.
The question "What will remain from Reinhold Messner, what will survive him?" I can only answer like this: nothing will remain, everything will disappear. And it's good that way! Space and time dissolve with death. The image of dying is like entering a desert and getting lost within it. Non-being is time- and spaceless. Finally not even what I have created with the museum (the Messner Mountain Museum) is really me. The museum is about showing the confrontation man-mountain beyond all time. It is not my story in particular which this museum is meant to uphold. This confrontation is meant to be updated until kingdom come by all those people who are occupied with it. In this sense the Messner Mountain Museum is arranged sustainably as a process that can be upheld. Next year when all six houses (a centre and five satellites) are ready, I will say goodbye. I will still hold my hand over it in financial matters and put money into it when a negative balance should arise, but as long as enthusiasm and work are put into it and as long as there are mountaineers who carry on with their passion for the mountains, the museum will be able to survive on its own and I can let it go without a problem. Some of my ideas and perspectives will survive or melt with other beliefs, some will soon be forgotten. Others will interpret my thoughts such as I have updated and amended the thoughts of Preuß, Mummery and Bonatti. Maybe some of those thoughts will last over centuries like those of the founders of the religions but in the end all comes together in a common whole. For me it is sufficient if some of my ideas can contribute a small bit to this common whole.
"For me it is sufficient if some of my ideas can contribute a small bit to this common whole."
WANTING TO BE OUT THERE: AGAIN AND AGAIN, STILL.
My wish for the future is simply being able to make my ideas come true. Of course only those that are realistic. Whereas I may say that some of these visions are already there. Besides health I wish forenough energy as well as the means and possibilities to realise some of these ideas. What I wish for the most is the pleasure to go out as well as a warm nest as a home. Nowadays I notice some old friends of mine — some of them over 80 years old — losing the pleasure to go out behind their garden fence although they have always been outside with great passion. If you lose this passion, you also lose the power to do it. A great pleasure for walking and much curiosity is what keeps me going. I don't feel the need for extreme climbing anymore. When climbing the worries arise much earlier than they used to. Last year I did a first ascent in the Geisler mountains in the Dolomites with my son Simon. The rock was loose and there was a constant threat of falling stones. By the way I told him: "There's 300 metres of wall above us and it's nothing but a pile of debris. If something breaks off, it looks dim — it will slay us." We pulled it off but I didn't feel comfortable about it. When you are young you approach things like this differently: "Nothing's going to break today," you tell yourself. The ascent was far from uncritical but it was also incredibly beautiful for me to share such an experience with my son.
I have been privileged my whole life which was due to my mother and later to my wife keeping my back free. Only thus I could freely live out my passion. If it stays like that, it can't get better for me.