Messner wrap-up: A Kingdom of burned bones and scorched friends

Messner wrap-up: A Kingdom of burned bones and scorched friends

Posted: Oct 05, 2005 05:00 am EDT

Late August, media reported that Günther Messner's body had been found by Nanga Parbat's Diamir face. A local mountain guide had found it one month earlier, July 17. That same day, also on July 17th, the same guide alerted a couple of other climbers to a body by the Diamir's Face, asking them to try identifying it.

The climbers took pictures, showing a pile of bones, and Asian clothing including a plastic boot. One month later, Messner arrived with a trekking group from a large newspaper in tow, and identified remains of his brother by some clothing and - a leather boot. <cutoff>

Initial media reports said Messner's remains were found at 4600m, dragged there from 7000m. This was later contradicted by Messner, who said the remains were right beside a shin-bone he found at around 4300 meters already in 2000, and later believed to be Gunther's. The other climbers too reported their find at around 4300m.

A former team mate of Günther and Reinhold Messner's 1970 expedition, Max von Kienlin, told Der Spiegel: I hope there will be a scientific and objective study to prove the remains belongs to Günther."

<b>Smoke and thin air</b>

Aug 28, ExWeb ran the story about the second body and contacted Messners trekking agency to make sure there would not be a mix up. "A scientific study is needed to show the Messner's remains belong to Günther - if the body is not Günther's, it belongs to somebody else," we wrote.

Two days later, August 30, Messner burned the bones.

According to an e-mail to ExWeb from Liver Khan, a trekking guide who was with Messner and 14 trekkers organized by Die Zeit at the spot, the Pakistan Authorities were not informed or asked for approval. No Pakistan forensic investigators were present to legally identify the remains.

Messner was sure about his case though, and more - "the remains show no sign of suffering a fall it is clear that my brother was buried by an avalanche. Messner speculated (falsely) that another climber - Tomaz Humar - may have spread the rumors about the initial location of the findings - and also became very talkative when it came to hit back at his critics mainly, his ex-teammates from the 1970 expedition. "These Schafsköpfe (literally, sheep-heads) who made such statements have proved to be miserable cheaters, liars and criminals since false accusations of murder is a crime," he told Austrian News magazine.

A German climber came forward. Turned out, he found very similar remains already during an expedition in 2004, at the Diamir Face (c. 4,300 m). "I left the remains essentially undisturbed. However, I understood that Austrians, who visited the location a few days later, collected the remains in one spot."

As for 2005: Locations, dates and details - all remarkably similar. A pile of bone, a large piece of a spine, no head, blue parka/jacket, over- trousers. Found at 4000+ meters on Nanga Parbat's Diamir face, by the same guide, on July 17th.

<b>DNA testing</b>

Messner reportedly sent samples of the body for DNA tests. We dont need those tests," Messner had decided all on his own, "but we will do them anyway, he reportedly told journalists.

Yet DNA is not as easy as it sounds. A high profile police investigator told ExWeb: "Even if the boot can be directly tied to Günter, there is no way, unless Reinhold is a Mitochondrial DNA expert and took his field laboratory Mitochondrial DNA analysis kit with him and followed all necessary procedures, there is no way he can say the remains are that of Günter. And, if he does have a method of identifying 35 year old remains; we would all like in on the method. If he can do that, he can make a fortune in forensics."

In addition, if no authorities are at the location, there is always a risk of substituting hair and other samples on a death scene.

<b>Former DNA test</b>

According to Messner, Günther's remains were found at the same spot Reinhold discovered a shin bone already in 2000. According to a recent article in National Geographic Adventure, the leg bone was first deemed too long for the shorter Günter by another Messner brother - Hubert Messner, a doctor - who also was on the spot: He held the fibula next to his own leg and declared, "This is too long for Günther." The bone was believed to belong to a Pakistan climber and rested for three years in Messner's basement before it was analyzed at the height of the controversy and lawsuits.

The DNA profile data were presented as a success by Messner, the bone was 60 times more probable to come from his brother than from someone else. Yet in fact, the results were far from the ratio of a million to one, or more, required by law to identify a person.

<b>The burning</b>

"Burning the remains has most likely destroyed any possibility of ever identifying them," says the investigator about the latest findings. Günther or not, it clearly seems that Messner sees himself above any law in such matters. In a call with the Pakistan Embassy, a spokesman told ExWeb that no human remains, Christian or Muslim, can be burned in the country.

