A legendary climber has been stripped of two Guinness World Records after a hobby cartographer claimed he came up five metres short from the peak of a mountain in the Himalayas.
Reinhold Messner, considered the greatest climber of all time, said map-enthusiast Eberhard Jurgalski was “clueless” and “not an expert” after his work prompted the Guinness World Records to strip him of the title of first man to climb all 14 of the globe’s highest peaks.
Mr Jurgalski, who has spent the past decade painstakingly comparing mountaineers’ accounts of their ascents against satellite and photographic data, has concluded that Mr Messner missed the summit of Annapurna in 1985 by five metres.
In total, he found that mountaineers had misidentified the summits of at least three of the world’s tallest peaks, all of which tower at least 8,000 metres above sea level.
Last week, Guinness World Records confirmed it had used Mr Jurgalski’s research to take Mr Messner’s title away.
“Many climbers – usually through no fault of their own – stopped before reaching the summit,” the record chronicle stated.
The result is that Mr Messner, who completed his final 8,000-metre peak in 1986, is now only listed on the website as a “legacy” record holder.
The new holder is American climber Edmund Viesturs, who reached his final 8,000-metre peak in 2005.
Mr Messner, a native of the German-speaking region of South Tyrol in the Italian Alps, was the first adventurer to climb Mount Everest with no oxygen, saying he would do it “by fair means” or none at all.
He was also the first climber to ascend an 8,000-metre peak alone when he summited Nanga Parbat unaided in 1978, the same year he climbed Everest.
Mr Messner was also stripped of his Guinness World Record title as the only climber to ascend all 14 peaks without oxygen.
Mr Jurgalski conducts his research on his computer at his home in the southern German city of Lörrach and has never been to the Himalayas.
He decided that Mr Messner had turned back 65 metres away from – and five metres under – the true summit of Annapurna after reading the mountaineer’s account that he could see base camp from the summit.
His calculations, based on satellite imagery provided by the German space agency, convinced him that seeing base camp was impossible from the true peak.
In a list published last year Mr Jurgalski claimed that the true number of people who have ascended all 14 mountains was just four rather than the 44 usually credited with the achievement.
His claims have been given a frosty reception in the elite world of Himalayan climbing.
‘Nitpicking by a theorist’
“If Jurgalski accuses us of not reaching the highest point, that is nitpicking by a theorist. It has nothing to do with the actual climb,” Hans Kammerlander, Mr Messner’s partner on the 1985 Annapurna expedition, told Der Spiegel magazine.
Mr Messner insisted at the weekend that “of course we reached the summit”, saying that Mr Jurgalski had “mixed up the mountains”.
Writing on Instagram, he added, without naming names, that people were using “my name to make themselves important... because they themselves have… achieved nothing... (and) did not have the courage to realise their dreams”.
Mr Jurgalski’s more exact definition of where the world’s highest peaks lie will set a new bar, the Guinness World Records has made clear.
“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,” said Craig Glenday, editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records.
Mr Messner isn’t the only Alpinist to have had their title taken away due to Mr Jurgalski’s research.
The title of first woman to secure all 8,000-metre peaks has now been given to Dong Hong-Jua, a Chinese mountaineer who completed the set in April.
Previously, Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner held the record after claiming her last peak in 2011.
Despite the controversy, Mr Jurgalski has remained unrepentant.
“If someone didn’t reach the top, then they didn’t reach the top,” he said last year. “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?”