The speed record for Mount Everest has stood since May 21, 2004, when Pemba Dorje Sherps claims to have traveled to the summit from base camp in eight hours and ten minutes. But the Supreme Court of Nepal just ruled that the record was a fake—with no evidence, not even a summit photo, to support the claim. The speed record fell back into the hands of Lakpa Gelu Sherpa, who summited on May 26, 2003 in ten hours and 56 minutes.
Lakpa Gelu and Pemba Dorje have fought for over a decade about the veracity of each others’ summit times. In 2003, Lakpa Gelu’s record time unseated Pemba Dorje, who had set the record three days prior with a time of 12 hours and 45 minutes. Pemba Dorje insisted that Lakpa Gelu’s record time was fake and demanded an investigation. The Ministry of Tourism looked into it, and substantiated Lakpa Gelu’s record time. So Pemba Dorje came back the following year with what, to many, seemed an impossible feat: cutting his previous time by more than a third, to summit at 2 a.m. with no witnesses and in reportedly inclement weather.
Lakpa Gelu never believed Pemba Dorje’s incredible claim, and took legal action. The case finally came before Nepal’s highest court this year, and they ruled that Pemba Dorje’s time was unsubstantiated and handed the record back to Lakpa Gelu.
From 17,600-foot base camp to Everest’s 29,029-foot summit, climbers gain nearly 11,500 vertical feet. A typical guided summit attempt allows five days to travel from base camp to the summit (after over a month of acclimatization).
Kilian Jornet, the world-class Spanish ultrarunner and mountaineer, holds the fastest known time for an alpine ascent (without supplemental oxygen or ropes) from base camp. It took him 26 hours. Pemba Dorje and Lakpa Gelu’s claimed times were both set with supplemental oxygen and ropes.
Photo by Göran Höglund.