It's a serious matter, and exceptions are few. The funeral for Tibetan climber Mr. Renar was held on June 2nd 2005 in Islamabad after which his body was cremated. The Buddhist community has been requesting the authorities to provide them with an adequate cremation ground in Islamabad so that they could cremate the bodies of their relatives according to their religion and customs for many years. "There have been examples when bodies of the Buddhists who had died in Islamabad or other big cities of Pakistan were flown to nearby countries like Bangladesh or Thailand for cremation," reports Daily Times.

<b>A lot of gasoline or kerosene</b>

As for Messner's "private" burning, the US State Police investigator told ExWeb that human bones are not easy to burn. In fact, they must be exposed to relatively high heat, for an extended period of time to turn to ash. Generally, the cremation process relies on two heat sources, the fire of the crematorium and the body fat of the body to sustain the necessary heat to destroy all of the remains. The bone has to heat from inside as well as outside to be burned. So, if he did burn the remains, (Gasoline burns too fast and too cool to consume the bones), Messner would have needed a constant heat source to burn them. In other words, a lot of gasoline or kerosene. That's a major effort to destroy the remains. "If he did this in the U.S., he would be prosecuted," the investigator told ExWeb.

<b>He destroyed evidence</b>

"Another legal note," he continued, "other than the proper disposal of a body, if Reinhold did dispose of the remains of a human, any human, he destroyed evidence. Whenever and wherever a person dies in ways that are anything but natural causes, an investigation has to follow. This includes obviously climbing, boating or other accident where witnesses are either spoken too or interviewed to make sure the cause of death is accident."

Yet Messner seemingly took the law in his own hands. Much as when he simply took the leg bone back in 2000, and put it in his library. Why would he do that if it wasn't Gunther's? It was a souvenir - Messner said he hoped it belonged to some famous climber, one of his own idols perhaps, although not the Pakistani one: "because Pakistanis don't interest me, in terms of alpinism," he said.

<b>Messner's cred</b>

Contributing Editor David Roberts covered the Nanga Parbat controversy in the May 2004 issue of National Geographic adventure and of this latest evidence, Roberts told the mag, "It seems to me to be very suspect." Roberts knows Messner personally, and it's evident from his story that he - like most - would like to believe him. But, contrary to what Messner thinks - it's his own behavior, rather than his critics, that makes trusting him so difficult.

After the fateful 1970 Nanga expedition, Messner's climbing partner and best friend at the time, Max von Kienlin, spent time with him in the hospital and invited him to his home afterwards. Messner arrived in Kienlin's castle, and liked what he saw. He left with Kienlin's girlfriend, and got his own castle (at the present mostly used as a Messner museum though, Messner lives in a flat in a nearby village, according to an Outside video.) It was not the only time Messner took liking to his friend's mates. On Ama Dablam, Peter Hillary broke his arm and Messner helped to get him on a chopper. After that, he courted Hillary's fiancée in BC. Messner has been called innovative, before his time, yet in fact he often borrowed not only girls, but also ideas from others.
<b>The climbs</b>

According to "I'll call you in Kathmandu" a new book about Liz Hawley: "In addition to ideas, he got information from her - information about who was planning to do what, where, and when - and this helped to determine the order in which Messner launched his own plans." At one point, Liz mentioned to Messner that Naomi Uemura was planning a solo attempt of Everest. Messner decided he'd do it - before the Japanese climber.

The stories go on and on, check a NG article in the links section and a Bergen article below for the details. Messner was not before his time, he just knew how to work people. No wonder perhaps, that he later went into politics. Yet what goes around comes around. Freulein Kienlin left Messner after some years without leaving so much as a note behind, and climbers - if not media - began pointing to other, albeit more humble and less famous mountaineers. Kukuczka's winter climbs of new routes made big waves, and Messner, climbing in the warm season, didn't like it. Routinely dissing his competition, Messner instead dubbed his own quests by increasingly louder terms, such as "the last great alpine idea" (about a Nanga solo attempt).

Messner, the born politician, laced his self made Übermensch image with a touch of mad genius; he often described voices and hallucinations "a kind of schizophrenia" at altitude. He had a knack for outrageous statements such as "There are 700,000 members of the German Alpine Club, but I am bigger than them all." It would have been funny, had it not been that he meant it: He called journalists stupid and friends liars in public, and bullied critics with legal actions. By interim order, the district council of Hamburg prohibited Max von Kienlin to quote from his diary notes of a conversation with Reinhold Messner. After the diary was published, Messner claimed parts were falsified.

