RunOut #3: The Tradition of Truth.

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?

7 comments on RunOut #3: The Tradition of Truth.

  1. Eric says:

    I’m enjoying the new podcast and look forward to more. Can you make it available on the Google Play store for Android users?

    1. Chris Kalous says:

      sure! Stand by…

    2. Chris Kalous says:

      Ok. Just waiting for google to ok it.

  2. R. Surface says:

    Dr. Kalous,

    Please keep the content coming, do it for the keyboard jockeys.

  3. Damien Gildea says:

    Very good fellas! You covered a lot of the ground there.

    If anyone wants to look at the dossier investigating Steck’s Annapurna climb, it’s at:

    Really, the case is much stronger against his Shishapangma climb. Matching the photos, the times, his claims and his responses afterwards, it really is highly unlikely he summited (no doubt he climbed the face). Circumstantial evidence is not the flimsy thing lawyers shout about in tv dramas. A comprehensive body of sound circumstantial evidence makes a compelling case – in a real court – and such evidence is piled higher than most people realise against Steck.

    As to ‘why lie?’ I think a lot of US and non-Euro climbers underestimate the competition, pressure and commercialism of big-time alpinism, particularly in Europe. Steck was an ambitious guy who chose big-brand famous climbs to do – Eiger, Everest etc – he was no low-key, purist adventure climber. He wanted to be the famous as the best alpinist in the world, but those things are never ending, just as no amount of money is ever enough for very rich people, or we never have enough cams, or packs, or… There’s always just one more thing that will be enough and after that we’ll stop. Linking Everest and Lhotse would have been big enough to stop. Maybe…

    It’s important to realise that most bogus claims have not been totally fabricated from the get-go, as you touch on. They are more like fibs added on at the end, maybe to big things up, maybe an excuse for failure, maybe just to always up the ante. Maestri WAS actually on Cerro Torre, he was not at home in Italy. Çesen WAS at the south face of Lhotse, he was not home watching tv. And Frederick Cook WAS in Alaska when he faked his Denali claim. They are never total fabrications, just amplifications or white lies gone rogue.

    But yes, well said – lying is stealing.

  4. Jake says:

    Love the new podcast and stoked to keep feeding my Kalous-addiction. I have to say though, in the latest episode about truthfulness regarding alpine achievements, the conversation missed an important point. How do you talk at length about the burden of proof being on the person claiming something and not bring up Croft’s ethic of not having cameras or people there for some of his bad ass feats. In your interview with Peter (my favorite episode by far) he spoke extensively about the reasons you do something and his philosophy about those exploits being very personal/not wanting to share them with others. I’m not doubting him in the slightest either, I just feel like it could have added to the discussion if this idea was included and explored, especially since Bisharat has a fairly righteous stance when it comes to people having the right to say they did something. Is there room for Croft’s proud style/ethic amidst our increasingly ravenous desire for video proof? I kept on hoping it would come up during the talk but alas the conversation ended feeling like it had missed an opportunity to delve into an interesting area. Anyways, stoked on the new show.

    1. Chris Kalous says:

      Hey Jake. Kalous here. We have been working on the format for 6 months. And some of our first attempts were literally an hour and a half long. We decided that 30 minutes should be max. So in the end we have to cut off the convo because I, for one, can go on all night.

      Hopeufully, we get better at being concise so there is more and more room for the important points and less fluff. We’re wroking on it.

      I think my final conclusion includes Croft’s style. Which was that I am going to believe someone at their word until proof crushes them. In Crofts case, he has never claimed to do something that wasn’t obviously within his very witness-able abilities.

      I want to believe people. I want climbing to be built on that. But when I get the feeling I’m being lied to, its quite insulting. But in most cases, it doesn’t really matter too much other than the insult.

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