Great Europeans

Messner and Habeler Climb Everest Without Oxygen but it tore the team apart

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Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner took alpine tactics to the Himalayas, blowing minds and redefining the sport itself. Over forty years later, they speak about the first oxygen-less ascent of Everest and the rift that broke up the greatest climbing partnership of all time.

On 8 May 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first to climb Mount Everest (8,848m) without supplemental oxygen. The barrier-breaking undertaking deemed impossible forever changed Himalayan mountaineering and raised the bar for all future ascents.

Up there on the 8,848-meter-high summit they took some pictures, shot a short film, cried exhausted with joy, left a piece of old rope and an old battery on the summit to prove they had been there, and then after about 15 minutes began to descend, laboriously, back down towards Camp IV.

Messner was 33 at the time, Habeler 35, and after almost three months below the highest mountain in the world the two had just broken a barrier hitherto deemed impossible, disproving the scientific belief that it was impossible for humans to survive above 8,500 meters.

After setting off from Camp II on the Nepalese side of the mountain on 6 May, the two stumbled back into Base Camp on 10 May. In doing so they shaped and changed the way of interpreting and climbing the highest mountains in the world. Their pioneering ascent pushed the limits of mountaineering and immediately became the yardstick for all the other climbs that followed.

The Messner – Habeler climbing partnership was considered the strongest at the time and Everest without supplementary O2 was the crowning moment of years of other cutting-edge ascents. The North Face of the Eiger in 1974, for example, was climbed in just 10 hours, while in 1975 they made a revolutionary, alpine-style first ascent, i.e., without fixed ropes, pre-established high altitude camps or supplementary oxygen, up Gasherbrum I.

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And even if Messner had already ascended Nanga Parbat in 1970 and Manaslu in 1972, neither had ever climbed Everest before. And no one ever before had reached the summit of Everest breathing only its thin air. May 8, 1978, proved to be a historic, landmark climb that forever shaped the history of mountaineering.

Later when aged 74 Peter Habeler climbed the North Face of the Eiger once again. In 1974 Habeler had climbed the mountain in record time with Messner, while now he repeated the route with another world-famous alpinist, young David Lama. Source

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