Unlike what he says, it's not envy or estranged girlfriends that have Messner so disliked by many of his peers. It's the man's lack of respect, his assaults and arrogance - his imperiousness to burn dead people, brother or not, anyway he pleases.

<b>Not about Günther</b>

All high altitude climbers know that the death zone has its own rules. People die there: Sometimes they are our friends, sometimes even our closest family. Nobody jumped Messner for the disappearance of his brother until Messner himself jumped his Nanga Parbat team mates 30 years later in public: "Some of them, older than me, wouldnt have minded if the two Messners hadnt returned, and that is the tragedy.

Max von Kienlin had already watched his friendship and hospitality abused by Messner in 1970, yet he didn't turn on Messner until now, after 2000 - not because of an estranged girlfriend, not even because of Günther - but because Messner had jumped him just once too much. And whilst Messner is busy burning bodies, Max is now forced to defend the right to his own notes.

<b>Not about Messner</b>

Back to this year, and a new set of climbers in Pakistan, all they know is that Messner burned someones bones, and very quickly too. It's suspicious - even if the bones are Günters. Is Messner hiding something? We might never know, but the act is criminal in US and also possibly in Pakistan - and the reason ExWeb started to follow the story in the first place. Whatever Messner tried to wipe out, he ignited instead.

Yet the conclusion to the story goes beyond a pile of charred bone. The DNA, the findings, and the controversy in itself are all beyond the point. The point is instead the act of burning, and all the smoke has revealed about the man who poured the kerosene. The issue being that a climber, who could serve as a hero to a new generation, leaves as his only legacy a set of strong lungs and an almost tragic strive to prove himself above others, at their expense if needed.

We don't care what happened on Nanga Parbat, Messner's loss of a brother is painful enough in any case. But we notice the arrogance, name calling, burned bodies and burned friends.

Ultimately though, the biggest fault lies with ourselves: For admiring achievement over honor, material success over a word kept, famous names over decent people, shrewdness over heart, secrets over honesty, climbing style over human spirit - all the assets still so often idolized by the ubermench fraternity of the climbing world. Such assets are nothing but traps for fools; they create dictators but never true leaders. As for Messner, he is not a King among Kings. Messner is only a King of his kind.


<i> In 2003, Tom Dauer wrote an article for Bergen about the Nanga Parbat controversy. Here is a reprint of the story:

"In 1970 Reinhold and Guenther Messner stood on the summit of Nanga Parbat. Only Reinhold returned from the mountain. What happened back then? Only Reinhold can know. Why people keep asking him about it? Thats something he doesnt want to understand.

<b>One truth and another</b>
By Tom Dauer (Berge, 5/2003)

Climbing high mountains broadens the horizon, or so climbers say. When you return to the valleys, they say, you become more relaxed, perhaps even chastened. Reinhold Messner doesnt say it. No wonder, because when he isnt on a mountain, he regularly quarrels. Especially he does with people with whom he had just shared success or failure, happiness or sorrow. And preferably he does so in public.

This summer, a debate raged in public about what happened during the Nanga Parbat expedition of 1970. It was a debate which had smoldered unnoticed, occasionally thrown sparks, died down again. Until Reinhold Messner himself poured a huge pan of oil into the fire. During a presentation of a new biography of Karl Maria Herrligkoffer, leader of the 1970 Nanga Parbat expedition, he said: And I am saying today that it wasnt a mistake by Herrligkoffer, it was a mistake by the expedition members, not to go to the Diamir valley. Some of them, older than me, wouldnt have minded if the two Messners hadnt returned, and that is the tragedy. Messners former expedition colleagues felt attacked, insulted, hurt. Since then, they defend themselves against the accusation they had refused to help the Messner brothers after their summit bid.

In fact, none of them knew where Reinhold and Guenther Messner had gone after June 27, 1970, the day of their successful ascent of the 15,000-foot Rupal Face, Nanga Parbats southern flank. Between June 28, when Reinhold was last seen, and July 3, when Reinhold met again with the expedition down in the valley (on the other side of the mountain), they had no way of knowing. Though they suspected that the Messner brothers had descended the Diamir Face, the other side of the mountain, they wouldnt have got there in time anyway they were still on the Rupal Face when, as it became known afterwards, Reinhold fought his way down the Diamir Valley towards civilization. For the others, there remained only anxiety and fear.

Reinhold acknowledges this sort of concern, albeit with a shrug. Pathetic kitsch, he says, is this talk of mountain camaraderie (Bergkameradschaft), hypocritical mountain-romantics. It possesses no virtue to him, so that is why he cant understand how deeply he hurt his former comrades by the quote mentioned above. How much he rubbed salt into open wounds when he claimed (Schweizer Tages-Anzeiger/Magazin, October 10, 2002), All my colleagues from the expedition wish I was dead.

