Reinhold Messner's Mountain Madness
Reinhold Messner has been hailed as the greatest mountain climber of all time. But for his entire career he has been mesmerized by the obscure peak that was his first major summit, where he lost his brother under circumstances that have been debated ever since. Later this year Messner will once again journey to the mountain that has tortured him for the past 35 years – and may haunt his legacy forever.
Before her death 10 years ago at age 83, Reinhold Messner's mother made her children promise to gather as a family at least once a year. They usually assembled around Easter or Christmas at a hotel, or sometimes at Castle Juval. Half the family lives abroad, half in northern Italy. But last August they met at a Catholic church in the village of Villnöss, where they grew up. The occasion was a funeral for the brother who didn't come home from Nanga Parbat. The last word any of them had from Günther was a letter he wrote shortly before he reached the summit: "And how is it back home? Have the schools broken up yet? Have Helmut, Erich, and Waltraud received our letters? Looking forward to seeing you all again soon." There had been a service for Günther in the same church in July 1970, but there was nothing to bury. "It was hard for the family to understand," Messner said. Indeed, his father, now 20 years in the grave, had blamed Reinhold for Günther's death.
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Now they had a bone. The priest read from the Bible; Messner's brother Hansjorg, a psychologist in London, delivered a eulogy. And, unexpectedly, Messner found himself moved. "I had resolved my feelings about Günther a long time ago," he said. "But I found my brother's speech very intelligent and comforting." The remnant of Günther's life was returned to the earth in the church graveyard. And then, done with tragic gestures, the mourners had a picnic in a meadow.