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Taken to new heights: Adventurer Reinhold Messner shares advice for next generation of mountaineers

112322 Reinhold Messner Steph Davis Aspen Institute PHOTO.jpg
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Mountaineer and adventurer Reinhold Messner speaks with climber and BASE jumper Steph Davis speak at the Aspen Institute on Wednesday. Messner shared stories from decades of outdoor adventures and offered advice to others looking to accomplish gargantuan tasks.

Reinhold Messner is widely considered the greatest mountaineer of all time.

He was one of the first to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, then was the first to do it solo. He’s also the first to climb all 14 peaks over 26,000 feet and the first to cross Antarctica without dogsleds or snowmobiles.

He has written dozens of books and even served as a member of European Parliament.

And on Wednesday, he spoke at the Aspen Institute for a talk titled “Mountain vs. Human Nature: Sustaining Alpinism as a Way of Life.” Accomplished BASE jumper and rock climber Steph Davis moderated a conversation with Messner after he shared a presentation on the subject.

Messner shared stories from his adventures in the mountains and passed along lessons from a lifetime spent conquering gargantuan challenges in the natural world that may also apply to the challenges of everyday life.

“We are all able to overcome the difficulties, the danger, if we learn in small, small steps,” Messner said.

He thinks such advice will serve aspiring mountaineers well as they look to achieve new things.

“A lifetime is not enough to become a perfect mountaineer,” Messner said. “Nobody's perfect, but you have much more possibility to understand your science and your activity if you do it in small steps and not with long legs.”

He also emphasized the importance of outdoor education for the next generation of adventurers.

He said it will help preserve the art and the values of traditional mountaineering at a time that he senses they could be fading.

“If we lose the culture of traditional mountaineering, we lose for young people the possibility to learn, to cope with nature, to be part of it,” Messner said. “We are part of it.”

He believes people should learn not only about the practice of outdoor adventure but the backstory and the reason for it.

“All the enthusiastic mountaineers, enthusiastic climbers, enthusiastic nature people, they should know the history of adventuring, they should know the philosophy,” Messner said.

Messner said that connecting with the natural world could help people connect with one another, too.

“We have the right to explore the world, to explore ourselves, we have to do it,” Messner said. “And if we are a community today, … it’s because many people are able to experience the world themselves, the nature. And we can do it — especially experience our relationship to nature.”

And sharing those experiences helps people form bonds through both the joy and the pain that come with grand adventures, he said.

“I'm very thankful to climbers,” he said. “They are giving me as a gift their experiences, speaking with me, and letting me understand how they felt, how they enjoyed the mountains or they suffered in the mountains.”

“Enjoyment and suffering is part [of it],” he added.

The talk was part of the “Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit” series at the Aspen Institute.


Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.
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