Three Indian climbers accused of falsely claiming to have summited Mount Everest in 2016 have been banned by Nepal from mountaineering in the country for six years.
The alleged fake ascent came to light after one of the three, 26-year-old Narender Singh Yadav, was named as a potential recipient of the Tenzing Norgay national adventure award, after which other Indian mountaineers alleged the summit pictures had been faked.
While mountaineering and rock climbing has intermittently thrown up controversies over claimed first ascents, such scandals are less common in the crowded world of commercial expeditions to summits such as Everest, where there are numerous potential witnesses and there is far less incentive to cheat.
The three banned climbers were named as Yadav and Seema Rani Goswami, who were alleged to have made false claims, and Naba Kumar Phukon, who was the team leader during Yadav and Goswami’s climb.
Following news of the ban from mountaineering in Nepal, Yadav denied any wrongdoing, claiming on Twitter that he had been defamed and adding: “There is no competition between donkeys and horses and the world will keep barking like this.”
However, witnesses including Phukon claimed the Indian climbers appeared not to have had sufficient oxygen to make the ascent they planned.
“It’s a victory for the entire mountaineering fraternity and will demotivate others to do such blunder in future,” said Phukon, who works with the Assam sports department.
“From day one I was telling everyone that Yadav’s summit claim was false and he morphed his picture. I was the leader of the expedition and he was part of the team. He never made the summit and even had frostbite. He along with Seema Rani Goswami had to be rescued by the Sherpas.”
The claimed Everest ascent is one of several by Indian teams that have recently prompted scepticism. In 2019 three other Indian climbers were accused in Outside magazine of claiming to have climbed the mountain without getting higher than camp 3, a significant way from the summit.
The Times of India quoted a source at the Indian sports ministry suggesting they agreed with the Nepali ban after an investigation that also involved the Indian Mountaineering Federation.
“The Narender Singh Yadav issue is over from our side. The inquiry initiated by the ministry found he faked climbing Everest. He submitted fake pictures,” the source said.
Everest ascents are usually verified by a liaison officer from the Nepalese ministry of tourism, with climbers required to produce a photograph of themselves standing on the summit with a clear view of their face before they are issued with a summit certificate.
As well as banning the Indian climbers, who had waited until they returned to India to announce their claimed ascent rather than doing so in Nepal, Nepal also fined Seven Summit Treks, which organised the expedition. Yadav’s Sherpa guide Dawa Sherpa has been fined 10,000 Nepali rupees (£60). They had all attested to Yadav’s claims. Yadav and Rani had been members of a 14-strong commercial expedition.
Mingma Sherpa, of Seven Summit Treks, said it issued the certificate because the climbers’ claim was supported by the accompanying Sherpa guide.
“If the climbers do a fake climb, how will the trekking company get to know? Our task is to assist in getting the permit, organise the trek and route. The two Indian climbers showed us the pictures of their summit and we wrote that they had climbed. The Nepal ministry of tourism decides about the certificates,” Mingma Sherpa told the Indian Express.
The banned climbers would not be the first to have claimed summits they had not completed. While sometimes it is a question of stopping at a nearby peak, as is often the case in claimed ascents of Nepal’s Mount Manaslu – which are more widely accepted – in other cases the controversy is greater.
In 1906, Frederick Cook, later to be convicted of fraud for his business dealings, falsely claimed to have made the first ascent of North America’s highest mountain, Denali in Alaska, posing for a summit picture on a rocky outcrop.
Perhaps the greatest climbing controversy centred on the claims by Cesare Maestri – one of Europe’s greatest Alpinists, who died aged 91 last month – to have climbed Cerro Torre in Patagonia in 1959, fuelling a decades-long controversy.