Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, 79, has lost two Guinness World Records as new research suggests that he came short of the 'true' summit of Annapurna I (8,091m) in 1985. Messner, who is widely regarded as the greatest high-altitude mountaineer of all time, previously held the record for being the first person to summit all fourteen 8,000m peaks in 1986, and for being the first to do so without supplemental oxygen.
As part of a ten-year re-investigation into historical 8000er ascents, German mountain chronicler Eberhard Jurgalski - who runs 8000ers.com - found that the true summits of a number of peaks (particularly Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri I and Manaslu) had historically been misidentified, resulting in many climbers unintentionally stopping before the true summits.
Jurgalski's team studied Messner's account of his Annapurna I climb and used satellite imagery, photos and accounts from other climbers to conclude that he did not reach the true summit. Messner had described being able to see Base Camp, but Jurgalski's calculations suggested that he would not be able to see the camp from the true summit.
Acknowledging Jurgalski's findings, Guinness World Records for mountaineering ascents now require the highest reachable point – aka the "true summit" – to be attained and proved.
Jurgalski's investigation concluded that Messner had stopped 65 metres away from the true summit of Annapurna I and five metres below it in altitude, resulting in a demotion to 'legacy' record-holder status for two of his nine records by Guinness World Record standards.
American mountaineer Ed Viesturs now holds the Guinness World Records following the reclassification.
Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief of Guinness World Records, said:
"The Guinness World Records titles affected by this reclassification of 'true summits' have necessarily had to be reset in order to reflect the base-camp-to-summit requirements. This should in no way detract from the incredible pioneering achievements made by some of the most significant mountaineers over the past 50 years; however, in the same way that we require marathon runners to finish the full 42.195-km (26.219-mile) course and circumnavigators to cover at least the 40,075-km (24,900-mile) circumference of the Earth, for a mountain climb to qualify for a Guinness World Records title, we must insist on a base-camp-to-true-summit ascent, as per the updated 8000ers.com guidelines."
One exception to the 'true summit' rule is Kangchenjunga (8,586m), where it is customary to stop just before the top out of respect for the local people of Sikkim, who believe that deities reside on the summit. Record-keepers acknowledge this shortcoming as a valid ascent.
As a result of the new criteria, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner has also been stripped of her Guinness World Record for being the first woman to summit all fourteen 8,000ers. The record now belongs to Dong Hong-Juan of China.
Among Messner's 8,000 metre feats is an historic first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen, which he achieved alongside Austrian Peter Habeler in 1978, and a first solo ascent of Nanga Parbat, via a new - and yet unrepeated - route on the Diamir face in the same year. In 1980, Messner became the first person to solo Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen.
Messner told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur on Sunday: "I'm not interested in whether my name is in the Guinness Book. A record that I have never claimed can't be taken away from me either."
He criticised Jurgalski and stressed: "He has no idea. He is not an expert. He simply confused the mountain. Of course we reached the summit."
Following a cryptic comment shared on Messner's Instagram criticising unnamed people for using '[his] name to make themselves important', he posted a subsequent statement:
'Last statement about records in alpinism! There are none! There will never be any in traditional alpinism! I appreciate every alpinist, every alpinist who make their experiences on the big walls of this world. That's what it's all about life. I am and remain the conqueror of the useless but I have gained so much in my life that I can proudly say today I am a happy man!'
Messner retains seven of his nine original Guinness World Records and - within mountaineering circles at least, judging by comments online - an undiminished reputation as one of the world's greatest.
Messner's remaining Guinness World Records:
First ascent of Manaslu without supplementary oxygen
First solo summit of Everest
First ascent of Everest and K2 without supplementary oxygen
First ascent of the top three highest mountains without supplementary oxygen
First 8,000-metre mountain hat-trick
First ascent of Everest without supplementary oxygen
First ascent of Gasherbrum I without supplementary oxygen
Revised 8,000er Guinness World Record Holders following the Reclassification:
First true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers: Ed Viesturs (USA), 18 May 1989–12 May 2005
First true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen: Ed Viesturs (USA), 18 May 1989–12 May 2005
Fastest true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen: 15 years 359 days by Ed Viesturs (USA), 18 May 1989–12 May 2005
First true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers by a woman: Dong Hong-Juan (China), 19 May 2013–26 April 2023
Fastest true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers: 92 days by Kristin Harila (Norway, female) and Tenjen Lama Sherpa (Nepal, male), 26 April–27 July 2023
First and Fastest true-summit ascent of all 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen by a woman: No records