On this day, May 8, in 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler stood on the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest, at 29,031.7 feet. To get any higher, you’d have to fly. Everest long remained unconquered, and was only scaled for the first time by Tenzig Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953. What made Messner’s and Habeler’s ascent singular was that they did it without supplemental oxygen, long considered impossible – but, then, that word is overused, as we saw with Bannister’s mile. Messner adopted from his youth an ‘alpine style’ of climbing, with light equipment, fast and agile, rather than the ‘siege tactics’ of laying assault to a peak with technology. After all, why not just jet pack up there?

Messner had other firsts: To scale all fourteen peaks over 8000 metres (26,000 feet); the first to scale a number of other ascents; the first to cross Antarctica and Greenland by foot (no snowmobiles or dogsleds), and perhaps the first to cross the Gobi Desert, solo (who knows about that one – the desert has secrets it does to give up easily).

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