In a sad reflection of the pressure perceived by today's professional climbers to succeed, the Austrian mountaineer Christian Stangl has confessed to falsifying his recent claim of reaching the summit of K2.
Stangl, a member of Mammut's professional team of athletes, is trying to become the first person to climb the 'Second Seven Summits', the second highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
This is an altogether much harder proposition than the Seven Summits, which Stangl has already completed.
Towards the end of an unsuccessful season on K2, with teams down at base camp having been thwarted by bad weather and poor conditions, Stangl claimed to have reached the summit, solo, in a fast and daring push.
Stangl reported leaving base camp on the 10th August and sleeping at Advanced Base until midnight, at which time he set off with little equipment and climbed direct to Camp 3 at 7,500m on the Abruzzi Ridge.
There, he rested 10 hours and climbed directly to the summit, reporting deep snow as far as the Shoulder but good conditions above. He returned to Camp 3, rested a little and then descended in increasingly poor weather to base.
Despite a background of fast ascents on big mountains, Stangl's claim was immediately challenged by strong climbers who had failed on the route. A touch of sour grapes perhaps?
But a small team started up the mountain on the 12th and found no trace of passage up to Camp 3, the fixed ropes still heavily encased in ice. Stangl's tent was packed and his gear still there. A few days later it is reported that Pakistan porters found his sleeping bag, tent and camping gear, plus a large reading book, well hidden under rocks some distance from Advanced Base.
Stangl produced a very detailed account of his ascent, together with a summit picture, noting that on the descent he hadn't followed the standard route because the ropes were too icy.
Back home, after being continually challenged, Stangl made an official statement that included standard remarks that he was 'just climbing for himself' and that he was not willing to discuss the matter any longer.
But his summit picture was now being scrutinized by previous summiteers who declared it was nowhere near the top.
A few days ago the pressure obviously got too much. Stangl admitted that the 'summit' photo was in fact taken at 7,500m (not confirmed whether this was on one of his many previous attempts) and an embarrassed Mammut, which prides itself on 'reliability' issued a statement deeply regretting the previous misinformation, and disassociating itself 'from such actions in all forms'.
Stangl's statement makes sad reading. He notes that achievement and success are determining factors in his sport, and that over the last three years, during which he has attempted K2 on seven separate occasions, he had been able to suppress his own personal failure......until the last time. The pressure for his latest action 'came from inside himself' Stangl said. 'Fear of death is bad enough but fear of failure in an achievement-oriented society is worse'.
Stangl (born 1966), who was a civil engineer until 2001 when he became a professional mountaineer, has an impressive CV that includes a sub 17-hour solo ascent of Everest without oxygen from the north, a 15-hour ascent of Cho Oyu, and a time of just under four and a half hours from base camp to the summit of Aconcagua.
He has climbed 10, 6,000m South American peaks in seven consecutive days, four within 24 hours, and his total climbing time for all Seven Summits is just a little under 59 hours.
When Stangl started to make these new, very lightweight, speed ascents, his style of climbing needed a new description. The term Skyrunning was born.
The Austrian had planned to revisit Antarctica at the end of this year to make his third attempt on Tyree (the continent's second highest summit). Whether this now happens, and whether it takes place under the sponsorship of Mammut, remains to be seen.