National Geographic Magazine – NGM.com
Beyond the walls of the 16th-century fortress, in northern Italy, the Dolomite range rose burnished and glowing in the late afternoon light. Within the walls, Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer, was building a mountain. At his energetıc direction, a backhoe lumbered back and forth in the dusty courtyard, heaving slabs of rock and depositing them in an artful pyramid that by the end of the exercise had formed a small mountain.
“This is Kailas, Holy Mountain,” Reinhold said, while the backhoe ﬁlled the air with golden dust. He was relishing the scene—the whole scene; not just the satisfaction of seeing Tibet’s most holy mountain assembled in miniature under his supervision but also, I suspected, the roar and rumble and chaos and dust and magniﬁcent improbability of the undertaking. The Kailas installation is only one of the many features, fanciful and inspired, that will ﬁll his latest Messner Mountain Museum, this one dedicated to the theme of “When Men Meet Mountains.”
Reinhold Messner is well into what he has designated Stage Six of his already remarkable life, without, it would seem, a backward glance for Stage One, when he was one of the world’s elite rock climbers, or Stage Two, when he was unquestionably the world’s greatest high-altitude mountaineer. Today, at 62, he is instantly recognizable from the multitude of publicity photographs taken over the past three decades—lean and ﬁt and sporting an even longer mane of waving hair, now threaded with silver, than he did when younger. His features tend to alternate between two characteristic expressions: The ﬁrst, a look of ﬁerce intensity, which, combined with beetling eyebrows and flowing beard and hair, give him an air of Zeus-like authority. It was with this expression that he moved his mountain. The second is his trademark smile—a reflexive baring of his very white, even teeth behind his beard—which gleams on friend and foe without distinction, like the smile of a crocodile. It was the crocodile smile he was baring now, as he envisioned the climactic moment of opening night of the Messner museum: A violent explosion, simulating a volcanic eruption, was to rend the night from inside the castle walls. “There should be a lot of flames and smoke,” he said, again with relish. “It should be at night so that the whole of Bolzano can see.” He paused to savor the image of a ﬁreworks blast that would appear to viewers as a catastrophic blowup. “Then my friends will say, ‘It is a pity,’ and my enemies will say, ‘Good, ﬁnally, at last!'”