Messner and Kukuczka: Two of the Greatest Climbers of All Time


The Himalayas. (All rights reserved)

REINHOLD MESSNER — b. 1944. Italian.

JERZY KUKUCZKA — 1948-1989. Polish.

No. 2

They weren’t partners. They were rivals. And they are still tied for two on this list of the Greatest Climbers of All Time.

In one of only a few instances of climbing being a race to be first, Reinhold Messner and Jerzy Kukuczka pursued the summits of all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks.

Who was first was clear. Messner completed the circuit a year ahead of Kukuczka. But who was greater?

With flair, Messner initiated the quest to be the first man atop the fourteen peaks in 1983. At that time he had nine summits ticked on his ice axe.

Kukuczka took it as a challenge and threw himself into it without reservation, even though he had only climbed three of the 8,000ers to date. While Messner racked up his remaining ascents, Kukuczka got to the top of the mountains at a faster rate.

While Messner was a visionary and had a flamboyant way with the public, Kukuczka was the starving artist. Messner sought the summits over 16 years to complete the quest and used established routes. Kukuczka on the other hand finished a year after Messner but after starting his quest only eight years earlier. Messner had modern equipment. Much of Kukuczka’s was used or handmade.

Nine of Kukuczka’s bagged summits were by new routes. Four of his overall ascents were in winter.

Messner climbed two peaks alone, including Mount Everest, and climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen.

Kukuczka needed oxygen on Everest.

I have my favorite, but such a side-by-side comparison makes it a photo finish when being objective. And the lens was smudged.

Now that I’ve exhausted three of the best men, and a woman that some of you don’t think was the best among women, are wondering who in hell will I tell you is No. 1. For that, come back tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. US Eastern Time.

This post is part a culmination of a series of posts that considered Who Are the Greatest Climbers of All Time. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following The Suburban Mountaineer on Twitter and Facebook.

To find out who was ranked at number one, click here.