<b>Oral bombshells</b>

Half a year later, Reinhold Messner is trying to put this quotation into perspective. He had said it that way, but didnt think it that way. In other words, he was completely misunderstood again. He who reads Reinhold Messner should read the writings the way Reinhold Messner meant them or could have meant them. Because his writings have a novel-like quality, even if they are presented as documentaries. Reinhold Messner sells this as hidden meaning. In reality, he launches oral bombshells and then shuts his eyes and ears to the effects of the explosions.

Messner claims he had always tried to tell my stories straight. In reality, he is a master of suggestion and in using the ambiguity of words. In his book, The Naked Mountain he writes about his thoughts during the descent of the Diamir Face, Campfires at Base Camp. It is nighttime. Like shadows people stand around the fire. Mood is subdued. No, we dont try to imagine what the others do. An expert knows: The other climbers arent in Base Camp, but at altitudes between 16,500 and 23,000 feet on the Rupal Face. They know nothing about the Messners predicament, they are unable to help. Yet an uninformed reader will ask: Why does the rest of the team not help the Messners?

Members of the 1970 expedition, like Gerhard Baur, who first saw Reinhold and then Guenther setting off from Camp V for the summit, see their reputation at stake due to such (mis-) representations and the media presence of Reinhold Messner. They know that he plays the media game like no other and that he constantly appears in magazines and talk shows. After the presentation of the Herrligkoffer biography, Baur started critically reviewing Reinhold Messners accounts of the 1970 Nanga Parbat expedition. I felt that a story was being fabricated, says Baur. The accusation of negligence, of refusing help the worst that can be said about a mountaineer is something he is unwilling to take. Especially as he has reason to believe that Messner has hidden part of the truth from the public for 33 years.

Baur sifts the evidence. He is not alone: Juergen Winkler, photographer and climber during the 1970 expedition, uncovers inconsistencies in Reinhold Messners accounts. Hans Saler, an experienced climber now living in Chile, and Max von Kienlin, at the time a close acquaintance of Reinhold Messner, go a step further: They present their views in their own books and publicly doubt that Guenther Messner was killed in an ice avalanche at the foot of the Diamir Face. According to their hypothesis, Reinhold and Guenther had separated near the summit; Guenther descended the Rupal Face alone and presumably fell to his death.

<b>Concerted Action</b>

Of course, Messner fights against the fact that now another version of the events has appeared beside his own. The truth is a suspicion that endures wrote Spanish poet Rámon de Campoamor in the mid-1800s. A suspicion is raised. Time will tell if it endures.

Reinhold Messner accuses his former colleagues of organizing a concerted action against him, to make money at his expense. He fears for his reputation and integrity. For this reason, Messners lawyers sent the publishers of Saler and von Kienlins books a letter (May 6, 2003, i.e. BEFORE the publication date), stating that our client will not accept untruthful reporting and advised us, after review of the manuscript, to take legal action if necessary At the time of this writing, the latter has already been attempted: By interim order, the district council of Hamburg prohibited Max von Kienlin to quote from his diary notes of a conversation with Reinhold Messner (after his descent to the Diamir Valley). Hans Saler is no longer allowed to claim that Messners own ambition was in part responsible for the death of his brother. The order, however, does not concern copies of the books already sold or in stores. Both publishers lodged an appeal against the interim order. For Reinhold Messners former friends this development proves the futility of rational arguments in this case. Months earlier Hans Saler wrote in an open letter to Reinhold: Your words are armors of self-glorification. You use it uncontrollably, launch attacks blindly. If one of the attacked defends himself, you laconically suspect preferably in front of TV cameras everybody were envious of your success. But you measure success by the standards of a noisy bazaar on which you proclaim wisdom that is miles away from your own behavior.

The debate about the events, agreements and decisions during the Nanga Parbat expedition has long since escalated to a nasty quarrel, in which factual and personal levels are no longer divided. But it is important to distinguish cause and effect. If this were a quarrel among children, one would point to Reinhold Messner and say, He started it! His former comrades could only react. They didnt do it to destroy the Messner myth. This wouldnt be necessary anyway, because Reinhold Messner is doing it himself by running amok verbally when he should have been unflappable; by regarding anything and anyone as enemy, because he cant accept criticism; by banning a team from Bergauf-bergab (regular TV production on climbing in Germany) from a press conference.

