Reinhold Messner Speaks at Outdoor Retailer
Reinhold Messner—famed alpinist, speaker, & author; first to climb all 14 8,000m peaks; first to climb Everest sans oxygen; etc—joined us at this Winter’s Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, UT to talk about the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre, alpine style & ethics, and the evolution of climbing.
The American Alpine Club sponsored the event to honor Reinhold Messner for his commitment to protecting world’s wilderness, preserving mountain history and inspiring climbers everywhere.
(Plus, thanks to Adidas for flying him to the States!)
Thanks to Chuck Kunz, Hockessin, DE, Todd Cook, and Duygu Basoglu for their separate efforts in transcribing the film. The AAC is very grateful for their work.
Reinhold Messner Speaks at Winter Outdoor Retailer Show, January 21, 2012
Intro by Phil Powers: I can’t say how pleased I am, we are, this clan of American climbers is, to be able to spend a little time with, welcome and thank a man who has been not just an inspiration to all of us for the way we approach the mountain environment, the way we approach adventure, the way we approach new routes, difficult terrain, but also the way we care for those places, the way we care for the people that live in those places, and the way we reinvent ourselves, through the course of our lives, to seek adventure, express passion, and I’d like to present a little honor, a big thank you and a great welcome to Reinhold Messner.
Reinhold Messner: Dear Fred . . . Beckey is here . . . Conrad [Anker] is here . . .and many other famous climbers. I think that this is not the time to do a lecture in front of you, and since we are here in a small group of climbers and people very interested in the mountains, I would like to do a discussion with you. So you are free to put in some questions. I am open to answer all the questions and so we have an opportunity to decide by yourselves how long we stay together. [Laughter]
So who is interested to put in the first question, about mountaineering, about wilderness, maybe preserve wilderness, doing some cultural work. You maybe know that for me, mountaineering, or climbing, is part activity, and part also culture. We have history, we have literature, we have a lot of artists, musicians they walked in the mountains. And like the American Alpine Club, I’m bringing ahead the museum; they also doing. I bring ahead the library. You also do. I’m very happy about. And I think especially in the future having now 90% of the climbers staying indoor, training in the climbing walls—they are right to do so—it’s important they know behind climbing there is a long history, at least 250 years in the modern times, thousands of years in the olden times and this is part, at least in my view, of what we call traditional climbing or alpinism.
Who is keen enough to put in the first question? Conrad.
Conrad Anker: We’re going to start out with a bang. A week ago the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre . . [Laughter/Applause] Are you aware of what happened a week ago?
Reinhold Messner: Yes, I know.
Conrad Anker: Two young talented climbers . . . one of them is the son of one of our esteemed members . . .Is Michael Kennedy here?. . . Anyway, they pulled all the bolts on the way down; it’s a huge debate, so your thoughts on that please.
Reinhold Messner: Historically, it’s very interesting what happened. In the last years, a few people tried to free the Maestri route—the second Maestri route—the first Maestri route in reality—this is another version on the Cerro Torre. Afterwards I’ll tell a little bit about the Maestri stuff on Cerro Torre, but this second route which he did in ‘70, 1970, on the end of his career—Maestri was a good Dolomite climber—he started up the southeast ridge of Cerro Torre putting in a lot of bolts. In reality, he went up with a machine and put in a lot of bolts and he finally didn’t reach the summit, but the last rock face piece on Cerro Torre. Especially last year, the year before, David Lama, a young climber which came out from the gym, tried to go there, and they put again bolts in to do a show on Cerro Torre. And there was a big debate about this. And now finally the son of Michael Kennedy did their thing without any bolts. And I’m very happy about, because this man, this young man, showed that Cerro Torre was possible not [in]‘70, but now, without using bolts. But climbers were not willing to wait until now, when their abilities are so high that somebody could go up without bolts.
But the whole Cerro Torre story is much more important because in ‘59, when Cerro Torre was first climbed, as least on the papers, by Egger and Maestri, they were in competition—especially Maestri was in competition—with Bonatti, and he was interested in Italy to show that he was able to do it. And Fava, Cesarino Fava, an Italian living in Argentina, was interested to be a big climber, at least in his small time climbing community, and so he pushed the story which clearly was not possible. It was not possible in ‘59 with the equipment from ’59—which we did not see in this fair in Salt Lake City; it was totally different equipment—to go up the Cerro Torre route of ‘59 to the summit.
Cesare Maestri told in his writings that he put in 70 bolts on the east, north, north route of Cerro Torre, and nobody found one of the bolts up to now. And it is not possible to abseil on Cerro Torre on the way they went down without using bolts. And we are quite sure now—I would not say in meters—that they went up to the ice triangle and not higher. What happens then we don’t know. Probably the tragedy went like he tells, but Cerro Torre was not climbed in ’59.
