Habeler and his climbing buddy Reinhold Messner (who has written his own story of the ascent) decided to attempt Everest the very hardest way of all--without oxygen, which Hillary and Tenzing and all their successors had relied upon. But Habeler and Messner had contempt for any kind of mechanical aid and put themselves through rigorous training to make a final two-man assault on the summit unsupported; they'd just get in and get out before loss of brain functions left them gibbering idiots. That indeed was the greatest fear, aside from thickening of the blood till it wouldn't circulate. What they counted on was a second wind at the absolute limit of mental and physical capacity--an ""x-factor"" which ""enables the impossible to become possible."" The two climbers bought into an Austrian team and, as the biggest investors, got special privileges including two attempts at the summit. On the way up Habeler misses out on receiving a consecrated white veil from a lama and feels cursed. But it's his companions who feel cursed when he plays his tape of Puccini's violin concerto for the 200th time (an astral composition, perhaps, since it's unlisted in Grove's). At last they're on the heights, perpetually threatened by leaden fatigue, with 80-mile-per-hour squalls ripping their tents. Their first shot fails, but after the Austrians get a team up on oxygen, Habeler and Messner try again and make it, better than half-insane--and descend slipping and sliding quite unprofessionally. The heavy streak of selfishness in all this is lightened by the trials overcome and the happy climax at 29,000 feet--plain but lively writing; familiar thrills.