In any case, the accusation Messner had left his brother behind on the mountain isnt new. Already in December 1970, a few months after the expedition, leader Herrligkoffer suspected Reinhold could have sacrificed his brother to his personal ambition. Subsequently, Reinhold charged Herrligkoffer for involuntary manslaughter of Guenther and negligence. The charge is dropped on March 14, 1972, by the district council of Munich. At the time, Reinhold was supported by his comrades Saler and von Kienlin. The team stood unified against its leader. Today, Reinhold Messner has isolated himself with his accusations. He claims that Herrligkoffers mistakes had been mistakes by the team

Against this stands the firm belief of his former comrades that Reinhold Messner had planned the traverse of Nanga Parbat all along. Gerhard Baur is convinced beyond doubt that this plan wasnt just a dream or half-baked idea. Messner had thought of the possibilities of a traverse already back home, and at Base Camp talked repeatedly of his idea. He had brought along a black/white picture of the Diamir Face and studied it carefully. Besides this, traverses of 8000-meter peaks had been en vogue at the time.

Reinhold Messner doesnt want to hear about it. There had been talk about a traverse, but no plan. Memory deceives us all, is his comment on Baurs belief. It is true that neither the authors von Kienlin and Saler, nor the doubters Baur and Winkler had been present when the Messner brothers were fighting for their lives. But their doubts about Reinhold Messners version of the events are based on rational arguments. Reinhold Messner just brushes them away without being able to disprove them completely.

<b>Bad Witness</b>

This becomes evident in the debate about a diary entry by von Kienlin, allegedly based on conversations between him and Reinhold Messner after July 3, 1970. Von Kienlin writes in essence, Reinhold Messner had said to him that he doesnt know where his brother was. Messner regards this diary entry as a blatant hoax, because I never told all of this Herrn von Kienlin. Von Kienlins alleged reason: late revenge for the love affair Reinhold Messner had with von Kienlins wife after Nanga Parbat. But why didnt von Kienlin take revenge 33 years earlier? And everyone noticed Reinhold Messners reaction upon meeting with his expedition after the odyssey. His cries, Where is Guenther? were heard by several members. Yet only he could have known where his brother was. Today, Reinhold Messner interprets his cries as expression of his continuing search for his brother. During the descent he had gone into a state of schizophrenia. Until today he kept asking himself, Where did the hallucinations start, where could Guenther have gone?

If true, Reinhold is the only but also a bad witness of himself. In fact, to this day he formulates differing accounts of the ice avalanche that allegedly killed his brother at the foot of the Diamir Face. In his latest book, he claims, I have always regarded the avalanche death of my brother as a possibility, not as proven fact. I wasnt there when he died Yes, the avalanche was the most likely cause of death. To this day, there is no other answer. In contrast, he describes the event in his book Alle meine Gipfel (1982, revised edition 2001 note the latter date!), I stumbled ahead to find a way through the dangerous séracs, when an avalanche crashed down behind me. Guenther had disappeared, buried under tons of ice.

Despite his own lapses of memory Reinhold Messner regards the difference between his version and the hypothesis of his former friends as that between experience and fiction. But is experience more to be believed if one cant tell the circumstances of that experience? And where does the provability and consistency of an experience remain if his version changes from account to account?

Juergen Winkler, who still sought eye-to-eye conversation with Reinhold Messner at the beginning of the debate, researched various contradictions in Messners public statements. Yet his conclusions dont make him participating in speculations about what really happened up there on Nanga Parbat. I dont propose any hypotheses. It is sufficient to let the facts speak for themselves. Facts which prompt Winkler to conclude, I dont want to have anything to do with Reinhold Messner anymore. I cant believe this person anything.

<b>Psychic Torture</b>

In a fax sent to several climbing magazines, Reinhold Messner dubbed the publication of the debate surrounding the Nanga Parbat expedition psychic torture. Strong words, especially when you consider that Messner is largely unscrupulous himself. During the debate, he became chairman of the Deutsches Institut für Auslandsforschung/Prof. Herrligkoffer-Stiftung. His secretary and his ex-wife got a seat and vote in the committee of the foundation. The foundation was established in 1953 to raise funds for German mountaineering expeditions to the greater ranges. Its founder was the same Karl Maria Herrligkoffer, who led the 1970 expedition and who was subsequently, even beyond his death in 1991, attacked by Reinhold Messner.

Prior to the publication of von Kienlin and Salers book, Professor Ludwig Delp, head of the committee, cited the expedition contract from 1970. According to the contract, publications regarding the expedition require the consent of the Institute. This was promised under the condition that the respective manuscript represents a faithful account of the events in the spirit of mountaineering fraternity.

