Every year, hundreds of mountaineers try to brave deadly winds and heights to scale the summit of Mount Everest, the Earth’s highest mountain above sea level, located between Nepal and Tibet, an autonomous region of China. In 2019 alone, 891 mountain climbers managed to achieve this feat of climbing 8,848.86 metres (29,032 ft).
Or at least that’s what they claimed.
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of people faking this arduous journey by bribing officials who are keeping records, or photoshopping pictures at the top.
Now, the Nepalese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation is banning two Indian climbers who claimed to have reached the top of the world in 2016. Four years after mountaineers Narender Singh Yadav and Seema Rani Goswami from the Indian state of Haryana claimed to have summited the peak, Nepal has found these claims to be fake and cancelled the summit certificates issued to the mountaineers.
In order to substantiate their claims of having climbed the mountain, mountaineers have to supply pictorial proof to authorities, along with a report from the team leaders and government liaison officers stationed at base camp. In May 2016, Yadav shared some pictures of himself at the summit that went viral on social media. In 2019, he was shortlisted for the Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award, one of the highest adventure sports awards in India, named after the Nepali-Indian sherpa mountaineer who was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit in 1953.
However, soon after the announcement, fellow mountaineers questioned the authenticity of Yadav’s pictures and pointed out that they clearly looked Photoshopped.
A Nepali sherpa also accused them of lying, saying that Yadav had been unsuccessful in summiting Everest during the 2016 expedition while Goswami had to be airlifted out after she fell sick. A Nepal tourism ministry official told AFP that during their investigations involving other climbers, they found that Yadav and Goswami “never reached the summit”, and also failed to produce reliable pictures or any other substantial evidence.
Consequently, Yadav’s name was withheld from the list of awardees by the Indian sports ministry. The two mountaineers are also facing a retrospective ban for six years each, starting 2016. The ban will end in 2022. Their team leader Naba Kumar Phukon, who was heading the 14-member private expedition, has also been banned.
“The ministry has decided to cancel the summit certificates of the two Indian mountaineers Narender Singh Yadav and Seema Rani. In our investigation, we found that they had submitted fake documents (including photographs). Based on the documents and the conversation with the officials concerned, including sherpas, we reached this conclusion,” Pradip Kumar Koirala, a joint secretary in the MoCTCA and the chairman of the investigating committee, told The Indian Express.
Another joint secretary, Tara Nath Adhikari, said both Yadav and Rani had violated regulations under the Nepal Tourism Act, 1978. The ministry has also fined Seven Summit Treks, the company that organised the expedition, although they assert they have no role in faking the climb.
“If the climbers do a fake climb, how will the trekking company get to know? Our task is to assist in getting the permit, organise the trek and route. The two Indian climbers showed us the pictures of their summit and we wrote that they had climbed. The Nepal ministry of Tourism decides about the certificates,” Mingma Sherpa, chairman, Seven Summit Treks, Kathmandu, told The Indian Express.
This is not the first time Indians have been pulled up for trying to fake climbing to the top of the coveted peak. In 2017, two Indian police officers were sacked after morphed images of them at the Everest summit came to light. They were slapped with ten-year bans after another Indian mountaineer proved that the pictures they presented were actually Photoshopped versions of the ones he presented as proof of having reached the top.
The journey to the top of the mountain and the feat of getting there has shot many into stardom, causing them to become public figures and celebrated motivational speakers and authors. The pressure to perform and the lucrative future that lies in store has increasingly caused climbers to fake ascents.
German journalist and climber Billi Bierling, who manages the database of Everest climbers, told The Daily Mail, “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.”
The database has 21 Everest ascents labelled as “disputed” and 18 others marked as “unrecognised”, signaling that the climbers had not achieved what they claimed.
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