At first glance, one can be forgiven for assuming there might be two different people in these summit photos. Summit Photos on Mount Everest are a dime a dozen. Everyone sort of looks the same, the setting is similarly snowy but basically nondescript. Even the climbers might as well be wearing burkas – they’re usually almost impossible to identify behind their gas masks and sun visors. The main indicator tends to be the color of their suits and the signs they hold aloft identifying who they are and where they are.
It’s precisely because of these limiting factors that summit photos are so easy to fake. So it’s not surprising there’s a storied history when it comes to fake Summit Photos on Mount Everest and faked ascents in general.
Photoshopped images, false claims: Everest ascents too easy to fake? – Hindustan Times
FAKING MOUNT EVEREST? – Adventure Alternative
Yes, This Photo from Everest Is Real – Outside
Three Indian climbers make fake Everest summit claim? – The Himalayan
Swiss Climber’s Feat Honored Despite Lack of Proof – The New York Times
Let’s take a closer look at Nahida Manzoor’s effort here, just to get an idea how much work went into this [or…ahem…didn’t].
The first indicator that this is a staged photo is the basic layout. Same flag, same bent poster [same size, same bends and creases] and, though less easy to see in the cropped version, the climber is in the exact same position too. Look at the angle of the right leg compared to the left in both images.
Looking closer the fakery becomes a lot more obvious.
All the idiosyncrasies in Bhawna Dehariya’s image are repeated in Manzoor’s. Moving from top to bottom and left to right:
- The crease in the Indian flag, and the angle of orange streaking downward is identical.
- The angle of the orange part of the flag touching against the climber’s shoulder is the same in both images.
- The angle of the opaque container jutting out beside the climber’s cheek is the same in both images.
- The ridge of snow in the background is the same, and photographed from exactly the same angle.
- To the left of the poster is a small piece of triangular collar from the climbing suit jutting out. This is the first indication of mischief, where the original climbing suit has been clumsily edited out and replaced with a red suit. Notice how fuzzy the red suit is compared to the original suit in the original image.
- The edge of a green plastic thingy beside the gloved hand of the climber is almost cropped out, but not quite.
- Notice how the black gloves – both of them, in both images – are identical.
- A black zip tag protruding perpendicularly is visible in both images on the underside of the right-hand glove.
- All four corners of the poster are uniquely bent in both images.
- A black strap, possibly part of the climbing suit belt, protrudes from the same area at the same angle in both images.
- Ditto a yellow prayer flag.
- A line of red rope emerges in shadow beneath the poster. The image is deliberately cut off where the rope enters the sunlight, and to remove the idiosyncratic climbing gear in the foreground.
That’s 12, that’s enough.
There is one more aspect to point out, arguably, the most obvious of all: the script on the poster. It lists half a dozen sponsors. The names of the sponsors are just about bigger than Manzoor’s name and EVEREST 2019 which is telling, isn’t it?
In mountaineering the stakes are high, and the higher the mountain the higher the stakes. Lives, reputations and fortunes are often at stake. Manzoor obviously felt pressure from her sponsors, especially the Department of Tourism, to give them their due publicity-wise, no matter what. One wonders whether the DoT put Manzoor up to it, or pressured her to do it, or whether Manzoor did this entirely at her own initiative.
Over the course of writing the NEVEREST series [a trilogy dealing with the deadly ’96 Everest disaster as a crime scene], and climbing Kilimanjaro myself in the mid-90’s, I’ve experienced the lack of ethics and honesty on mountains firsthand. What ought to a theater for heroism often turns into a Lord of the Flies fest. The New York Times recently likened Everest to a zoo. And each year it’s getting worse.
In 2016 I worked with the world famous and much beloved Alpinist Ueli Steck, nicknamed “the Swiss Machine”. Although Ueli undoubtedly achieved dizzying achievements in mountaineering, there remains some doubt and controversy about whether one of his most amazing – on Annapurna – actually happened.
…in October 2013, Kelly McMillan reported for the New York Times that, “Steck didn’t have a photo of the summit; his altimeter had broken during his ascent; and he hadn’t used a G.P.S. tracker, all of which are accepted means of documenting such a climb…”