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with Stefan Nestler

Billi Bierling about Everest fraud: “It is sad”

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

The truth will out. According to the Kathmandu-based newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, the Nepalese Tourism Ministry has initiated sanctions on the Indian couple that – as reported before – has obviously submitted faked summit pictures to get their Everest certificates. Most likely these certificates will be canceled and the cheat climbers might be banned from mountaineering in Nepal for up to ten years. “Department of Tourism will also take necessary action against the Liaison Officer, Climbing Sherpas and expedition organizing company,” DoT director Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal told the “Himalayan Times”. The two Sherpas who had supported Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod on Everest were still “out of reach”, said the operator Makalu Adventure blaming the Sherpas for the goof-up.

The staff of Himalayan Database, the mountaineering chronicle of legendary Elizabeth Hawley, is also checking the case. I’ve contacted Billi Bierling. The 49-year-old German journalist and climber is the designated successor of Miss Hawley, aged 92.

Billi, you and your colleagues from the Himalayan Database have also obviously been deceived by the Indian couple when you interviewed them. What’s about the much-trumpeted climbers’ honor?

Billi Bierling

Billi Bierling

Well, sadly I think something has changed in the Himalaya climbing world. Ascents used to be something special and a great achievement, however with commercialization, the hunt for sponsors and the desire to do something special (just climbing Mount Everest no longer seems enough) I have the feeling that the number of people not being 100 percent honest has increased.
Miss Hawley, Jeevan Shrestha (who interviewed the Indian couple) and myself still base our work on trust and even though I still believe that the vast majority of climbers is honest, there have been some cases of doubt. Once we find out about it we do more investigating and if the climber still insists that he/she has reached the summit we credit them but with a note that the climb is not recognized or disputed.

In “normal” Everest seasons several hundred people scale the highest mountain on earth. Is it actually still possible to examine every reported summit success intensively?

As Miss Hawley is no longer working and in the last spring season it was only Jeevan and myself who were meeting teams, it has almost become impossible to spend enough time with one single expedition to check everything they say. As I said before, I still trust that most people are honest but for the rest we may have to come up with a new system. In our day and age, everyone seems to have a tracking device which we could follow or look at everyone’s summit pics but as we have just found out this also no longer works.

Maybe we would have to implant a chip in every climber which will then beep once on the summit just like during races. But where would that lead to? I still prefer trusting them!

Real (1,2) and fake (3,4) (© The Himalayan Times)

Real (1,2) and fake (3,4) (© The Himalayan Times)

These days there are much debate on the estimated number of Everest certificates obtained by fraud. Do we have to live with the fact that there are such wrongdoers throughout sports, thus also in mountaineering?

Yes, it is sad and as Miss Hawley has always emphasized we are not judges or detectives – we are simply reporters who record the data for the Himalayan database. If we now have to doubt everyone’s ascent and investigate whether the climbers are actually telling the truth I truly think that Miss Hawley’s spirit of starting the database is outdated. Even though she was always tough with her questions, she usually did not judge and unless the evidence was clearly against the statement of the climber (like in the Indian case) then she discredited the climbers’ summit.

So our future will definitely be a tough one and at that very moment I don’t know how it will look. But unless the evidence is obvious, who are we to judge whether someone was up there or not unless we are in the mountain with them? And I think it will take another two lifetimes for the Himalayan database to station a person on the summits of all expedition peaks to tick off the summiteers. So I truly hope that my gut feeling is right and despite this outrageous story of the Indian couple most climbers will remain honest and tell the truth!


5. July 2016 | 13:55