IN recent years we have had a proliferation of poorly written reports which make verification of ascents (especially first ascents) rather difficult. In some cases the claims have proved false—the wrong mountain has been climbed or the summit has not been reached—but in many cases an otherwise gallant attempt has left room for doubt (the benefit of which is usually given to the mountaineer).

How to avoid this situation? The Editor took the advice of Dr. F. H. Schwarzenbach of the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research during the International Mountaineers' Meet in Dar- jeeling, May 1973. Dr. Schwarzenbach has been responsible for the scientific programme for the Swiss Foundation since 1961 (including eight polar expeditions) and has had over 30 years experience in organizing expeditions and publishing reports of expeditions from all over the world.


  1. The author wishes to acknowledge the help and advice of Jagdish Nana- vati in arranging and presenting the substance of this article.


The following points embody his views on the subject and the guidelines he offers to mountaineer reporters so that unpleasant controversies do not result.

Proof of Ascent:

The first point to emphasise is that the mountaineering world expects the mountaineer to prove his ascent rather than have his report disproved at a later stage. This then puts the onus of factual reporting and detailing all aspects of the climb, corroborated by photographs or other unmistakable evidence, squarely on the climber and the leader of the expedition, in the first place.

Before the Expedition:

i) The leader of the expedition must plan his ascent and train his men in collecting and gaining evidence of their ascent, at each stage of the climb.

ii) If possible, the leader should endeavour to glean as much information from those who have specialised knowledge of the area or who have visited the mountain; meeting personally for discussion would be even better. The adviser might have valuable data, photographs and reports that might assist in a more thorough preparation for the attempt. Literature or journals should also be consulted for articles of previous expeditions in that area.

iii) The expedition should be equipped with:

  1. A good prismatic compass for checking one's location and identifying peaks including the one which is to be climbed.
  2. A thermometer (preferably a max/min model) and
  3. A pocket model barometer (corrected) to enable one to make corrections to the altimeter reading.

It is assumed that all members have sufficient knowledge of the mountain and are able to read maps and that maps are available for reference before, during and after the expedition, so at the report is as detailed as possible in the depiction of the route and progress of the team.


On the Route:

iv) A detailed diary of the climb—giving the coordinates of time, geographical location and height.

v) Break down the route and describe in detail each natural section between the key points. The selection of key points is of some importance—they must be recognisable, such as camps, rock formation, natural phenomenon (like the yellow band on Everest), geologically recognisable features, resting places and the summit. Then at each key point take note (proof) by photo (as far as possible) or full description.

vi) At each key point note the altitude and time. Take a photo and note full description. The photo should show the place you are at with a person or a rucksack or some other equipment featuring in the foreground to prove that you are there and that the photo is not an enlargement or taken with a telephoto lens. Include in the photo a point to be seen in the distance preferably towards your starting point, a camp or a recognisable key point on the route. Photograph the route above and the one below each key point.

vii) Leave proof of your having been there—e.g. a piton or a cairn—then photograph the location of your mark. This can be checked by the following expedition.

viii) Your resting places or camps may be established by a panorama of known peaks of the area and your position approximately verified by geometrical juxtaposition. A compass reading of the same peaks as in the photograph would be a further and a more accurate cross check of the available data.

ix) The description of the route and the climb between key points must always be accompanied by the data on time. Describe time of arrival at a key point or resting place—time of recommencing the climb—time of climb—condition of route and its full description (e.g. soft snow, ice, verglass, crevasses etc).

x) A polaroid camera would be most useful to check one's own progress as one goes along. Alas, these are not easily available and are very expensive.

At the Summit

xi) Try to shoot a 360° panorama—it is then a matter of geometry to prove your peak vis-a-vis other surrounding peaks. A 360° panorama also proves that there is no higher point to be scaled. Again, a foreground comprising a person or equipment must be included along with other peaks in the background.

xii) Take some specimens of stones or rock. Modern methods can analyse these and can provide geological and chemical proof. At worst, these can serve as souvenirs.

At the Base or Lower Camps

xiii) Note down as much information received from the higher camps/climbers, by messengers or on the walkie/talkie. Always ask for altitudes from the altimeter reading of the climbing party (corrections should be applied at the Base Camp after taking other meteriological conditions into account). Record time of report and location. Ask for the condition of the route and weather (wind, temperature, ice/rock/snow etc).

xiv) If the team can be seen—locate it on a photo (or polaroid snap) —use telelens for showing tents, tracks, or climbers.

xv) Base Camp should have a photo of the mountain taken from far and high enough to avoid too much angular and vertical foreshortening with vertical heights marked on it (allow for foreshortening) with the help of the map. This photo then is used for roughly checking the progress altitudewise, of the climbers. This photo must have been used by the leader also in planning his expedition and the possible routes up the peak.

xvi) In bad weather, altitudes can sometimes be roughly estimated by the height of low lying clouds and their comparison with the physical features of the surroundings of he mountain(s) they cover or uncover.

After the Expedition

xvii) The leader should obtain first hand detailed report from the climbers who made the ascent.

xviii) The complete report of the expedition should include the route marked on the photograph(s) of the mountain showing camps, heights and other key points. Similarly the route etc., should also be marked on a sketch map of the mountain.

xix) Key photographs confirming the ascent should be published along with the report in mountaineering journals.

xx) All the data must be kept and made available for verification and for the assistance of leaders of following expeditions. The Report must notify where all this data is maintained and available for inspection.

For the Verifier

xxi) Proof of ascent will be found in the summit photographs, by identifying the peaks and correlating their positions on the survey map.
Compare all data and evidence with the photos and the map of the mountain.

(a) Tabulate as follows:

Altitude dA Remarks Time Dep Arr dT dA/dT
Key Pt 1 4600 m. 1015
600 m. glacier 345 min. x
Key Pt 2 5200 m. 1620 1600
200 m. Rock 120 min. y
Key Pt 3 5400 m. 1820


Compare dA/dT with data gathered from previous known ascents (the ratio will be different for the various conditions of terrain under foot and the horizontal distance climbed).

(b) Compare timings

dA = difference in altitude between two key points in hecta- meters.
dD = distance between two key points in kilometers.

Multiply 5.5 by a factor K to arrive at time taken e.g. 5.5. K = x mins. K varies from 12 for an easy walk/climb to 20 for a hard climb with a load and upto 40 for a very severe ascent on ice or rock. A series of figures for K under various conditions can be prepared from previous reports of known expeditions (e.g. Sherpas/Sahibs on Lhotse face).

Compare the time (x mins.) obtained from the report under consideration with the figure obtained using K under similar conditions. Needless to say, the verifier has also studied the other evidence of photographs, description of route and the other details as described above for the mountaineer.

Ethics in Alpinism

xxii) The mountaineer must be reassured that there is no blame, no shame or discredit to him when he has failed to climb the peak either because the risk was too high or the climbers were too tired. However, a leader who allows too high a risk to be taken is not worthy of the leadership. A climber who takes uncalculated risks for bravado is a selfish and bad mountaineer because he then endangers not only his own life but that of others who would be expected to rescue him or evacuate him off the peak.

It is very essential to understand this and to resist the non- mountaineering pressures from the publicity agencies, pressures from the sponsors (if subsidized) , and the desire to gain further status in life from one's success in the mountains. If these pressures are resisted or are absent, there could be far less incidence of irresponsible reporting and doubtful claims. Dr. Schwarzenbach concluded with the remark: "It is always good to play with open cards—I hope the above suggestions will help you learn how to play according to the rules of the game."


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