The truth was on Nanga Parbat. An event that changed the life of the best mountaineer in the world
In 1970, the brothers Gunther and Reinhold Messner together reached the summit of Nanga Parbat. Only one returned to the camp. The mysterious circumstances of the death of younger Gunther are still discussed today. Reinhold Messner presents his version of those events in the new book “On life”.
As before each major climbing trip, also before my first trip to the Himalayas, at the same time I was filled with fear and enthusiasm. Fear of danger and the scale of the venture, enthusiasm for the target: a Rupal four-and-a-thousand-meter flank on Nanga Parbat, the tallest rock and ice wall in the world. The fact that my brother also took part in the expedition gave me wings, but my fears did not leave me. As if two forces competed with me: life and death.
There has been a lot of speculation about the course of this trip. Today I do not see any reason to deny all the absurdities spread in connection with the death of my brother. Finding his body ultimately clarified the matter. Conspiracy theories, however, do not go out of circulation, because for the public that is unfamiliar with the imaginary or falsified stories are more interesting than the facts themselves. If I died then – died of exhaustion – no one would ever know what really happened during the descent from the summit. There would not be so many slanderous insinuations. Only in this context is my experience as an alternative to death a happy circumstance.
Today, from the perspective of almost fifty years, I am not bothered by the question why many people who were hostile to me – the leader and participants of that expedition, mountain reporters, representatives of the German Alpine Association – used the tragedy associated with my brother’s death to moralize and denigrate me. For me, it is only the experience of dying that is important in all of this. After all, it was because of death and dying that this trip became the worst and the most important experience of my life. Because I was conscious of dying, I lived my life the most intensely.
It started with a bivouac at the Merkel Pass at an altitude of 7,800 meters. Despite the weak wind at night, without a tent, the chill was unbearable. For fear of deadly hypothermia, harassed by cramps, we crouched in another position and moved our toes, unsuccessfully trying to warm up. That night we did not fall asleep even for a moment. Escape from the fact that we are lost, we looked in the hope of daydreaming. However, we were not able to get rid of our unfortunate situation. Salvation could only bring about loss of consciousness or death. Possibly the morning.
From time to time, Gunther caught his gloved hand by the face, leaned back and leaned against the rock wall under which we sat, mumbling some numbers. As if he were counting the truth. Or maybe he measured some nonsense, seconds? Each time the exhaustion threatened to go into a state of apathy, he shuddered suddenly. A sigh flew from his chest, shaking the ice-cold armor with his clothes and letting him feel his presence. For a time of one breath he seemed to come back to life. Then a gust of wind lifted the camping sheet and again revealed our fear: fear that we no longer belong to this world!
The next day was relatively better. Not because we were going down the wall of Diamir, we were in a better situation – in fact the conditions were much worse there – but because we were actively fighting for survival, we got rid of the fear of death. Then came the second night. Another night under the open sky. As for me, I was too thirsty and chilled to think about dying. Gunther, on the other hand, reached such a place in his suffering, that relief could only bring him the image of death, putting an end to further pain.
Everyone talks about the heroism of dying, and no one knows how it is. In the meantime, it is easier to die – whether in an avalanche or an ice crevice – than freezing all nights without any cover in the thirty degrees of frost. An eternal dream seems to be a godsend. However, the experience of these nights instinctively obliged us to continue. Against everything.
In the glacial boiler at the foot of the wall I went ahead again in order to find a way in the maze of breaking ice – in the thicket of blocks and ice gaps under our feet and hanging over the heads of seracs. More and more, I stopped, waiting for Gunther. But he did not come. Time passed. I drank the water from the glacier, waited, cried. It still was not coming. So I turned back and walked over a piece. I was calling him loud, but I could not see him anywhere. In the depths of my soul – deathly tired myself, on the verge of exhaustion – I hoped to go down the other side of the glacier, which I walked around on the left, and that it goes further down. That we will meet again in the valley below.
Constantly looking for him, I went down so low that I could see both ways. But there was no trace of him. At that moment, terrified and confused, I barely moved back. It turned out that in the place where we last separated, an avalanche came down. At this time, between 9 and 11 in the Diamir boiler, something is falling apart somewhere. Smaller and bigger avalanches come from everywhere. At that time I did not suspect that my brother was killed, but I knew that we were in the most dangerous place in the mountain.
After many hours of searching and another night under the naked sky, I was barely alive lugged down the valley. As in a trance. Brother died, buried by an avalanche freed from suffering. But I could not die, I could not stay there. I had to get back home. I was hallucinating. It seemed to me that people were approaching against it: on foot, on horseback. I saw shepherds and their animals.
It would be easier to die
All these images that seemed to me a reality turned out to be delusions. Still, I’ve been deceiving myself again and again. I needed help, someone who would take me, show me the way. Hallucinations urged me on, making me go on, help me stay on my feet. It’s still anew. Like I could be brought back to life with the help of real-life dreamers, as if in the immediate vicinity of death there was also more help.
Initially, crawling on all fours, like an animal, I passed the halls located high in the U-shaped valley, where the stone houses with human-sized walls, all of which stood as if from other times, were gathered close together. All empty! At first, in a fit of madness, I was overcome by despair, then remorse, finally I lost consciousness! Later – still hoping for rescue – I crawled along the Diamir flank towards that part of the glacial valley that stretched under me like a dark crypt; or maybe depth, salvation? Only instinct and a sense of duty to return home forced me to go on.
Read from the original source below