True Summits or Tolerance Zones?
Wednesday, 31 July 2019 13:23

I have been collecting facts about mountains and mountaineering for four decades and I have always sincerely believed that: ‘The highest point of a mountain is the only point that counts as summit'. But in recent times, with more research and better technology, it has become apparent that this absolute topographical approach does not match the reality of climbers and the tops of the 8000m mountains. For the last seven years some colleagues and I have been researching many summit photos , particularly on the three 8000m mountains Manaslu, Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri I that have issues with their precise summit locations and their records of who climbed to where. It is clear now after all this research and communication that many mountaineers, including some well-known ones, have definitely failed to reach the very highest points on one or more of these mountains due to their uncertain topography. Instead, climbers have stopped, knowingly or not, on a selection of lower points - some near to the main summits in altitude and distance, some not so much. To deal accurately but realistically with this sensitive problem we have come to consider the possibility of ‘Summit Zones of Tolerance’. But of course even with this broadening of allowable ‘summits’ it may still affect the historical record of Himalayan climbing. Should some finishing points that are too far or below the true summit be deleted from the official summit lists? Should we have two tables of submitters - a ‘General List’ of those who stopped only within the Tolerance Zone, and then an ‘Elite List’ comprising those who can surely be proven to have stopped on the true highest point? We wish that the climbing community will assist us to find the best solutions to deal with this serious problem. There will be people who think, this is not important. Let us leave it as it is including general “amnesty” for all “historical” ascents. But many others would also love to know, how many really did all true tops of the 14. But it is not only because of the collectors with “all” 14 8000ers climbed. All country firsts, female firsts, winter firsts, route firsts and surely other firsts need to be researched properly.

Manaslu Annapurna I Dhaulagiri I