Print Edition: March 18, 2015
“Messner is not only the greatest high-altitude mountaineer the world has ever known; he is probably the best it will ever know.”
Reinhold Messner is considered by many to be one of the most significant mountaineers of the 20th century (if not the crowned prince of modern mountaineers). He is also one of the most published mountaineers of the 20th century (almost 50 books in print and three movies made on his controversial life: The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984), Nanga Parhat (2010), and Messner (2012)
His recent book, Reinhold Messner: My Life at the Limits (2014), is an engaging, interview-style autobiography that spans the decades when Messner was at top form and summiting the most demanding peaks in the world. Few can claim the top-of-the-world climbs that Messner has done in his life — 3000 climbs, 100 first ascents, and the first to climb all of the world’s 8000 metre peaks.
Messner is 70 this year, and since leaving politics with the Green Party (he was with the European Parliament from 1999-2004), he has committed himself to building the Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) in the South Tyrolean region of Northern Italy — yet another peak to climb, and topped it he has. The MMM (which is, in reality, six museums) brings together the best and finest of global mountain culture. Messner has a flair for doing things on an epic scale, and the MMM is of such grandiose proportions.
The MMM, as mentioned above, are located in six areas. Each of the six museums tends to focus on different aspects of mountain life and culture, and all of them are exquisitely poised on expansive mountain terrain.
The Sigmundskron Castle near Bozen is a fine entry point — the encounter between mountains and humans is brought to the fore. The journey to museum two at Ortles takes the mountain keener from the spacious mountain ethos of Sigmundskron Castle to the rock-thick world of ice, snow, and underworld mountain existence — quite a stark and graphic contrast between museums one and two, yet both are part of mountain culture. Needless to say, mountain culture and life is replete with communities, clothes, paintings, relics, artifacts, and much else — such is museum three in the clouds in the Dolomites — plenty of paintings that highlight the romantic ethos with its turn to the mountains contra the madding crowd of the city and urban life.
Juval Castle (where Messner lives) is museum four and is packed full with art collections with a certain nod to Tibet. The fifth museum is at Bruneck Castle and mountain peoples from Asia, Africa, South America and Europe are represented. The sixth Museum (due to open in 2014) is focussed on traditional alpinism (which Messner has a fondness for). There can be no doubt that the MMM is on a scale that few can match. It takes about a week at a moderate pace to visit and thoroughly enjoy all the ambience and beauty of the six museums. When the week is done, be sure to add another week to ramble, scramble and do climbs in the alpine cathedrals of the South Tyrol.
I have been rather fortunate, in the last few months, to be in touch with Reinhold Messner by email. I asked Messner which books he has had published that have been the most meaningful and which have sold the best: Everest and My Life at the Limit topped the list. I also was interested what he thought of the movies made of his life. His answer was most pithy and almost Zen-like: “Films are films and life is life.”
For those keen to learn more about Messner in a most readable and accessible manner, Reinhold Messner: My Life at the Limit is a superb entry-level book. I asked Messner if there was anything left out in the book he wished was included — his answer, “nothing missing.”
Those who are keen, in our global village, to get a real sense and feel for mountaineering culture, past and present, from an international and cosmopolitan perspective, the MMM is the finest, fittest, and most compelling — the sights seen from such heights both charm and educate the soul, mind, and imagination — trips to the six MMM should be on the bucket list of all mountaineering aficionados. A visit with Messner is a delight of a way to wind up the vistas and visit.