In 2013, two French alpinists, who you’ve probably never heard of, climbed a central pillar on Annapurna in pure alpine style. They hung it out there so far, that their ascent very nearly cost them their lives. In any other year, their ascent would’ve landed them a Piolet d’Or award, if not global acclaim and sponsorships galore.
The only problem, the late Ueli Steck had soloed the exact same line a few days before the French climbers left basecamp. Steck claimed to have soloed the 10,000 foot futuristic face in 28 hours round trip, an utterly astonishing feat that landed him a Piolet d’Or the next year.
Ultimately, Steck offered no concrete evidence for his ascent of Annapurna as he didn’t bring a GPS, had no camera, and his altimeter failed during the ascent.
Steck, of course, died in 2017 on Nuptse while acclimatizing for a link-up on Everest. He was soloing when he fell from near the top of the 6,000-meter mountain, but the reasons why he fell, like the details of some of his more controversial ascents such as Annapurna, remain unknown.
That year on Everest, Kilian Jornet, the Spanish ultra-runner and endurance mountain athlete, claimed to have climbed Everest twice within a period of 5 days, each time climbing solo and logging a speed that would nearly break the fastest known time on Everest. Like Steck, Jornet was also solo during his speed ascent. And like Steck, he was unable to offer much more than his word. His GPS failed. His camera failed. All that he had was his word.
But is that enough?