Reinhold Messner Free Spirit:
A Climber's Life
by Reinhold Messner
Translated by Jill Neate.
First edition: (USA) The Mountaineers, Seattle, (UK) Hodder&Stoughton, 1991. 250 pages, illustrated;
Second edition: Mountaineers Books; Reprint edition (July 1998)
“Although he is still well under 50, perhaps Messner has already accomplished too much for an autobiography. Too much, certainly, for this autobiography: not just the fourteen 8000-meter peaks (some of them more than once), but the highest points on all the continents, a sledge crossing of Antarctica, the Kilimanjaro icicle, numberless new routes in Europe, some solo or in foul conditions. Not to mention a medieval castle converted into a private residence, a divorce, a baby, and two brothers killed in the mountains. He has only two pages, for instance, for an ascent of K2; only two paragraphs for the traverse of Gasherbrum I and II. Much of the material may be found in greater detail in his many other books. (…)
But if a lot is slighted or left out, plenty remains. Many of the accounts, especially the early ones of the Alps and Dolomites, remain exciting despite their brevity.”
Steven Jarvis, “American Alpine Journal” 1992, p. 279-280
“Messner's definitive autobiography (…) is subtitled A Climber's Life. This is a considerably more accurate intimation of what is to be found between the covers than the slightly fluffy option chosen. There is little freedom here. From the second page onwards Messner starts climbing, and with hardly a second glance he continues to do so until even he finally gets bored with it and packs in going up mountains for going across Antarctica. (…)
Hodder & Stoughton have packaged the book lavishly. The historical photographs give an authority and quality the writing lacks. I especially enjoyed the one of Reinhold standing next to Clint Eastwood during the filming of The Eiger Sanction. Considering how sizeable the former mayor of Carmel is, Messner looks quite tall in comparison to his current stature. Perhaps altitude makes you shrink?
But you can't escape the intensity. The final irony is in the last sentence: 'I venture to maintain that Tomo Cesen is currently the best climber in the world.' This is the least definite statement in the whole book, and probably the truest. Only a man like Cesen can truly understand what goes on in Messner's mind. You won't find it in Free Spirit.”
Ed Douglas, “Alpine Journal” 1992/93, p. 294-295
“Although the book is nicely produced, some of the photos are uninspiring — would his German publishers have settled for some of those tired-looking old colour dupes or that fuzzy black and white of Aconcagua? The narrative reads rather jerkily and the Messner aphorisms seem occasionally to be sprinkled over the paragraphs like so much confetti; (…)
In spite of all his admirable commercial success, Messner confesses that 'the life of adventurer... is not a profession but a condition". The one anchor that seems to have made that wanderlust condition tolerable is his home valley of Villnoss, in the Dolomites. Throughout the book he reaffirms his affection for his native routes. As for expeditions, the completion of the 8,000m peaks really did make him 'free', releasing him for lonely journeys across Tibet, Greenland or the great white silence of Antarctica. He no longer has need to prove himself as an extreme mountaineer and in the final chapter, just as Bonatti 25 years ago proclaimed Messner to be the great future hope of Alpinism, Messner now hands over the torch to Tomo Cesen.”
Stephen Venables, “High” 1991, June, No. 103, p. 62-63
“There have been so many books generated in response to Reinhold's vast achievements that it can be difficult to see just what another might say. His books fill the shelves and have become almost a genre in themselves within climbing writing. What then can another autobiography say that is not already common knowledge?
The answer is: a lot. (…)
Surrounded by Dolomite peaks, with a climbing father 'who had stood on all the summits that we could see', in a world where the mountains were an everyday experience, Messner's trajectory is more readily understood.”
Paul Nunn, „Mountain” 1991, July/August, No 140, p. 47
“The book lacks the detail of an expedition tome, but for anyone searching for a profile of the world's greatest alpinist, this book is it. Free Spirit gives us a glimpse into Messner's youth from 1949 to 1965, then leads us down a hardcore memory lane, briefly covering his first solo (and first one-day) ascent of the north face of Les Droites in 1969, his solos of appalling Dolomite horror shows like the Philipp-Flamm on the Civetta, and the north faces of the Langkofel and the Furchetta. At that point we are treated to the first ascent of Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face, the ten-hour ascent of the Breach Wall on Mount Kilimanjaro, the first alpine-style ascent of an 8000-meter peak (Hidden Peak), a quick ascent of Denali, the first oxygenless ascent of Everest, Nanga Parbat solo, K2, Everest solo, "the rest of the eight-thousanders," the Seven Summits and the epic 2800-kilometer ski traverse of Antarctica with Arved Fuchs in 1989-90.
Free Spirit is a hammer blow to those of us who have not achieved our full potential, to those of us who have settled for less or wasted our talent on things we never really wanted in the first place. As an example of a life well-lived, of talent exploited, of determination and refusal to compromise one's values, the life of Reinhold Messner is irreproachable.”
Marc Twight, “Rock & Ice” 1992, September/October, No. 51, p. 90-91