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Reinhold Messner in Banff Talks Traditional Mountaineering

Messner talked about ethics, history and the future of traditional climbing

Reinhold Messner is in Banff National Park this week for the Banff Mountain Festival and sat with leading interviewer Geoff Powter for a one-on-one at the Eric Harvie Theatre on Halloween. Before Messner took the stage, Canmore’s Sharon Wood read excerpts from her new book Rising, which focused on her 1986 ascent of Mount Everest.

Messner is arguably one of the world’s most accomplished climber for his many climbs, including climbing the world’s first 5.11d and for being the first climber up the 14 8,000-metre peaks.

Messner is in town for his film The Great Peak: 150 Years Climbing History’s North America premiere. The hour-long period piece put modern climbers in old-school gear to recreate the first ascents of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which includes the mighty Cima Grande.

It was Messner’s late-night conversation with Powter, however, that gave the sold-out audience a lot to think about. Powter, a professional psychologist who has interviewed some of the world’s best climbers, steered the conversation with Messner to his greatest climbs, patriotism and the future of mountaineering.

“It was the climbing instinct I got when I was 15 and 16 that I could see from far away how to go up,” said Messner early in his talk with Powter. “The next part was the history, I studied the history at a young age.

“The best lesson we can get from the mountains is to go as traditional climbers… You have to be lost on the mountain to find yourself.”

Powter then asked, “Do you have some hope that maybe we can correct some course in the world of climbing?” Messner said, “Yes, the museums I built are to keep the history. I’m not talking about me, I’m speaking about thousands of climbers.”

Powter also asked Messner if he was a big risk taker, “I’m a very small risk taker, but I’m very well prepared,” Messner said. “You have to try it, failure is a possibility. How I do it is far more important than what I do.”

Powter asked Messner if he was referring to climbing ethics, “It’s not about ethics,” said Messner. “It’s more about a feeling that you have, in German we say einstellung (attitude). It’s not that you have to climb like the most extreme philosophers of traditional climbing, but you have to find your own way. It’s about attitude.”

At the end of the evening, Powter asked what Messner hoped the audience would take away and Messner said, “I don’t have a message, I only have the ability to tell stories. I feel that traditional mountaineering should not die. In 1,000 years, climbers should know what traditional mountaineering is. It’s about adventure.

“I think we will save traditional mountaineering. Plastic walls won’t disappear but they’ll be secondary to the mountains.”

Watch behind the scenes footage of the making of The Great Peak: 150 Years Climbing History below.

The Great Peak