The second boot belonging to Gunther Messner, who died on the Diamir face of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan in 1970 during a descent of the face with his brother, Reinhold, has been found.
In 1970, Tyrolian Reinhold Messner and his brother, Gunther, made for the summit of Nanga Parbat (8,125 metres) as members of an expedition led by German climber Karl Herliggkoffer. The trip had been plagued by disagreements and power struggles between Herligkoffer, Messner, and the rest of the team. After reaching the summit, the Messners descended the Diamir Face where Reinhold had left an exhausted Gunther to rest while he reconnoitred the descent. Gunther was never seen again, the victim, claimed Reinhold, of an avalanche. Reinhold himself lost seven toes and some fingertips to frostbite on the descent.
Fellow expedition members Hans Saler and Max von Kienlin, in their respective books, Between Light and Shadow: The Messner Tragedy on Nanga Parbat, and The Traverse: Günther Messner’s Death on Nanga Parbat—Expedition Members Break Their Silence, claimed that Gunther had died descending the more difficult Rupal flank after deciding to descend the Diamar face himself to claim the first traverse of the mountain. “Messner,” they wrote, “sacrificed his brother to his own ambition.”
Lawsuits and counter-allegations followed. Messner had an affair with, and later married Kienlin’s wife, Ursula. He wrote about his own experience on Nanga Parbat and how the legacy of the Nazi climbing expeditions that had seen Nanga Parbat as the mountain of national destiny, and Herligkoffer’s loss of his beloved half-brother Willy Merkl on the mountain in 1934 influenced decision-making, even in 1970.
Messner’s subsequent searches for his brother’s body were fruitless. In the years after Nanga Parbat, Reinhold’s achievements included soloing Everest, climbing Everest and K2 without oxygen and becoming the first to climb all of the 8,000 metre peaks. Many consider him the greatest mountaineer in history.
In 2005, a boot of the style worn by Gunther in 1970 was found with the remains of a foot inside, at 4,400 metres, on the Diamir face, supporting Reinhold’s story. DNA tests of the remains proved that they were Gunther’s, ending, for most, if not all observers, any controversy about whether Reinhold had lied. The discovery of the second boot further corroborates Reinhold’s account.