A MAP enthusiast has been branded ‘clueless’ after he spent years doggedly attempting to prove world record-holding climbers had not quite reached the top of some mountains.
Climbing legends Reinhold Messner (pictured) and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner have both now had their names scratched from Guinness World Records after it accepted the research and evidence provided by amateur cartographer Eberhard Jurgalski.
Considered by many to be the greatest climber of all time, Messner was the first climber to conquer the 14 highest mountains in the world above 8,000 metres – a feat which had carved his name into history. However, the 79-year-old Italian no longer features after Jurgalski managed to convince Guinness he was five metres shy of the summit of Annapurna – the world’s deadliest mountain, which has claimed the lives of almost a hundred climbers since 1900.
From his home in Lorrach, Germany, the cartographer used Messner’s account of being able to see basecamp from the summit to show invigilators that he was five metres below and 65 metres away from the actual summit of Annapurna.
Messner and his climbing partner Hans Kammerlander took Annapurna in 1985 and, at the same time, bagged the final of the 14 ‘Eight Thousanders’ for Messner who has now responded, branding Jurgalski’s work as ‘nonsense’.
“First of all, I have never claimed any record, so I cannot deny anything,” the mountaineer snapped.
“In addition, mountains change. It’s been almost 40 years, if anyone has climbed Annapurna it was certainly me and Hans.
“No one who knows about mountaineering would question our enterprise, Jurgalski in fact knows nothing about it.”
The South Tyrol native didn’t stop there, and suggested Jurgalski was merely an attention seeker, but also offered an explanation to his critic that “like everything in nature”, the mountain changes.
“Especially on Annapurna it is enough that the snow frame collapses and the summit is lowered by five meters”, he offered.
“The ridge leading to the summit is three kilometres long – Jurgalski simply confused the east peak with the main one. Here, evidently, someone wants to be noticed without having the slightest competence.
“Mountaineering has changed over the years. First, everything revolved around the conquest, or the first climbs of the untouched peaks, then instead we began to focus on the difficulty of the enterprise, as Hans and I did climbing Annapurna from an endless and very difficult wall during a storm, which in itself was already a feat “.
Guinness World Records side with Jurgalski
Jurgalski, though, remains unmoved, as do the Guinness World Record chiefs. Using satellite imagery from the German Aerospace Center, he calculated that it was impossible to see base camp from Annapurna’s peak.
He also claims that, of the 44 people credited with climbing the 14 great mountains, only four truly managed it.
As unpopular as it may be among the climbing community, his research certainly holds weight with London-based Guinness World Records.
Days ago, the 68-year-old organisation, founded by the late Norris McWherter, confirmed it had taken Jurgalski’s research as fact and stripped Messner of his place in the celebrated book.
He is now listed as a ‘legacy record holder’, with American mountaineer Edmund Viesturs being named in his place after reaching the 14 in 2005 when he topped Everest.
Viesturs himself has even waded in on the furore, siding with Messner.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he says.
“A German researcher who analysed some old photos and other things, evidently found that Messner didn’t get to the tippy-tippy-top of one of the peaks.
“It’s ridiculous. Messner never did what he did for records, and neither did I. I’m not going to take his place. He earned it, deserves it. He was the first, a pioneer way ahead of his time, and, in my mind, always will be. It’s splitting hairs, anyway. And I think every other mountaineer will say the same.
“Now when I climbed Kangchenjunga in 1989, the local villagers told us on the way in that the peak was sacred. They requested we not walk on the very, very tip-top of the summit, because that would disturb the home of their Gods.
“And we honoured that. We stood five feet away, the summit being one or two feet higher. If you want to take that one away from me, it’s okay. We were being respectful of local culture, and I feel good about that.”
Hans Kammerlander has also made his feelings known about the controversy.
“It has nothing to do with the actual climb.”
Meanwhile, Messner is in good company among those to have their Guinness World Record entries removed.
After finally reaching the top of K2 on her seventh attempt in August 2021, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner became the first woman to officially reach all fourteen eight-thousanders without the use of supplementary oxygen.
However, she too has had the achievement scratched from records after evidence showed she was unable to summit the 28,169ft Himalayan peak of Kangchenjunga.
The record has since been handed to China’s Dong Hong-Jua who completed the 14 five months ago.
Speaking on the furore, the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records – Craig Glenday – explained the organisation’s hard-line stance.
“In the same way that we require marathon runners to finish the full 42.195km course and circumnavigators to cover at least the 40,075km circumference of the Earth, for a mountain climb to qualify for a Guinness World Record title, we must insist on a base-camp-to-true-summit ascent, as per the updated 8000ers.com guidelines,” he said.
Mr Jurgalski is yet to comment on the fallout from his contentious research, but a statement he made last year will likely set the tone of his current stance on the matter.
“If someone didn’t reach the top, then they didn’t reach the top,” he said in 2022.
“If a pop star has 13 number-one hits and one at number two, would you say he’s been at the top of the charts 14 times?”