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Guinness World Records Makes Problems for Climbers

by thesummiters.com
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Shuffling the Records: Messner vs. Viesturs

In a recent controversial move, Guinness World Records (GWR) has sparked a media storm by altering its record books, relegating Reinhold Messner‘s first-person achievement of climbing all 8,000m peaks to a “legacy” record. Instead, based on extensive research by the team at 8000ers.com, GWR now credits American Ed Viesturs as the first person to summit all these peaks. This decision has raised questions about the credibility of records in the adventure community.

The Evolution of Guinness World Records

From a Reference Book to a Global Franchise

Originally known as the Guinness Book of Records from 1955 to 1999 Guinness World Records has evolved from a reference book to an international franchise recognized as the global authority for documenting and verifying world records in various domains. In 2008, it was acquired by the Jim Pattison Group, which also owns Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. Since then, GWR’s business model appears to have shifted toward helping individuals and companies create records for attention, often generating income through consulting fees for record-breaking attempts.

A New Era of Contrived Records

The Advent of Contrived Adventure Records

The emergence of contrived adventure records can be traced back to the wider commercialization of adventure, particularly in the 1980s. Figures like Dick Bass, who introduced the Seven Summits challenge, and David Hempleman-Adams, who initiated the Explorers Grand Slam in 1998, played significant roles in popularizing these listicle records. However, these records, once considered challenging, have paved the way for a proliferation of qualifiers and specific categories, giving rise to records like the “fastest time to climb the Seven Summits by a married couple.”

Guinness’s Limited Role in Mountaineering

Historical Perspective on Guinness in Mountaineering

Throughout history, Guinness World Records has not held significant sway in the world of serious mountaineering. Climbers have relied on references like The Himalayan Database or, more recently, 8000ers.com for accurate and credible mountaineering information. However, the last decade has witnessed an inundation of contrived records by commercial climbers in the realm of 8,000-meter peaks.

The Advent of Get-Famous-Quick Adventurers

A Growing Trend of Aspiring Celebrities

Many adventurers now pursue Guinness World Records, hoping for greater publicity and career advancement. This trend caters to heavily guided climbers and polar skiers, often relying on qualifiers to secure records. This phenomenon, driven by commercial interests, has overshadowed the real value of adventurous experiences, including personal growth, scientific exploration, cultural insights, and the simple joy of exploring natural landscapes.

The Impact on Outfitters’ Business Models

Records as Business Lures

Outfitters and logistics operators have incorporated record-breaking into their business models, enticing clients by offering the chance to break records, whether recognized by Guinness or not. This approach has led to a surge in the creation of records with various qualifiers based on age, ethnicity, gender, or nationality.

Ethical Concerns and Environmental Implications

Unhealthy Competition and Environmental Costs

The pursuit of world records can foster unhealthy competition, often driving adventurers to take risks in challenging conditions. Speed records in high mountains frequently come at an environmental cost, as adventurers use helicopters and other forms of transportation, contradicting environmental principles.

Fact-Checking Challenges and Potential Solutions

Verification and Validation Issues

Guinness World Records has sometimes failed to rigorously fact-check records, allowing false or dubious records to be certified. While efforts have been made to collaborate with experts for more reliable record adjudication, these consultations are not infallible. The inconsistency in record verification can undermine the prestige of Guinness records.

The Future of Adventure Records

Reevaluating Guinness’s Role in the Adventure Community

The adventure community should consider whether Guinness World Records, an organization that endorses dubious records and gimmicks, should continue to preside over the annals of adventure. Instead, emphasis should be placed on genuine adventure experiences, personal growth, and the connection with nature, rather than the pursuit of shallow records for external validation.

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