This was, of course, unacceptable to von Kienlin and Saler. Salers publisher answered accordingly, Keeping in mind the public right for and demand of information, we find it questionable that an institution, headed by Reinhold Messner, asks for a faithful account of events, in the context of which Reinhold Messner publicly voices incredible accusations against other expedition members.

A sideline, maybe. But such tactics show the depth of the wounds Guenthers death inflicted in all participants. On one hand, there is Reinhold Messner, who accuses his former partners of meanness. On the other hand are those climbers who followed Messners career over decades. They believe that there is more than just one truth to the climb and tragedy of fate that sowed the seed for Messners popularity back in 1970.

Truth has become questionable since post-modern reflection of the conditions of perception and knowledge has even affected the mountaineering world. Before that, word of the participant was trusted without exception. Perhaps there will never be a conclusive answer, any kind of proof for one truth or another. Awkwardness will remain. Because Reinhold Messners banal statement that there are as many truths to the Nanga Parbat expedition as there are members cant bring any consolation in the face of death. Neither to him, nor to every other member.

The two Versions (Tom Dauer summary):

1) According to Reinhold Messner
Only I know what happened at the summit, I remain the sole witness
(Interview Stern, 37/2002)

In a summary of Messners accounts, the following seems to have happened: Around 2 p.m. on June 26, 1970, Reinhold Messner and expedition leader Karl Maria Herrligkoffer agree via radio on a solo bid for the summit by R.M. in case of bad weather the following day. At 8 p.m. Reinhold and Guenther Messner, and Gerhard Baur are on their way to the single tent of Camp V (7350 m) a red rocket is fired from Base Camp, the agreed sign for bad weather. But the red rocket was a mistake it was fired despite a good forecast.

At 2 a.m. on June 27, Reinhold prepares for the summit attempt. He leaves Guenther and Gerhard Baur while it is still dark. Reinhold climbs the Merkl Gully. At its end (where it becomes vertical), he leaves it over a ramp on the right, leading to easier ground. His brother Guenther, who follows him spontaneously a few hours later, catches up to him at about this point. Together they traverse right around the South Shoulder (8042 m), reach the notch between South Shoulder and summit ridge, and follow the latter to the main summit (8125 m). They reach it at 5 p.m.

After an hour Reinhold and Guenther start their descent. Guenther is weakened, lags behind. He voices his fear of descending the Rupal Face (way of ascent). Reinhold agrees with reluctance to descend from the notch between South Shoulder and summit to the Merkl Notch (at the exit from the vertical top of the Merkl Gully), where they bivouack. The following morning there is a shouting exchange between Reinhold and Felix Kuen (who, with Peter Scholz, is about to make the second ascent). Kuen doesnt seem to recognize the Messners predicament and continues towards the summit.

The brothers are now forced to descend the Diamir Face. After a second bivouac they reach the base of the wall. To reconnoiter the way, Reinhold is one to two hours ahead of Guenther sometimes losing sight of him. After waiting for some time below the glacier, Reinhold returns to search for his brother. He cant find him. Reinhold reports later that Guenther was probably buried in an ice avalanche.

2) According to Hans Saler and Max von Kienlin
When I piece together all the facts chronologically, they fit the following version best.(Saler, p. 148)

What decision was really made [at the summit]? There is only one logical, plausible, very probable solution.
(von Kienlin, p. 202)

Leaving aside some differences in detail, Max von Kienlin and Hans Saler present the following version: When Reinhold and Guenther start their descent from the summit, Guenther exhausted, but not suffering from altitude sickness decides to go down the known way via the Rupal Face. He counts on other expedition members having fixed the Merkl Gully, thus facilitating the descent. The brothers separate. Reinhold descends to the Merkl Notch. After his bivvy, on the morning of June 28, he looks down the Rupal Face with the hope of seeing Guenther or traces of him. Without success. At 6 a.m. he starts shouting for Guenther. 8 a.m., 9. a.m. passes. No trace of Guenther, who should long since have been on the way down. Instead, he sees Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz ascending from Camp V, separated by c. 100 feet of rope. Around 10 a.m. Reinhold has his exchange with Kuen. Now he knows that they hadnt met Guenther. According to Kuen, Reinhold advises him and Scholz to circumvent the South Shoulder on the LEFT, this being the easier option. Perhaps Reinhold hopes they may find Guenther there. He tells Kuen of his intention to descend the Diamir Face: he cant help his brother no more. Then he starts down. Five days later, on July 3, he meets the expedition team. Where Guenther died remains unknown.

