One of the most impressive and unbelievable speed records for Mt. Everest may have been just a little too unbelievable. So much so that the Supreme Court in Nepal has invalidated the record, citing no evidence to support the claims, and stripping a famous Sherpa of title that he has held for 13 years in the process.
For more than a decade the speed record for climbing Everest has belonged to Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who claims to have summited the world’s highest peak in a startling time of 8 hours and 10 minutes back on May 21, 2004. That claim is more than two hours faster than anyone else has ever been able to make the climb from Base Camp to summit, and back again.
The case against Pemba Dorje Sherpa was brought to the courts by Lakpa Gelu Sherpa, who set the previous speed record in 2003, making the climb in 10 hours, 56 minutes. Lakpa’s assertions against his rival maintain that there is no evidence to support Pemba’s alleged speed record. There were no liaison officers in BC to corroborate the claims, nor is there photographic evidence that shows Pemba on the summit in the time frame that he claims.
Summit fraud is obviously not unheard of on the world’s tallest peak, where some look to capitalize on their climbing exploits – real or imagined – to make a profit. There have even been allegations against a very high profile summit from this past season (spring 2017), which also lacked much in the way of evidence. In this case, the lack of GPS tracking, photos, or any witnesses has come back to haunt Pemba Dorje, who now will have his title stripped away. As far as the record books are concerned, the fastest climb of Everest now belong to Lakpa Gelu once again.
I always thought that both of these records seemed incredibly fast, but they also both occurred before I was following the proceedings on Everest as closely as I do now. Today, the two men would likely be questioned extensively about their climbs, and with lightweight and affordable GPS equipment easy to come by, a record of their speed attempts would need to be produced in order to verify their claims. The lack of that kind of evidence has called more recent speed climbs into question, creating the groundwork necessary to ensure that these kinds of claims aren’t falsified. I would expect a few other “speed records” to get this type of scrutiny in the future as well.
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