And only when Cesare Maestri came back from Cerro Torre ’70 from the route which was now climbed now by Kennedy in free style, I came into the discussion. I was 25 years old. When Cesare Maestri talked openly in lectures in Italy, “I went a second time to Cerro Torre to prove that I went up the first time.” And I answered, “What did you prove? You proved that you did not go up the first time because you went on another line and in a different style.” If you’d like to prove that you went up on the first climb, go on your first line, and go maybe with young climbers—maybe with Kennedy of today—and let them lead but show that you went up on this line because somewhere you found your old pitons. But he went on a different line on a different style and with the second ascent, he showed that the first ascent was a fake. Very simple. I did a book about it—it’s not out in English—on the Cerro Torre story. A very interesting story. And the whole story was built up on the rivalry between Bonatti and Maestri especially in Italy.
So next question. I’m very happy that Kennedy, the son of Kennedy, what is his name? Eddie? Adrian? Eddie?
[From the audience – “Hayden”].
First when I heard a Kennedy climbed, I was thinking Michael. It’s not anymore so. But anyway, very happy. A good climb. A very good climb.
So next question.
Audience Member: [Paraphrased as the audio was garbled]. I just moved to a new school here and we have been discussing a department of adventure and preservation. Based on the things you have spoken about and gave your opinions on, the overall parallel with cultures, you have spoken about meeting the .. horizontal, [oxygen], you talked about how people who are adventurous, including yourself, become preservationists and protecting cultures. Would do you have any advice, would you be an advisor for an actual university degree program? Do you think it is a good idea ? And, put together years of adventure and preservation..
Reinhold Messner: Adventure, adventure and preservation is a quite difficult issue because if we go in in an area we are at least at risk for some destroying. And the thing is quite simply understandable if you know that white nature is only white nature if we do not harm. So the first important thing is that we go in as single persons—also three or four but as a single group—but not thousands. If thousands of people are going on the Hillary Route of Everest, this is not anymore wilderness. This is a piste, like skiing in Snowbird. There’s not a big difference. I call the alpinism of today ‘piste alpinism,’ because 90% of the climbers are following pistes. On difficult routes where they find some bolts every two meters so they have a line because you don’t need to look for the line. If you go on a piste like on Everest the normal way. Not if you go on a different way on Everest on the west ridge or the southwest face or the north face; there you are by yourself. So, I would say to young people if you like to go in to make experiences, strong personal experiences, go where nobody else is going. Don’t leave any tracks—your footprints, but the snow will, the wind will destroy them. And so wilderness is there forever.
Preservation is quite easy if each one is going where the others are not going, and leaving nothing. We are free to go everywhere, but we are not free to destroy the places where we make our experiences.
Audience Member: Why alpine style?
Reinhold Messner: Alpine style is one style. Alpine style is not THE style. And I would not either say the way to go up in a commercial expedition on Everest is the wrong way. It’s just one possibility. And this is the possibility used especially today. Since thousands and thousands of climbers have the physical ability to climb Everest, why they should not go with a guide? If somebody would like to do something else, go on the East Face like Stephen Venables, and find all the possibilities to expose oneself to maximum. If you see the history of Himalayan climbing—8000 meter climbing—it’s quite easy to understand why the Himalayan style had to come in. For 55 years, nobody was able to climb an 8000 meter peak. The most, the strongest climbers of the world think about Mummery, the first one, Mallory later on, Welzenbach, they tried on the 8000 meter peaks. And for 55 years, nobody was able to do so. Why? Because they had not the equipment we had. They had very simple equipment.Their knowledge was very small, because only a few expeditions went every year.
And in ’50, 1950, it became possible. The French were the best climbers in this period. So they became the first ones to climb an 8000 meter peak in ’50. Lachenal and Herzog. And between 15 years, all the 8000 meter peaks were climbed, by national expeditions. From America, Gasherbrum I. From Japan, Manaslu. From Austria, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat. Nobody from Germany. [Laughter]. Very important. It’s very important. British climbed Everest. Ok, not British, New Zealander and Sherpa. They climbed Everest, and did Kangchenjunga. The French again did Makalu. The Swiss one. They climbed Lhotse and Dhaulagiri. The Italians climbed K2. So the classical mountaineering nations, they climbed these mountains. And these were all national expeditions, so the money came from the alpine clubs, from The American Alpine Club, from the Swiss Alpine Club, from the German Alpine Club—they did not summit, but they financed some expeditions. And this was a period when they used every equipment, oxygen, whatever they could find to go to the summit. In the 70’s, if they would had the helicopter to climb up Everest, they would use the helicopter. If the British and the Norwegians would have had airplanes or helicopters, they would go to the South Pole by helicopters. But they had not this equipment, so they went with what they had. It was quite difficult.
