I CLIMBED EVEREST ALONE
Author Reinhold Messner, climbed Mount Everest alone while Nena Holguin manned
High Base Camp at 6,500 metres.
As morning lit up the mountain Tibetans call Qomolangma, I was able to recognize every jagged formation along the northeast ridge. Two years earlier I had
stood atop Mount Everest with Peter Habeler, on the 1978 Austrian Everest
expedition. That was a typical large-scale effort-we had been aided by Sherpa
porters up to the South Col at 8,000 metres.
This time there were no porters. No fellow climbers. No bottled oxygen. No
radio. I was attempting the greatest challenge, to me, in mountaineering-to
climb the highest mountain on earth completely on my own.
In mid-July Nena and I moved up to 6,000 metres and established High Base
Camp. From here, in the 5 a.m. darkness, on the 18th of August, 1980, I set out
on my greatest adventure. Minutes later, it almost ended in disaster. I was
crossing a snowbridge over a crevasse. Suddenly it went, crumbling into powder
and chunks of ice.
I was falling-falling into the deep. It felt like eternity in slow motion. In the
next moment I came to a sudden stop. Or had it been minutes? My sense of time
had vanished. My headlamp, fastened to an elastic strap around my woollen cap,
no longer functioned. Blackness surrounded me. 'Perhaps I will die down here!' I
peered up through a gap and caught a glimpse of stars twinkling overhead. If only I had brought the walkie-talkie! I could have called Nena who was
in the tent just 500 metres below. Nena could have climbed up with a rope to
Survival instincts surfaced. I quickly sought escape from this icy prison. With
an ice-axe in one hand and a ski pole in the other, I managed to get back to firm
ground. The first rays of the sun were brushing the top of the North Col as I
worked my way up the remaining 50 metres. I glanced at my watch. It was just
7 a.m. Around 9 a.m. the altimetre indicated 7,360 metres. 'Making good time,' I
thought, as I climbed over the rolls and bulges. Now and then I would push
through pockets of ankle-deep snow. Gusts of wind began to sap my energy. At
7,500 metres, I could feel myself slowing considerably. I must not become
exhausted, I told myself. The next two days would be far more strenuous.
Under the weight of my 15-kilo rucksack, I now found difficulty in breathing.
Every dozen steps or so, I would stop and gasp for breath. My mind was drifting.
The intervals between rest pauses became shorter and shorter. I would sit down,
and then find it nearly impossible to rise again. Somehow I kept going. It seemed
that there was somebody behind me giving me the needed courage. Step by step,
I pushed myself onward till I reached 7,800 metres.
I found a spot to my liking and trod down the snow until its surface was firm.
I sat to unpack my rucksack, looking down to the camp I had left at five that
morning. I had difficulty pitching the tent. The wind, gusting to perhaps 80 kilometres, kept heaving it into the air. At last I secured it with the ski poles, the
ice-axe, spread the finger-thick polyurethane mat on the floor and crept inside. I
lay listening to the wind. I should have begun cooking but couldn't bring myself
to do it. So, I shoved dried meat, cheese and bread into my mouth. Just those
small movements were exhausting. 'I must begin the cooking,' I told myself. I
needed to drink at least four litres of water a day; to dehydrate would be fatal. I
opened the flap enough to scoop some snow with the lid of my pot. In that
instant the flame of my gas stove blew out. 'It will be a bad night,' I thought as I
The morning sun on August 19 hit my tent and began melting the frost on the
inner walls. Slowly I packed. I decided to leave behind two cans of sardines, a gas.
cartridge and half the soups and teas to lessen the torture of my load. I knew I
had to reach the top on the following day. At three in the afternoon I checked my altimetre. It read only 8,220 metres. I was frustrated by my progress. Worn out, I
wanted desperately to find a resting site. But I could find none. One hour later, on
a snow-covered ledge, I managed to pitch my tent. I kept thinking, 'What if the
fog did not lift by morning? Should I wait? No, that was senseless.' By the day
after tomorrow I would be so weak that I could never advance towards the peak.
Tomorrow I had either to go up or go down. There was no other choice.
The morning of August 20 was clear but clouds were closing in. I took my
camera and my ice-axe. Everything else I left in the tent. The climb to the peak
was physically taxing but not too difficult. I climbed on hands and knees like a
four-legged animal, sluggish and apathetic. Finally, I stood just below the peak.
The fog was thick and I could hardly orient myself. The next three hours seemed
to pass without notice. I climbed instinctively, not consciously. The clouds opened
for brief moments, giving fleeting glimpses of the peak against the blue sky.
Suddenly I saw the aluminium tripod! There it was-proof that I had reached the
summit. The Chinese had anchored it at the highest point in 1975 to make
I sat there like a stone. I had spent every bit of strength to get there. I
was empty of feeling. For the second time I had reached the highest point on