Key Pitches (by Tom Dauer)

Exit Merkl Gully

Did Reinhold Messner know that the terrain between the Merkl Notch and the point where he, Guenther, and later Kuen and Scholz traversed out of the Merkl Gully was unclimbable? Could he have seen this on the way up? If the answer is yes, his reasoning that he and Guenther had descended to the Merkl Notch in order to traverse back into the Merkl Gully is questionable. Equally questionable would be his hope of Kuen and Scholz coming to their aid.

I will give up, but there is just one other possibility, a last way out; a downsloping ramp, slanting up to the right. I must be close to 7800 m. To the left, above me, I can see a notch. The end of the Merkl Gully? So I am on top soon, on top of the gully. (Naked Mountain, 191f.)

In the upper part of the Merkl Gully I traverse via a ramp to the right, onto the ice fields. Below the South Shoulder. The upper part of the gully is above me to the left. But that terrain is of no interest to me. My way is to the right. (Weisse Einsamkeit, 35)

Reinhold Messners former comrades doubt that an experienced mountaineer, climbing in unknown terrain, wouldnt scrutinize closely any possible way of ascent.

<b>Descent to Merkl Notch</b>

How did Reinhold Messner judge the difficulties of the descent from the notch between South Shoulder and summit to the Merkl Notch? The decision to descend to the W to the Merkl Notch does only make sense if this possible way of descent was visible as well as considerably easier than the known way of ascent from the end of the Merkl Gully. Notably, the latter was so easy that Kuen and Scholz cached their rope at the end of the Merkl Gully. Once at the Merkl Notch, the Messner brothers were only at the beginning of the difficulties of the descent. If they had gone down the Diamir side towards the Merkl Notch despite the terrain being more difficult than the way of ascent or invisible, this would speak for a planned traverse.

Guenther points with his ice axe to the right. Will he descend to the west? At first I dont understand his idea. To go down the Diamir side? Here, to the west, it isnt easy either, I say. (Naked Mountain, 201f.)

At the South Shoulder I look to the west. The way to the Merkl Notch is easy. The photo of the Rupal Face we took along suggests the possibility of traversing back to the gully from there. No details are discernible. (Weisse Einsamkeit, 36)

No, from the South Shoulder no one can see the Merkl Notch.(Weisse Einsamkeit, 41)

In 1976, four Austrian mountaineers climbed on the Diamir side from a point a little below the Merkl Notch to the South Shoulder and summit. Robert Schauer belayed his partner Hanns Schell over passages of up to grade III of difficulty. According to Schauer, the descent to the Merkl Notch is NOT visible from the South Shoulder. It goes down really steeply from there.

<b>The Team</b>

Did Reinhold and Guenther Messner know that other expedition member would try a summit bid after them? If so, a descent to the Diamir side in spite of Guenthers weakness is hard to explain, as they could have counted on the help of their comrades in the Merkl Gully at the latest.

Where could we bivvy, I ask myself, and where can we be seen from the Merkl Gully? (Naked Mountain, 202)

Perhaps we could traverse back into the gully lower down, at the Merkl Notch. Otherwise wed have to ask for a rope. The others will fix the gully. (Naked Mountain, 202, quote attributed to Guenther)

But on this morning Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz climb the Merkl Gully. They should go for the summit, too. Behind them Werner Haim, Hans Saler, and Gert Mändl, who equip the Merkl Gully with fixed ropes in order to facilitate the descent of exhausted parties coming down, including us. Guenther and I couldnt know any of this. (Weisse Einsamkeit, 37)

Reinhold Messner claims that because of the mistakenly fired red rocket he assumed the weather to be turning bad soon and nobody else would ascend. Von Kienlin and Saler disagree, saying it had been apparent that the weather would stay reasonable. An expedition climber would always trust his own observations more than a weather forecast (i.e. the red rocket). Saler: Gerhard Baur later said that the Messners and he were very skeptical about the rocket, especially as the special weather forecast by Radio Peshawar had often been a lottery game (Saler, p. 113). Even if Reinhold Messner hadnt known about the others plan, it should have been logical to him that others would be in the Merkl Gully. Baur swears hed been talking to Guenther before the latters solo bid about others coming up so Guenther had known. Saler: Where else should the other climbers have been during good weather? At Camp IV, playing cards? (Saler, p. 128)

<b>Contact</b>

On the morning of June 28, 1970, Reinhold Messner gets in touch with Felix Kuen, who is climbing towards the summit with Peter Scholz. Between them and Messner, the terrain is vertical, unclimbable at this altitude. Conversation over the distance of 250 feet is difficult. Did you get to the top? asks Kuen. Yes! Indiscernible words follow, then Kuens question, Is everything alright with you?

