Reinhold Messner, born in 1944 in the Italian province of South Tyrol, is simply the greatest of the Mount Everest climbers. He began climbing in Italy's Dolomites, reaching his first summit at age 5. By the time he was 20 years old, Messner was one of the best European rock climbers. He then turned his attention to the great faces in the Alps and then the great mountains of Asia.
Messner, after climbing Nanga Parbat in 1970 with his brother Günther, who died during the descent, advocated that Mount Everest should be climbed without the use of supplemental oxygen or by what he called "fair means." The use of oxygen, Messner reasoned, was cheating. On May 8, 1978, Messner and climbing partner Peter Habeler became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest without bottled oxygen, a feat that some doctors thought impossible since the air is so thin and that climbers would suffer brain damage.
On the summit, Messner described his feelings: "In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single narrow gasping lung, floating over the mists and summits."
Two years later on August 20, 1980, Messner again stood atop Mount Everest without oxygen after climbing a new route up the North Face. For this audacious ascent, the first solo new route on the mountain, Messner traversed across the North Face, and then climbed the Great Couloir directly to the summit, avoiding the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge. He was the only climber on the mountain and spent only three nights above his advanced base camp below the North Col.
In 1986 Reinhold Messner became the first person to climb the 8,000-meter peaks, the 14 highest mountains in the world, after reaching the summits of Makalu and Lhotse, the last 8,000-meter peaks he climbed in his storied career.