In the world of Initial Coin Offerings, a way for businesses to raise capital by selling digital tokens, it can be hard to differentiate your business from the hundreds of scammers and legitimate ICOs that have flooded the space. This has led to a rise in ICO promotional stunts, which have ranged from faking an exit scam to launching a cryptocurrency miner into space on a balloon, but last month the Ukrainian social media network ASKfm literally took ICO promotional stunts to the next level.
On May 14, four climbers representing ASKfm buried a cryptocurrency wallet containing $50,000 worth of tokens issued by ASKfm on the summit of Mt. Everest. The company described the stunt as an “elegant way to boast ideological superiority to every other crypto.”
“Meme-wise, think about the closest starting point to reach the moon,” an ASKfm press release stated, playing off the meme about cryptocurrency prices going “to the moon.” “These guys go out there and put themselves right on top of the tallest mountain on the planet. It seems so obvious. Yet no one has done it.”
The meme potential was large, but the risk of the expedition was even larger. As the Financial Times reported on Friday, the expedition resulted in the death of Lam Babu Sherpa, a guide who helped the climbers summit. Lam Babu Sherpa was a veteran guide with three previous summits under his belt before he became the third climber to die on Everest this season.
The ASKfm team consisted of four “crypto enthusiasts” sponsored by the company, which said in a statement that they were all professional mountaineers. The expedition planned to break several records during the climb, including summiting both Everest and its neighbor, Lhotse, in a single climb and without using oxygen tanks on Lhotse.
According to the ASKfm account of what happened on the climb, which it said was based on “communications with the expeditions members, alpinism experts, and Mingma Sherpa [the chairman of the company responsible for employing Sherpa guides],” the expedition was riddled with mishaps. After reaching the Everest summit the team had to quickly descend as a storm approached the mountain and during the descent, the three Sherpas who were accompanying the climbers fell behind the group. During the descent, the climbers came upon a Chinese climber in “critical condition” and helped him descend to Base Camp 4, the final jump off point for climbers before the summit.
The group of climbers decided to weather the storm at Camp 4 and were later joined by two of the Sherpas that had fallen behind. Lam Babu Sherpa was not discovered missing until the following morning. According to the Financial Times, which spoke to Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism, he had been struck with snow blindness, a temporary and painful loss of vision caused by exposure to the intense sunlight reflected off of the ice and snow.
Alan Arnette, a longtime climber who covers Everest expeditions each season, claimed on his blog that the death of Lam Babu Sherpa could have likely been prevented. “I find it hard to understand how the 45 year old Sherpa developed snow blindness, was reported to be staggering, and no one was able to help him,” Arnette wrote.
Deaths are a common occurrence on Everest, but a Sherpa dying for the sake of fulfilling a cryptocurrency meme makes this one seem all the more pointless.