Yes, everything alright answers Messner. Then he signals to Kuen that he will descend the other side of the mountain, and disappears behind the ridgeline. The question remains: Why didnt he vehemently plead the others to come to his and his sick brothers help?

His question, interpreted as Are you O.K.?, can I confirm. Yes, everything alright, Felix I call back. As mutual reassurance. A question about our health can only be followed by a calming answer. Health in the death zone is a relative thing. (Naked Mountain, 212)

I signal everything O.K. and descent on the opposite side. Why? Because I didnt want to force Kuen and Scholz into a life-threatening action. (Weisse Einsamkeit, 23)

I feel it. I mustnt force Felix into a deadly risk. A fall had meant a shock and the death of all four of us. That was the reason for my Yes, everything alright in response to Felix question, Is everything alright. I couldnt have done anything else. (Weisse Einsamkeit, 38)

According to several witnesses there is no doubt that Kuen and Scholz would have helped the Messner brothers in case of an emergency, if this had been made clear to them. Saler quotes Kuen. There was no word about help, no word about a rope, no word that Guenther was ill We had helped, had climbed left around the South Shoulder and gone down to Reinhold and Guenther from there. To imagine Peter and I wouldnt have done so is incredible Not only could we have helped- we would have helped! (Saler, p. 140f.)

Both accounts agree that the conversation between Kuen and Messner took place around 10 a.m. Afterwards, Kuen and Scholz rested for an hour. Reinhold Messner didnt reappear. He writes, Around 11 a.m. we began the descent of the Diamir Face Reinhold once more looks back at the summit, then down the Merkl Gully. No one. (Red Rocket, 141f.)

Why did he wait for an hour before looking down the Merkl Gully again? Didnt he and Guenther need to go down as quickly as possible? Guenther: We got to hurry, we cant wait for ever. (After a pause) I wont survive a second bivvy. Reinhold: Yes, we must get out of here. (Red Rocket, 139f.)

<b>Meeting again</b>

When Reinhold Messner met the expedition members after the odyssey on July 3, 1970, alone and more dead than alive, he embraces von Kienlin. In his diary, von Kienlin wrote: He (Reinhold) stares at me with wide eyes, sobs and cries out, Where is Guenther?. I am shocked, hold him tight, how? Guenther isnt there? I am unable to ask. Reinhold cries out again, Where is Guenther? (von Kienlin, p. 137). Only Reinhold himself should know the answer.

During the journey home, Reinhold is in apathy, depressive. Von Kienlin is concerned about the psychic and social survival of his friend. He advises him to think about what he is going to tell the public back home, the parents. This way, the ice avalanche became a fact, and today it is still regarded as a possible cause of Guenthers death."</i>


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Reinhold Messner, first to climb all 14 eight-thousanders (no 02), hosted the roundtable.
Image by Alberto Peruffo courtesy Alberto Peruffo
First there was a boot, now some DNA tests have been done at Messner's request. Reinhold Messner declares the issue is over... except for a documentary to be made and his brother's shoe to be exhibited in Messner's museum. Image of Messner showing a leather boot presumably belonging to Günther at a press conference in Islamabad, courtesy of Saltoro Summits (click to enlarge).
On July 17th, 2005 (the same day Messner reported the remains of his brother had been found), a local guide asked two Spanish climbers to identify some human rests at the glacier - this is one of the pictures taken by the Spaniards: A pair of overtrousers. The guide then urged the climbers to keep quite about the find. Image courtesy of Sanitary Manuel Vazquez (click to enlarge)
One year before, a German climber had found remains in the same place - his image shows they are likely the same remains found by the local mountain guide this year (click to enlarge).
Along with some clothing and bones, there was a plastic boot - used from the eighties and nineties. Image taken on July,17th, 2005, by Manuel Vazquez (click to enlarge).
Map of Nanga Parbat, where the remains were found (click to enlarge).
All high altitude climbers know that the death zone has its own rules. People die there: Sometimes they are our friends, sometimes even our closest family. Nobody jumped Messner for the disappearance of his brother until Messner himself jumped his Nanga Parbat team mates 30 years later in a press conference for not sending out a rescue party. Image of Nanga Parbat's Diamir side, courtesy of Carlos Pauner (click to enlarge).