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Mount Everest, first climbed without supplementary oxygen by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler on 8 May 1978
Photo by Peter Habeler
Reinhold Messner, East Rombuk Glacier, Everest North side, 1980
Photo by archivio Reinhold Messner
Peter Habeler repeating the Heckmair route up the North Face of the Eiger together with David Lama
Photo by © David Lama

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, 40 years ago Everest without supplementary oxygen

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On 8 May 1978 Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first to climb Mount Everest (8848m) without supplemental oxygen. The barrier-breaking undertaking deemed impossible that forever changed Himalayan mountaineering and raised the bar for all future ascents.



At around 1:15 pm on May 8, 1978, precisely 40 years ago today, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler reached the summit of Everest without the use of supplementary oxygen. Up there on the 8848 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 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 8500 meters. After setting off from Camp II on the Nepalese side of the mountain on 6 May, the two stumbled back in to Base Camp on 10 May. In doing so thye 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 alpine style first ascent, i.e. without fixed ropes, pre-established high altitude camps or supplementary oxygen, up Gasherbrum I. And even if Messner he 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. 8 May 1978 proved to be a historic, landmark climb that forever shaped the history of mountaineering.

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