We hate being lied to, don’t we? From “The check’s in the mail” to “It’s not you, it’s me” to “We’re not lost,” there’s nothing worse than finding out something really is too good to be true. But it seems to be a tradition in outdoor sports, adventure and exploration – you really can make this stuff up sometimes. Here’s a list of the biggest lies, false claims, and hoaxes in the world of adventure.
1. Rosie Ruiz “wins” Boston Marathon
In maybe the most famous hoax in sports history, Rosie Ruiz somehow got to the finish line of the 1980 Boston Marathon in 2:31:56, a then-record for the women’s division and the third-fastest women’s marathon time ever. However, after she was awarded the medal, suspicions began to arise. She hadn’t been seen at various points along the race course, she didn’t seem very tired after the race, and well, she was a little flabby for a world-record distance runner. An investigation revealed enough evidence to strip the title from Ruiz and give it to Jacqueline Gareau – but Ruiz maintains she won, and kept her medal. In 1982, she was arrested in New York and charged with forgery and grand larceny, and received five years probation. She was later arrested in Florida for selling cocaine to an undercover agent.
2. Frederick Cook, the North Pole, and Denali
Frederick Cook – actually, Dr. Frederick Cook, M.D. – was a legend: He was the first person to summit 20,327-foot Denali, in 1906, and the first man to reach the North Pole, in 1908. But…in 1909, Robert Peary claimed to have made it to the North Pole himself and, upon return to civilization, heard that Cook claimed to have been there first. Both men’s claims have been disputed, but Peary worked hard to discredit Cook, and Cook’s documentation had gaps in it or was never found. Then, in 1909 and 1910, his claim to the summit of Denali was challenged, and evidence mounted against him in subsequent years. From 1956 to 1997, Bradford Washburn and Brian Okonek worked to reproduce photos from Cook’s Denali expedition, eventually finding the location of his “summit photo” – which is now known as “Fake Peak.”
3. Four Corners Isn’t
If you go to visit the Four Corners marker at the corner of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado and put a limb in each state, you’re almost there – but not quite. The marker is about 1,800 feet east of where it should be. In 2009, the Associated Press reported that the marker is more than 2.5 miles off of where the actual intersection of the four states lies, but that turned out to be a little off, too. It’s only 600 yards away. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geodetic Survey immediately released a statement saying hey, you know what, 1,800 feet away is pretty damn good for the instruments used in 1875 – plus the surveyor was given some not-quite-accurate coordinates for the starting point for his survey. All in all, though, how much integrity can we really ask from a physical representation of the intersection of four invisible lines? Have some fry bread. Enjoy your starfish photo and call it good.
4. Slawomir Rawicz’s “Long Walk”
We love stories of human survival in the face of incredible adversity: Aron Ralston cutting off his arm in the Utah desert. Joe Simpson crawling back to camp after breaking his leg and falling into a crevasse on Siula Grande. Chicago Cubs fans who continue to persevere. Slawomir Rawicz’ book, The Long Walk, is one of the most incredible human survival stories of all time: A group of prisoners escape a Siberian gulag during World War II and walk 4,000 miles to India with almost no supplies. Except, it’s not exactly true. Someone did allegedly walk from a Siberian gulag to India, but it wasn’t Rawicz, whose story was ghostwritten by author Ronald Downing – Rawicz was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, but was released and transported directly to Iran. Another Polish WWII veteran claimed in 2009 that The Long Walk was actually the story of his journey, but that claim has been challenged as well. Rawicz died in 2004, and the movie The Way Back, based on The Long Walk, was released in 2010.
5. Oh-Eun Sun, 8000-Meter Woman
On April 27, 2010, South Korean climber Oh-Eun Sun summited Annapurna, the last of her 14 8,000-meter peaks. Maybe. In May 2009, Sun said she summited Kanchenjunga, but the photo Sun claimed was taken on the summit doesn’t clearly show anything convincing – the mountain is engulfed in clouds. And, 12 days after Sun said she summited, Norwegian climber Jon Gangdal found a South Korean flag about 150 feet below the summit, weighted down by four rocks. The Korean Alpine Federation ruled that Sun’s summit photos were inconclusive and said that she likely did not summit. When pressed, Sun said she might have stopped a few meters below the summit. Edurne Pasaban climbed Shishapangma, her 14th peak, and is now generally regarded as the first female 8,000-meter finisher.
6. Across the Atlantic in a Balloon
On April 13, 1844, the New York Sun published a special broadside story about Monck Mason’s pioneering 75-hour flight from England to Charleston, South Carolina. The story was incredibly detailed, with diagrams of the aircraft and entries from Mason’s journal. Except the story was completely fabricated by a creative writer – Edgar Allan Poe. Poe actually stood on the steps of the Sun building on the day the story was published, yelling that it was a hoax, as passersby snapped up copies of the paper for as much as a half-dollar. The paper ran a retraction of the article two days later. The first non-powered, human-carrying balloon crossing of the Atlantic didn’t happen until 1978.
7. Bigfoot Film
On October 20, 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed Bigfoot walking near the Klamath River in northern California. So said Patterson and Gimlin, anyway. In 1999, 27 years after Patterson died, Gimlin said in an interview that for years he had thought no one could have fooled him, but it might have been possible that Patterson had created a scenario and used Gimlin as an unsuspecting “witness.” In 2002, a North-Carolina-based costume designer told a radio station that he had made a Bigfoot costume for what he thought was a “prank” back in 1967. In 2004, Bob Heironimus confessed that Roger Patterson had paid him $1,000 to wear the suit in the film. The real Bigfoot continues to elude amateur filmmakers.
8. “Skyrunning” Summit of K2
Conditions on K2 were so bad in 2010 that no one summited by any route. Except Christian Stangl, who round-tripped the 28,253-foot peak in a superhuman 70 hours, which was either an amazing feat or just a hallucination. The day after his climb, another climbing party headed up the route and found ice on fixed ropes, Stangl’s gear still cached, and no tracks in the snow. Stangl’s single inconclusive summit photo was questioned, and he eventually admitted that he hadn’t reached the summit after all, but had at first believed he had because of an incredibly vivid hallucination. This admission cast doubt on some of Stangl’s previous “skyrunning” claims, including speed climbing all the Seven Summits in a total 58 hours, 45 minutes from base camp to summit.
9. Pro Cycling