Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first claimed the summit of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953, more than 4000 people have reached the top of the world’s highest mountain.
However, the job of recording and verifying successful climbs has fallen not to an official mountaineering body, but to Elizabeth Hawley, the octogenarian curator of the Himalayan Database in Kathmandu.
Now the government of Nepal has launched a scheme to make things official, by attaching GPS devices to climbers to prove that expedition members have actually reached the top of the world’s highest mountain. While the proposal has been presented as a safety measure, collecting data to reduce the chance of mountaineering disasters such as the tragic loss of 16 Sherpa guides on the Khumbu Icefall in 2014, insiders claim that the real motivation for the scheme is to prevent mountaineering fraud.
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The climbing world was racked by controversy in 2016 when Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod, a husband and wife team from India, were shown to have faked their attempt on Everest, editing themselves into photos of other climbers who did reach the summit. After the deception was exposed, the couple received a lifetime ban from climbing in Nepal, and the fraud led to demands for an official mechanism for verifying successful attempts on the world’s highest peak.
Initially, GPS devices will only be fitted to a selection of climbers attempting to summit Everest during the April to May climbing season in 2017, but if successful, the policy may be rolled out to all climbing groups. The majority of ascents, however, will still be verified the old-fashioned way, using a summit photograph, and a signed report from a Nepali government official.
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