Reinhold Messner: when misfortune changes your footing

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The avalanche was a flash of snow.

Jakubaszek | Getty Images

A beautiful but extremely dangerous explosion formed by the rock and ice detachments from the walls of Nanga Parbat , the mountain of destiny, the ninth highest on the planet and where the German mountaineer, Reinhold Messner , lost much more than seven of the frostbitten toes.

Because on that day in 1970 the gods of the “Naked Mountain” in allowed him and his brother Günther to reach the top, but on the way back they punished them. They were out of food, out of water, and Reinhold’s younger brother was freaking out as he went ahead to find his way back to base camp.

Then came the avalanche.

The flash of snow.
The cold explosion.

Reinhold had gone ahead trying to find a way down. Weak and disoriented, Günther had stayed behind. Devastated.

The avalanche took him away, devoured him, forever marking the life of the man who would end up becoming one of the greatest mountaineers in history.

Reinhold spent six days on the mountain futilely searching for his brother, until he was rescued. Later he was pointed out by other German mountaineers who accompanied him on the expedition of having abandoned Günther to his fate. His feet suffered from severe frostbite and seven of his toes had to be amputated, forever changing the way he walked.

Reinhold Messner recovered from the accident, but as is often the case in misfortune, he was scarred. He was no longer the same. His injured feet prevented him from continuing to climb rock walls like those of Nanga Parbat.

But he never stopped climbing .

Messner began looking for different challenges and finding routes that his injured footprint could withstand. The hero of the mountain would not be defeated, even if his path had been changed.

In the 1970s Messner searched for summits to conquer around the world: Iran, , Pakistan, New Guinea and East Africa. He tried unsuccessfully to climb the mountain that had devoured his brother years before, but failed due to avalanches that seemed determined to remind him of his misfortune.

In 1975 he tamed Gasherbrum I (located on the border between Pakistan and China), with its 8,080 meters high, without oxygen. He was the first to do it. He then returned to Nanga Parbat and climbed it single-handedly, charting a new route that to date no one else has been able to follow. After that feat he climbed K2 and eventually Everest without oxygen .

By 1986 Reinhold Messner had conquered the 14 highest peaks in the world, becoming a living legend of mountaineering.

Years ago, the accident in which his brother lost his life changed the course of his existence: it mutilated his footsteps and forced him to think differently. Messner’s greatness lies in the fact that, despite the pain, despite the stumps in his feet and the wounds in his memory, he never stopped moving forward.

He adapted to the tragedy and did not let it stop him.

That is the great lesson of the mountaineer . Because there will be dangerous ascents and descents. Dark days and eternal nights, plagued by lightning. Falls in which we will hurt ourselves and in which, possibly, we lose some of our fingers.

Whole months of doubt. Of fear.

Moments when we will swear to each other in a low voice that we can no longer move on. That it is time to kneel down, to close our eyes, to let the darkness engulf us. To give up

But we won’t.

Because the mountaineer’s strength exists within each one of us. It is the little flash that calls us, that screams at us every morning. Because despite the fear, despite the impossible lurking on the horizon, it is always time to keep walking to conquer another mountain .


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