Film reignites row over death on ‘Killer Mountain’

Nanga Parbat

Reinhold Messner says his brother died in an avalanche on Nanga Parbat; his colleagues say he abandoned him

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 17:37 ON Wed 20 Jan 2010

A new film, Nanga Parbat, about the ascent of one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, has reopened a 40-year-old feud between surviving members of the expedition over the death of one of their comrades.

The film tells the story of a 1970 attempt on Nanga Parbat. Although the Himalayan peak is only the ninth highest mountain in the world, it has been dubbed 'Killer Mountain', having claimed the lives of at least 62 people.

Nazi mountaineers called it the 'Mountain of Fate' making five unsuccessful attempts to climb the peak in the 1930s, losing 11 men in the process. It wasn't until 1953 that Austrian Hermann Buhl successfully scaled the 8,126-metre high summit.

In 1970, two members of an expedition, Reinhold Messner, who was 26 at the time, and his 23-year-old brother Gunther, successfully scaled Nanga Parbat after climbing the mountain by the most dangerous route - the Rupal face. According to Reinhold, Gunther was suffering from altitude sickness by this stage and was too weak to descend via the Rupal face.

He says they decided to descend via the easier Diamir face - a route that meant the brothers would have to become the first climbers to traverse the mountain. Reinhold was leading the way and suddenly realised his brother was missing. His death remains a mystery but Reinhold says his brother was probably swept away by an avalanche.

Reinhold continued the descent alone and after six days made it to base camp. His frostbite was so severe he had to have six toes amputated.

The new film, made with the cooperation of Reinhold, now 65, is true to his version of events. But other members of the 1970 expedition who did not make it to the summit of Nanga Parbat are critical.

"That's a fabricated story, that's not the truth about Nanga Parbat," Gerhard Baur, a member of the 1970 expedition, told Spiegel Online.

Baur does not believe that Reinhold took his brother down the Diamir face because he was forced to do so - but because he wanted to be the first to traverse the mountain. "I had witnessed three times how Reinhold Messner talked with shining eyes about how one should attempt it, how the traversal was the next step in mountaineering."

He and other expedition members claim Reinhold left Gunther to die somewhere near the summit. They say it made no sense that the brothers should try a new route to return in an emergency. Gunther's condition made returning via the same route all the more essential, as there would be ropes, provisions and other climbers to help them down the mountain.

The current exchange in the German media is just the latest in a long-running row that burst into the open in 2002 when, in response to claims in a book Reinhold had published the year before, fellow expedition member Hans Saler wrote in an open letter posted on the internet: "Not even the emergency condition of your exhausted brother could keep you from your ambitious goal."

The criticism spurred Reinhold on to lead an expedition in 2005 to find his brother's remains and attempt to clear his name. Gunther was found on the Diamir face. Reinhold said this supported his claim that they had both set out to traverse the mountain. But Reinhold's detractors maintain that the discovery does nothing to answer the question: what were they doing there in the first place? · 

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