The Everest Ordeal of Messner & Habeler

More than 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest, but fewer than 200 have done so without oxygen.

On April 21, 1978, Reinhold Messner (Italian) and Peter Habler (Austrian) came close to summiting the Everest without supplementary Oxygen, however, the sudden illness of Habeler from the food poising paused their summit attempt.

Messner, along with 2 Sherpas, went up to South Col., only to be stuck by storm for 2 days. They arrived back safely to the Base Camp and waited 2 weeks before they made another attempt. Messner was steadfast and upbeat about doing the summit, while Habeler was of the same skeptic opinion of the Scientific community.

A Sherpa died after falling in a crevasse and another was rescued impromptu.

Messner and Habeler on Everest 1978
Messner and Habeler on Everest, 1978

On May 6, 1978, they embarked on their journey to summit the Everest, after much discussion and contemplation.

On May 8, 1978, Messner and Habler reached the Everest’s summit without the bottled oxygen. Accompanied by hard-working Sherpas and a team of foreign doctors, the duo successfully climbed the Everest after a setback and in a brink of another failure.

Few other Sherpas suffered major injuries and life-threatening conditions. A doctor suffered a medical injury while injecting plasma into himself. Messner himself went snow-blind while descending from the summit.

Climbers use supplemental oxygen to give them an edge while pushing to the summit of a mountain like Everest at 8850 meters. At that altitude, the available oxygen is 33% of that at sea level. It is like running up a staircase while holding your breath 2 out 3 steps.

They shook  the entire scientific and medical community by climbing the Everest without the Bottled O2, which was proclaimed as an impossible feat. The medical community was with a view that staying above 8,000 meters without bottled O2 may lead to a permanent brain damage or even death.

Everest became Messner’s fourth ascent of the Eight-Thousander without the use of bottled O2. He, again, became the first man to climb Everest solo and without the use of bottled O2 in 1980 from the Northern side (Tibet).

He described his ordeal as;

Breathing becomes such a strenuous business that we scarcely have strength left to go on. Every ten or fifteen steps, we collapse into the snow to rest, then crawl on again. My mind seems almost to have ceased to function. I simply go on climbing automatically.

The fact that we are on Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is forgotten – nor does it register that we are climbing without oxygen apparatus


1978 Everest  Documentary

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