Are Everest ascents too easy to forge? Climbers are accused of faking summit photos and offering bribes to sherpas to say they've reached the top

2nd Jun, 2017 | Tourism Mail Crew

KATHMANDU, June 2: Everest climbers have been accused of faking photographs of them reaching the summit and bribing sherpas to say they reached the top, amid claims that it is too easy to fake completion of the 8,848 metre climb.

[caption id="attachment_5991" align="alignnone" width="899"] Climbers work their way to the summit of Mount Everest as it emerged people are forging the achievement by superimposing their faces onto pictures[/caption]

For an Everest summit, mountaineers 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.

But there are concerns over people bribing officials and Photoshopping pictures in an attempt to fake their way to the top.

In 2016, Indian couple Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod provided a summit photo, before other climbers said their story and photos didn't add up.

At that stage, Satyarup Siddhanta discovered he was at the centre of the fraud when he spotted 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 doubts. 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In another, Siddhanta had been replaced by Dinesh.

The fraud victim said: 'I looked at their photo and immediately recognised the people around.

'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.

Waiting to hear his fate is South African climber Ryan Sean Davy, who was caught hiding in a cave after trying to dodge an £8,500 fee to scale the peak.

He said he was terrified he would be killed after being found.

Nepalese officials discovered the South African in his hideaway after he had climbed more than 20,000 feet up the world's highest mountain.

He was ordered off the mountain, had his passport confiscated and will be fined £17,000 ($22,000), an official said.

In a Facebook post, he claimed to have been 'treated like a murderer' after being discovered and thought he was 'going to get stoned to death right there.'

He now fears he will be jailed in Kathmandu.

[caption id="attachment_5992" align="alignnone" width="957"] Indian mountaineer Satyarup Siddhanta poses alongside an image of himself on the summit of Mount Everest. An Indian couple doctored his photo to claim they had made a successful ascent[/caption]

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 8,848-metre (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.

German journalist and climber Billi Bierling, who now manages the database of Everest climbers, said: '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.'

This 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, said 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.

[caption id="attachment_5993" align="alignnone" width="870"] Yellow tents lined up at Everest base Camp in Nepal 2016 before climbers attempted the ascent[/caption]

'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.

Elizabeth Hawley, founder of the Himalayan Database - considered one of the most authoritative records of mountaineering feats within the climbing community - said when people come to climb Everest, she does not expect them to cheat.

The archive holds a record of expeditions to around 400 peaks in Nepal dating back to the 1920s.

'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 Hawley.

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.