The Italian Reinhold Messner He is considered by many experts – by almost everyone – as the best mountaineer in history. In 1986 he was the first to complete the 14 eight-thousanders without artificial oxygen and before and after he climbed the unclimbable, opened countless routes, explored the Earth, in capital letters. Everest, Annapurna, Gasherbrum I… there are paths towards the roofs of the planet that he created, but there are also paths in Antarctica or the Gobi. In recent times, already retired – today he is 79 years old – he has been the protagonist of a thousand controversies, some even against his former teammates, but there has never been any doubt about his figure. Until this week. Messner is no longer Messner. Or so the Guinness Book now says.
As recently published by the famous records archive, Messner never reached the summit of Annapurna in 1985 and, therefore, the following year, in 1986, he did not become the first to climb the 14 eight-thousanders without using cylinders. Neither were those who followed him, the Swiss Erhard Loretan (1995) and the Spanish Juanito Oiarzabal (1999) y Alberto Iñurrategi (2002), if not fifth on the list so far, the American Ed Viesturs, which achieved it in 2005. History, rewritten. Mountaineering, in the air. What happened?
The advancement, the technology. Until not long ago, to certify a promotion it was enough to visit Elizabeth Hawley, legendary journalist, creator of The Himalayan Database, and show you proof of the feat. She was rigorous, she demanded photographs or videos, testimonies from other climbers, answers to very specific questions, but she lacked support. Her work was artisanal, solitary. That is why with the passage of time, and especially with the appearance of the internet, she began to lose prominence to the benefit of the 8000ers website, its creator, Eberhard Jurgalski, and his team of researchers. When Hawley passed away in 2018, in fact, it was already 8000ers who confirmed the summits, the achievements, the records. And 8000ers wanted to take rigor in the mountains to another level.
In 2019, with high-resolution satellite images and the help of the German Aerospace Center, Jurgalski and his assistants demonstrated that in eight-thousanders such as Manaslu, Annapurna or Dhaulagiri, the majority of climbers never reached the true summit: they only stayed close. According to his work, only three men, Viesturs, the Finn Veikka Gustafsson and the nepali Nirmal Purja, completed the 14 eight-thousanders, the first two without artificial oxygen. According to their work, Oiarzabal and Iñurrategi stayed on a secondary summit of Manaslu, they did not set foot on the summit. And according to his work, Messner, the legendary Messner, was five meters short of actually summiting Annapurna. For all these reasons, last year 8000ers rewrote their list and asked the Guinness Book of Records to do the same.
Until this week, this investigation had caused some stir, but most of those affected refused to give it importance. After all, there have always been debates of this nature in high places. But after the Guiness Book’s decision on Messner, a reference among references, Himalayanism raised its voice.