In, after ’64 when the Chinese—Chinese did the last 8000 meter peak, I forgot them before—did Shishapangma, for 4 or 5 years nobody was going to the 8000 meter peaks. A few freaks, but they could not succeed. A few Americans, they tried to go in and to tackle the border and to go around and sneak into Everest. They were very good, but they could not do it, because how you do it from Nepal all the way in and so on? A few freaks tried but nobody went. There was no interest in the public. The 8000 meter peaks were done, and it was finished. And in ’70, a new generation came, especially in Britain and also in our places, which tried to do it in a different way. We did not go in ’70 to climb Annapurna South Face, which was done by Bonnington and his crew, or do Nanga Parbat south. We went to do the face. Not anymore the normal way. The normal way was not of a little bit of interest in my generation. We were interested to do the big walls. Like in the alps. After the normal ways became the period of the difficulties. This was the second period of alpinism. And so in the ‘70s, the good climbers, the ambitious climbers, they tried to do the most difficult routes, the big walls in the Himalayas.
And after two, three of these experiences, I understood it will be also boring to use the expedition style, I mean fixed ropes, and camps and porters and maybe also oxygen to go up these difficult walls on these peaks. So I was thinking to do it in a small style. And this was the third period. Which Mummery just used in the alps in 1880. The first period of alpinism, I call the alpinism of conquest, because people went with the idea for the conquest of the summit. The second period was the period of the difficulties. They searched for difficulties, so for the way, the way was the goal, not anymore the summit. The way to the summit, how difficult it was, and how you could handle it. And the third period was the period of . . . in English I don’t know it. In German it’s ‘verzicht.’—Fred [Beckey], help me, you are German. [Laughter]. To leave apart what you have at your disposal. From the ‘70s afterwards, it was clear using all the equipment we would have at our disposal, we could go up everywhere. Today, I can go on every summit of this world with the helicopter. It’s a special helicopter. It’s a question of money, but not a question of ability. And with this was born the idea to put apart everything. In a perfect way, I go with a little bit of food, with a sleeping bag and maybe a tent. And I go without a rope, without a piton, without . . . I need crampons and an ice axe maybe … but nothing more. And today, I can go in blind in every mountain equipment store, and I take some equipment, an ice axe and jacket and trousers and shoes and I can do all mountains of the world. But in the ‘50s, you had to be able to do your own constructions, because in the stores you did not find the right equipment.
And in the meanwhile, there are so many climbers interested in high places, that thousands are going there. And the Sherpas made out a business of this. Why not? And they prepare the routes, and so they prepare a piste. And on this piste, this is the possibility for many people to go after the summit. And for this I call the climbing of today the ‘piste alpinism.’ Very simple.
But piste alpinism is tourism. What is tourism? Tourism is an activity where the organizer is preparing your stay in a way that is quite safe and secure. You don’t like to make holidays in a hotel where maybe you die because there’s poisoning or something like that. [Laughter]. So if you do your holidays, if you pay for your holidays, you like to have a secure way for skiing down or skiing up with a ski lift or to have a good piste to the summit. But alpinism, classical, traditional alpinism is beginning where tourism is finishing. And if tourism reached the summit of Mount Everest, where is alpinism beginning? On smaller mountains and on unknown places. Very simple.
And there is a lot of historical stuff. And I like it if young people are going to study and to follow the historical questions, the big questions: Mallory, did he reach the summit or not? Conrad Anker went and he tried to do the Second Summit [Step], with the ladder, without the ladder and he gives some answers. Now, Kennedy, Kennedy’s son went up Cerro Torre without using the bolts and he showed it would be possible also without this big machinery. And it’s very interesting. From the historical side, we have many things to tell. And from the psychological side, everything is to re-tell.
Phil Powers: Let’s just take one more question.
Audience Member: What do you think about the removal of the bolts? Should they stay for a point in history, or is it doing more damage than good, or is it just the way . . .
Reinhold Messner: Somebody put in these bolts. And he didn’t ask anybody. And if tomorrow, a young climber is pulling them all out, I will clap. [Laughter and applause].
Phil Powers: I want to thank you. This was wonderful. I want to give you people some time to meet Reinhold if you haven’t . . . we’ve got a few more minutes. And I also want to thank Adidas Outdoors for bringing you over here and making this possible. You’ve been wonderful.
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