The Tragic Story of Günther Messner

Günther Messner was one of the best-known mountaineers of the 60s, having scaled some of the most challenging routes in the Alps. Besides, he is the younger brother of the Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who has ascended all 14 eight-thousanders. The brother duo: Reinhold and Günther had climbed a thousand times together, and, In 1970, the Messner brothers summited the unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, a tragic success where Günther disappeared.

Günther Messner Bio

Günther Messner
Credit : MrDeified | Youtube

Günther Messner was born on 18th May 1946 in Brixen, South Tyrol, Italian Social Republic. He was 3rd of nine children born to a soldier who participated in World War II, Josef, and his mother, Maria.

At the age of 11, Messner began climbing with his brother, Reinhold, 24. By their twenties, Günther and his brother, Reinhold, were among Europe’s best climbers.

The Story of Günther Messner’s Final Moments on Nanga Parbat In 1970

The Tragic Story of Günther Messner
Credit: Youtube | MrDeified

In 1970, Reinhold Messner was invited to join a German expedition trying to attempt the unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. Thrilled with an offer, Reinhold Messner was ready for the big mountain opportunity. However, at the last moment, a climber from the expedition dropped out; hence, Reinhold got a chance to bring his brother Günther on the journey.

An experienced climber, Günther was robust. But compared to Reinhold, the youngest Messner was a few inches shorter, and because of his job as a bank clerk, Günther hadn’t been able to match the practice and training.

In May, the German expedition’s 22 climbers and high-altitude porters headed up the Rupal Face, setting up tent camps. Quickly, Reinhold graced as the most vigorous climber in the team with his alpine climbing style.

On 26th June, the Messner brothers were at Camp 5 waiting for the signal rocket (Blue for good & Red for bad weather) from base camp. Though Radio Peshawar announced good weather, a rocket from the base camp exploded red. Without any delay, Reinhold began ascending solo qin alpine style shortly after 2 a.m. to avoid the presumed lousy weather.

It was reported Reinhold found it hard to climb up the Merkl Couloir by headlamp but emerged at dawn. On the morning of 27th June, Günther, German mountaineer, and filmmaker Gerhard Baur installed rope to assist Reinhold’s return from the summit.

Nevertheless, Baur noticed something weird in Günther: he left the rope fixing and impatiently soloed the difficult Merkl Couloir to reach the summit. The brothers caught up and got to the summit late in the afternoon. Celebrating their victory, the brothers lost track of time and stayed at the summit for too long.

Their triumph did not last long: Günther slowly began exhausted, possibly due to his collosol effort to catch up with Reinhold. Günther told his brother that he could not descend. After a few hours, they were covered with nightlight and forced to bivouac near the summit overnight.

What happens next is still the big question and a huge controversy in mountaineering history.

The Controversy Surrounding Günther Messner’s Fatal Expedition

The Tragic Story of Günther Messner
Credit : MrDeified | Youtube

28th June 1970, Reinhold open his eyes to find Günther babbling. At 6 a.m., Günther began shouting in fear for help. Around 9 a.m., they saw an Austrian climber, Felix Kuen, and a German, Peter Scholz, in the Merkl Couloir, attempting the summit.

The two climbers encountered the Messner brothers and asked if they needed any help. Though Günther needed desperate help. But, on the contrary, Reinhold replied, “Yes! Everything’s OK,” Hence, Kuen and Scholz continued to the summit, thinking they were resting.

As reported, Reinhold and Günther bivouac at the Mummery Rib on second day. Günther could barely move the following day due to altitude sickness and exhaustion. Later that day, Günther disappeared at the bottom of the Diamir face, possibly swept away by an ice avalanche.

Four days later, Reinhold arrived in the valley with severe frostbite found by a local shepherd. Reinhold lost his seven toes and, on the other hand, lost his brother: Günther died on the Diamir Face.

As Reinhold failed to rescue his brother: the other expedition members accused him, claiming he declined the help of others when his brother Günther was ill. The central assertion was that Reinhold’s decision to descend from the Diamir face was not an emergency move, as he mentioned. Instead, Reinhold had already planned and openly discussed it with team members earlier.

Over the next three decades, Reinhold returned to the Diamir Face to search for his brother but would return disappointed every time with no trace.

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Did They Found Günther Messner’s Body

Nanga Parbat
Nanga Parbat Rupal Base camp, Gilgit Baltistan

On 26th June 2000, Italian mountain guide Hanspeter Eisendle discovered a right fibula of a man at the base of the Diamir wall of Nanga Parbat that belonged to Günther.

Later five years on 17th July, three Pakistani guides found the remains of Messner on the Diamir Face.

With the discovery of Günther remaining, Reinhold’s side of the statement proves to be true seeing his brother last time at Diamir’s face.

On 8th September 2005, Günther’s remains were buried at the base camp of Nanga Parbat. Further, Reinhold built a chorten on his memory.

Again In June 2022, Günther’s other shoe was found by Pakistani guides.


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