The eight-thousanders shrink list

The 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal (in 2007)

Eberhard Jurgalski polarizes. Some insult him as an armchair adventurer and runner-down. Others praise the 69-year-old German as a meticulous chronicler of mountaineering on the world’s highest mountains who simply works conscientiously. A week ago, Eberhard caused a medium-sized tremor in the high-altitude mountaineering scene. For ten years, Jurgalski and a handful of other chroniclers had reviewed summit photos of the 52 climbers so far who claimed to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders. Had they, the chroniclers asked, really reached the highest point in each case or “only” a somewhat lower spot – whether deliberately or by mistake?

Viesturs instead of Messner

Eberhard Jurgalski

Now Jurgalski presented on his website as result of the researches an “adjusted” list. According to it, only three climbers have reached all 14 highest points without a doubt: the American Ed Viesturs (between 1989 and 2005) and the Finn Veikka Gustafsson (between 1993 and 2009), both without bottled oxygen on all eight-thousanders, as well as – mostly with breathing mask – the Nepalese Nirmal, called “Nims,” Purja (between 2016 and 2021). Nims had not reached the highest points in 2019 in his supposed record – all 14 eight-thousanders in six months – on Manaslu and Dhaulagiri, Jurgalski said. Purja did not make up for that until fall 2021, he said.

Messner five meters below the Annapurna summit


And all the other eight-thousander climbers, some of them legendary, such as the South Tyrolean Reinhold Messner, the Poles Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki, the Swiss Erhard Loretan? Messner, heretofore hailed as the first person to summit all eight-thousanders, turned around in 1985 on Annapurna at a point on the summit ridge five meters lower than the highest point and 65 meters from it, Jurgalski said. Loretan missed the summit of Dhaulagiri by about 140 meters in 1985, he said. Kukuczka’s unattested summit was Manaslu, Wielicki’s – as with Messner – Annapurna.

Jurgalski: No woman on all 14 eight-thousanders

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

According to this shrink list, no woman who has claimed it so far has stood on all 14 eight-thousanders. The closest to the mark is the Italian Nives Meroi with 13 highest points proved. According to the new list the Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (like Meroi always without bottled oxygen en route) and the Spaniard Edurne Pasaban are missing two summits (Manaslu and Dhaulagiri), the South Korean Oh Eun-Sun even three (Kangchenjunga, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri).

Three years ago, Jurgalski and Co. had already reported on their research. In 2021, they submitted detailed dossiers on the summit zones of Manaslu, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, which invite misjudgements, and in 2022 on Lhotse and Makalu. Repeatedly they appealed to top climbers to work with them to remove doubts. That has apparently rarely happened. For example, Jurgalski admits that from Dhaulagiri, evidence of summit success is still missing in about 50 percent of cases.

Dujmovits in favor of the idea of “tolerance zones

Ralf Dujmovits on the “wrong” summit of Manaslu

He had supported Jurgalski for 15 years with summit photos and videos and had “always respected his work and valued and respected his immense commitment,” Ralf Dujmovits writes to me, according to previous reading the first and only German on all eight-thousanders. “Especially on Manaslu we were in intensive exchange, because after 2007 I was 100 percent convinced that I had been at the highest point with my team members under blue skies, but with stormy conditions and strong spindrift. Which has since actually turned out to be a mistake – I simply hadn’t seen the very highest point.” That’s why Jurgalski’s new list includes the 60-year-old German with only 13 eight-thousanders.

Ralf advocates taking up the chronicler’s suggestion from 2019 to o-called “tolerance zones” around the actual summits for those eight-thousanders where most climbers have made a mistake (Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna). Having reached this tolerance zones would be counted as a summit success. This should only apply to ascents before 2019, when Jurgalski and Co. first published their findings. However, Jurgalski had also announced at that time that there would have to be a so-called “elite list” – with those who had really stood on the highest points of all eight-thousanders. He has now presented this list. He no longer writes about the tolerance zones in his latest publication.

Does history have to be rewritten?

Ralf Dujmovits

„Yes, the whole 8000er history must be rewritten. It is not our fault, but true is true and false is false, either by intention or by accident,” the chronicler demands. Ralf Dujmovits sees it differently. “We shouldn’t think we have to or can rewrite alpine history. If you want to posthumously deprive an Erhard Loretan, a ‘racehorse’ like Alberto Iñurrategi or a winter eight-thousander specialist like Krzysztof Wielicki of their 14 eight-thousanders, you’re barking up the wrong tree! That doesn’t make sense, nor will the majority of high-altitude climbers recognize that.” He said he assumes that most of them experienced the same as he did and that there was “no malicious intent” behind their mistakes.

“Some of the older guard are also too old to correct their ‘misdeeds’ – in their younger years they could certainly have easily climbed a Manaslu or Dhaulagiri again,” Ralf says. “Anyone who wants to send anyone back to Annapurna to ‘do detention’ hasn’t understood in the slightest how bloody dangerous this mountain is, and how infinitely lucky it is to get back to the bottom in good health.”

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