Kathmandu - Satyarup
Siddhanta only discovered he was at the centre of an Everest fraud when
he spotted news of a couple whose false claim to have scaled the
world's highest peak has set off a debate about how mountaineering feats
The Indian couple had doctored his summit photo, superimposing their
own faces to support their claim, and were awarded an official summit
certificate from the Nepal authorities before other climbers raised
Ascents of many of the world's highest peaks are validated based
largely on trust, a system that has until now worked within the
close-knit community of high-altitude climbing.
But as the numbers heading up Everest have boomed, many are
questioning whether summits need to be validated more scientifically.
For an Everest summit, climbers have to provide the Nepali or Chinese
authorities with a photo from the top and a report from the team
leaders and government liaison officers stationed at base camp.
In 2016, Indian couple Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod provided just
that, before other climbers said their story and photos didn't add up.
In one photo, Tarakeshwari's face had been superimposed on
Siddhanta's, the colour of his boots changed and India's national flag
pasted over his hands. In another, Siddhanta had been replaced by
"I looked at their photo and immediately recognised the people around," Siddhanta told AFP.
"I took out my own photo to compare. I was shocked, it was my photo."
The couple were stripped of their summit certificate and banned from Nepal for 10 years.
A record 509 paying clients headed to Everest at the beginning of this spring climbing season hoping to make it to the summit.
Standing at the top of the 8 848m (29 029-foot) mountain adds a
star to a climber's resume, and many go on to forge careers as
motivational speakers and authors.
But the growth has diminished the exclusivity of Everest and created a
new pressure to summit, particularly for those who have been sponsored
or raised money for their climb.
"Climbing was never a competitive sport, but now there is so much
pressure to find some way to be the 'first'. There's the pressure to
find sponsors and then the pressure to be special," said German
journalist and climber Billi Bierling.
That has resulted in climbers sometimes offering bribes for authentication of a failed climb.
Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking, one of the oldest operators in
the Himalayas, told AFP that his company had received such offers - but
turned them down.
"We have been offered but it would be foolish to partake," he said.
"We would not jeopardise our reputation for a single climber."
Another Nepali guide also said that he was aware of climbers trying to bribe their sherpas to lie about ascents.
Competition between expedition operators has also created another new
pressure as a growing number of cut-price climbing companies have
started leading expeditions to Everest.
Operators fiercely guard their summit records and there are reports
of climbers being handed summit certificates despite not making it to
the top so the firm can still claim a perfect success rate.
"If it becomes more common, the government should take steps. Perhaps have an expert panel assess the summits," Sherpa said.
The head of Nepal's tourism department, which grants the certificates, conceded the system had loopholes.
The department is considering giving climbers GPS trackers - a
system also open to exploitation as the small devices can easily be
given to other climbers.
"We don't expect mountaineers who come to climb Everest to cheat," Dinesh Bhattarai said.
That sentiment is also shared by Himalayan Database - considered one
of the most authoritative records of mountaineering feats within the
The archive - a record of expeditions to around 400 peaks in Nepal
dating back to the 1920s - was originally started by journalist
Elizabeth Hawley, once described by Edmund Hillary as the "Sherlock
Holmes of the mountaineering world".
"If you tell me you've summited, I'm going to believe you. It's you
who has to live with the lie if you do," said Bierling, who in recent
years has largely taken over management of the database from 92-year-old
The database has 21 Everest ascents marked as "disputed" and another
18 considered "unrecognised", meaning it was obvious the climbers had
not achieved what they claimed.
"Mountaineering used to be honourable. Now if we can't count on the word of climbers - that's sad," said Bierling.