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Reinhold Messner's Acclimatization Process During His 1980 Solo Ascent to Mount Everest

On August 20, 1980, Reinhold Messner, a mountaineer from South Tyrol, achieved the unthinkable. He became the first person to ascend Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, alone and without the aid of supplemental oxygen. This feat was not just a testament to Messner’s physical endurance but also his mental fortitude and meticulous planning, particularly his acclimatization process.

Messner’s ascent was unique in several ways. He chose to climb during the monsoon season, a time when the mountain is typically deserted due to unpredictable weather conditions. His route was also unconventional. He crossed the North Col at approximately 7,020 meters to the Norton Couloir, a steep gorge that allowed him to circumvent the perilous northeast ridge of the mountain. And above all, he used no supplemental oxygen and was alone! This feat became possible thanks to careful acclimatization as well. Let’s emphasize this fact!

 

Acclimatization Process

Acclimatization, the process by which the body adjusts to the decreased availability of oxygen at high altitudes, is a critical component of any high-altitude climb. Messner’s acclimatization process for his 1980 Everest ascent was meticulous and well-planned.

 

First of all, Messner spent a significant amount of time at Base Camp. Moreover, he did one reconnaissance to the North Col to cache supplies there.

 

“At the same spot where the British pioneers set up their base camp, I camped for more than 2 months. From there I put an intermediate camp at 6,000 meters and 500 meters higher, my advanced base camp as a starting point for the solo climb to the summit. From base camp, I made numerous acclimatization and reconnaissance sorties to the north, west, and south.” - Reinhold Messner, “Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent”

This cycle of climbing high and sleeping low is a common strategy used by mountaineers to acclimatize their bodies to high altitudes.

Needless to say, it takes time and patience. Interestingly, previous acclimatization practices help a lot since, according to Messner, the body seems to develop a sort of memory for adapting itself more easily. Consequently, during his later expeditions, he had less trouble than on his first.

 



Reinhold Messner is running in the mountains


“After spending seven weeks at an altitude of more than 5000 meters, I run around in base camp as if I were at home. Once again, I have established the fact that you accustom swiftly to the rarefied air if you have already often been at great heights. I am now well acclimatized.” - Reinhold Messner, “The Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent”

Spending time at high altitudes also helped Messner’s girlfriend at the time, Nena Holguin, to regain her strength and resilience. She writes: “The headaches which I had at the beginning of our travels have gone. Also, I am well acclimatized.”

 



"The Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent" by Reinhold Messner in Russian


In conclusion, Reinhold Messner’s 1980 solo ascent of Mount Everest was a remarkable achievement that pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible in mountaineering. His success can be attributed not only to his physical and mental strength but also to his careful and strategic acclimatization process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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