“The best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure.” Reinhold Messner

Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest. 18 years condensed to 1 minute, 4 seconds. Video: Phoebe Anderson

“The best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure.”

Reinhold Messner

We met Reinhold in Lhasa. He had been out in the Himalayas looking for Yeti’s, which would soon be the topic of his next book.

Robert Mads Anderson, Ed Webster, Reinhold Messner, Everest Kangshung Face
Ed Webster and Reinhold Messner (right) talk climbing at breakfast in Lhasa, Tibet. I’m about as alert as I look after completing the Kangshung Face. Photo: Joseph Blackburn

With our flights from Lhasa back to Beijing delayed for days, we had more than ample time to talk the intricacies of mountains, his solo climb of Everest and our new route on the Kangshung Face.

While mountain talk was expected, it was the more far ranging topics that were of real interest. Physiology and the adaptability of the body to high altitude. Negotiations and costs at the Chinese Mountaineering Association. European politics. Challenges in developing countries.

The Holiday Inn Lhasa, the best hotel in town at the time, provided more than ample accommodations, the beds were soft, the showers hot, and the breakfast buffet could be grazed through for a few hours. There was no rush, nothing we could do to move things along. So breakfast might coallesce into a stroll out for lunch, then a leisurely dinner. It was a unique and relaxed time to get to know the worlds’ most accomplished mountaineer.

My fingers in Lhasa, Tibet following our ascent of the Kangshung Face. Photo: Joseph Blackburn

We were discussing our respective frostbite experiences, my cold toes and black fingers, Ed Websters the same, when Messner reached down and took off his own shoes.

“See,” he said, “I lost all my toes and I think I can still climb ok.”

It was a mix of humility and encouragement from a man not known for either. For Ed in particular – often kidded by his friends as “Tiny Reiny'” it was a connection that would continue to this day. Reinhold later told Ed that our climb on the Kangshung was “The best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure.”

Reinhold Messner, Everest, 8000 meter peaks
Reinhold interviewed by Forbes journalist Jim Clash at Firmian castle prior to his keynote speech in New York for the American Alpine Club Annual Dinner. As erudite at 70 as when we first met. Photo: Robert Anderson for Forbes

Reinhold was happy to have the quote in print first for Ed’s book, Snow in the Kingdom, and when I emailed Reinhold, a punctual “OK” came back, and the quote now sees a bit more time in print.

In terms of quotes, it was a great summing up, of a very long climb distilled in a very singular and distinct way – just what you would expect from Reinhold Messner.

Everest South Col after Stephen Venables (left) ascent without oxygen. Photo: Ed Webster

“For two decades Robert Anderson lived and breathed Everest. He ran it out, within a whisker of the summit, on the fiendish West Ridge Direct. He led the smallest team ever to accomplish a major new route, up the gigantic Kangshung Face, getting even closer to the top.

Then he chiselled away at the North Face, repeatedly, often alone. And finally he got his richly deserved summit, as leader for one of the most respected operators in the new era of commercially guided expeditions.  

Robert’s story of climbing on all three sides of Everest is full of narrow escapes.  But what really shines out is the canny wisdom, courage, determination and sheer fun-loving chutzpah of a defiant optimist.

Stephen Venables, First Briton to summit Everest without oxygen

When Stephen walked out of JFK airport on his first visit to New York City, I still remember his confident stride, his inquisitive look round, his rucksack slung effortlessly and naturally over his shoulder.

It was an approach and an attitude to covering new ground that carried him right through to becoming the first Briton to summit Everest without oxygen less than a year later.

Stephen wrote the very successful Everest Kangshung Face and followed it up with a digital edition, Alone at the Top. It was good to see my three hours spent belaying Ed Webster climbing out of his aptly named “Jaws of Doom” photograph put to good use yet again. Photo: Robert Anderson

Stephen’s books went into multiple editions, both in print and digital, and when I sent him along my first few chapters of Nine Lives, he summed up my story in a brief paragraph and a half, ending with the summation of me as a “defiant optimist,” a characteristic I think we both share and is at the heart of doing hard new routes in the high mountains.

I can also thank Stephen for my introduction to Mountain Guiding. Stephen and I were speaking together at an Everest Symposium hosted by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., after which he returned to the U.K. and was asked to guide Shishipangma, a peak he had nearly climbed a few year previous.

With prior commitments, he pointed Jagged-Globe in my direction and a few months later I summited Shishipangma without oxygen, shortly followed by Cho Oyu – certainly one of the most fortuitous introductions I’ve had in life.

Everest Kangshung Face, Stephen Venables, Paul Teare
Stephen Venables (left) and Paul Teare carefully apply their Kiehl’s sunscreen before setting off from Everest Base Camp. Photo: Joseph Blackburn

“Just read your piece in Nine Lives on the Everest West Ridge.

I must say this was some of the best writing I have enjoyed – ever! And not just mountaineering literature. Bravo!’

Dr. Peter Hackett

I first met Peter in Alaska, as a mutual friend, Bill Hammel, was sharing his house and on my Seven Summits Solo project we moved in as well. As climbers seem to do, we caught up over the years at climbing lectures, Everest Base Camp and when Peter hosted a high altitude clinic for the American Mountain Guides in Boulder, Colorado.

Guide Tore Sunde-Rasmussen and Dr. Peter Hackett (right) at Everest Base Camp. Photo: Robert Anderson

Where does a book start – or more importantly sometimes, restart? Over the years I had notes, diaries and those random musings from all my Everest expeditions. I published the first chapter online and suddenly an email arrived from Peter with:

‘…I must say this was some of the best writing I have enjoyed – ever! And not just mountaineering literature. Bravo!’

As much as Peter is one of the worlds’ foremost high altitude researchers and Doctors, he is also a climbers, climber. He climbed to the top of Everest from the South Col alone, way back when there were no ropes or lines of people.

He recounted this epic ascent to Stephen Venables and I at a dinner in Wash. D.C. It was gripping, truly an extraordinary ascent in the early days of Everest. His writings and research on altitude are legendary. He knows the heights and also has the intellect of a renowned Dr. and scientist, – if he thought my writing about the heights was good, perhaps I should keep going?

As much as a climber wants to tell a good climbing story, it really isn’t enough to simply write up an adventure. It needs to stand alone as a good piece of writing.

So Peter’s quote was the inspiration to delve back into the book in earnest, it put me back into the story, back at work finishing off the Nine Lives.

Never underestimate the power of a few good words, personally written and delivered, to inspire anyone.

Signed copies of Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest are available for pre-order now from Vertebrate Publishing in the U.K. and for delivery anywhere in the world.