Last week, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Pemba Dorje Sherpa’s speedy climb of Mount Everest was unverifiable.
In 2004, Dorje Sherpa claimed he climbed the world’s highest mountain in eight hours and 10 minutes, the fastest known time, at the time. It has been debated for 14 years because he couldn’t prove his ascent.
The debate started in May of 2003 after Dorje Sherpa claimed a time of 12 hours and 45 minutes. Then three days later, Lakpa Gelu Sherpa recorded verified time of 10 hours and 56 minutes on the same route.
The following year, Dorje Sherpa returned and said he climbed it in his faster, disputed time, and earned a title from Guinness World Record. The record stood for 13 years.
He said after his now-debunked ascent in 2004: “When I paused at a mound of rocks I saw some spirits in the form of black shadows coming towards me, stretching their hands and begging for something to eat. I think those were the spirits of the many mountaineers killed during and after their ascent of Mount Everest.”
Alan Arnette is one of the world’s leading Himalayan experts and said: “I think there were a lot of eyebrows raised. That seemed a little aggressive, but is it impossible? Probably not.”
Lakpa Gelu then challenged the faster time by saying there was no photographic evidence. And the weather on the record day was very bad. In 2013, Lakpa Gelu appealed to the Nepalese Supreme Court, which ruled this month that his time is the record.
In addition to over a dozen Everest summits, Lhakpa Gelu has also summitted Cho Oyu and Ama Dablam in the Himalayas.
In 1996, Italian Hans Kammerlander climbed Everest the north side from advanced base camp to the summit without oxygen in 17 hours. On May 22, 2017, Spanish ultrarunner Kilian Jornet climbed Everest’s north face from base camp without bottled oxygen or fixed ropes (both of which Lakpa Gelu and Pemba Dorje used), and returned to advanced base camp in 26 hours.
Previous records from the south include: Marc Batard on Oct. 5, 1990 with no bottled oxygen in 22 hours and 29 minutes, Kaji Sherpa on Oct. 17 in 1998 with bottled oxygen in 20 hours and 24 minutes and Babu Chiri Sherpa on May 21, 2000 with bottled oxygen in 16 hours and 56 minutes.
Speed records in the Himalayas are gaining popularity and the dangerous trend will likely attract challengers sooner rather than later.