In 2010 we have had two well publicized hoaxes in mountaineering. The first was Oh Eun-Sun, the South Korean alpinist working toward becoming the first woman to scale the world’s fourteen 8,000 meter peaks. The Korean mountaineering association doubted the likelihood that she actually reached Kanchenchunga (28,169 ft./8,586 m.) in April.
The other involved Austrian professional climber Christian Stangl on K2 (28,251 ft./8,611 m.). During a season that no one else made it to the top, Stangl claimed he did. In September, a month after the alleged summit, he confessed that because of sponsor pressure he fabricated the story of making to the top.
Oh’s bid for Kanchenchenga is still disputed and so is her bid for the world’s fourteen highest peaks. Stangl voluntarily came clean when his conscious bothered him and that he felt he would be found out to be a fraud.
Hoaxes in mountaineering and exploring in general come with the territory, unfortunately. For example, Robert Peary claimed to be the first person to reach the geographic North Pole in 1909. Most people believe him until the deed was doubted at the time, and more widely accepted as discredited decades later.
In 1906 and 1908, Frederick A. Cook committed two acts of exploratory fraud. Cook also claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole – a year before Peary and his faked attempt. But before that, he claimed to have to have summited Mount McKinley (20,320 ft./6,194 m.) in 1906, years before Hudson Stuck’s legitimate claim to the first ascent.
Cook set out for the Alaska Range with a larger group, took in the mountains and were forced to turn around. Upon returning to the coast, Cook decided to turn back and be the first man to climb McKinley. He brought a porter to be his partner and they returned to the Alaska Range, however while he claimed to have reached the top, he never truly did. Studies were done in succeeding years by those more familiar with mountain climbing at the time and judged that first he could not have traveled the whole way from the coast and simply slog up the mountain as he alleged. Also, the summit photo Cook claimed was his proof of victory was duplicated by others on a much lower “Fake Peak” southwest of McKinley.
Most of us like to believe that we climb for the simplicity of the experience, the remoteness from complicated worries and for the amazing views. However, ego and the public pressure to bring home a successful story can be more important when the stakes for someone like Oh or Stangl are felt to be high. Even more interesting, Frederick Cook’s supporters, even after his death, are still insisting he reached the North Pole and deserves the record of Denali’s first ascent.
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