Serious doubts raised about Christian Stangl’s K2 summit

Kazakhstan climber Maxut Zhumayev has raised serious doubts as to whether Christian Stangl made the summit of K2. When Stangl returned to base camp at K2, there was much lively discussion amongst the other climbers about whether Christian Stangl did in fact make the summit. Ultimately though, Maxut said that none of the climbers there actually believed that he did make the summit of K2.

The following points were made by Maxut to explain his reasoning as to why he does not think Stangl made the summit of K2.

  • Climbers at base camp were shocked to see how healthy Stangl seemed after coming back from the summit. He seemed energetic and not feeling the effects of the climb. He seemed to want to get back to Skardu as quick as possible
  • The weather was not as good as Stangl said on summit day. Maxut said that it was a cloudy day, not a clear day as Stangl reported. The picture that Stangl showed of him on the summit was of a fairly clear day with only some cloud.
  • Climbing was difficult on any route. There were avalanches and some of the rope had been torn to shreds others have reported.
  • Some of Stangl’s bivouac gear was left under rocks a little away from the Abruzzi Spur. This included tent with poles, rusty ice pick, 370 page book, and food remains. Maxut asks as to why was it hidden under rocks?
  • George Dijmarescu was at advance camp on the day and night that Christian Stangl was supposedly coming down K2. Every once in a while through the night he went outside his tent to see what the conditions were like. At no point did he see a headlamp of a climber coming down the Abruzzi Spur.
  • All of the advanced camps 1, 2 and 3 on the Abruzzi Spur had no evidence that anyone had been there and used them at all. George Dijmarescu went up there and saw no evidence at all else to suggest that anyone had actually been there or come through there. The tents were exactly as they had been before and looked like they had not been used by anyone in recent days.
  • George Dijmarescu was not even aware that Stangl had made the summit and returned to base camp till he came back down to base camp himself. He had seen no evidence that anyone had been on the mountain at the same time as him, or in the very recent period that Stangl was climbing. This is despite the likelihood that Stangl took the same route there and back.
  • And lastly, Maxut said that none of the climbers at base camp believed that Stangl made the summit of K2. The story from Stangl just didn’t add up in their estimation.

Certainly this raises further discussion on what Stangl said and the counter claim by Maxut on these points.

As for Stangl looking remarkably healthy after coming back down K2, it could be said that he trains extremely hard and this training enables him to climb faster and with more strength than what would be thought possible. But would he look as energetic after coming down K2. He told the press he was exhausted. This is not the picture that Maxut paints of him when he came down.

Stangl did say that he took a slightly different route because the ropes were too slippery on the descent. He said he used his GPS to keep him on a route to make it back down. Is it possible that he went so far away from the normal route down the Abruzzi Spur that George Dijmarescu failed to spot his headlamp? Surely he had a headlamp to go down in darkness. He said that he climbed till about 12 midnight that night and then fell asleep for an unknown time under a rocky alcove. This means that he climbed far down the mountain for between 4 to 5 hours with a headlamp on. Is it possible cloud cover could have concealed Stangl from the view of Dijmarescu?

As for why Stangl’s bivouac gear was hidden under rocks not far from the Abruzzi Spur really opens up speculation. The impression is that he did not take a bivouac tent up with him. He did say on the way back he slept under a rocky alcove. This would indicate that no tent was taken up. So why was it hidden under rocks? And when did Maxut discover all of the bivouac gear? He was in no doubt though it was Stangl’s gear. Stangl has said that he had no tent with him when he made the summit.

The conditions of the day vary markedly between Maxut and Stangl’s account. Stangl said visibility was reduced at times, but his summit picture is of a fairly clear day. Maxut is implying this was not the case and it was not sunny like in the picture. Of course these stories can vary because of the conditions at base camp and 3000m above could be totally different with lower cloud cover than the summit. But what if Maxut is right?

Stangl never said that he used any of the camps on the way up or down. He in fact said he only slept once in a rocky alcove and didn’t use the camps. But there was no evidence that he went anywhere near any of the camps, according to Maxut. Stangl claimed that his GPS allowed him to take a slightly different route. How far was Stangl’s route away from the camps or did the new snow conceal his movements?

As for the summit photo there already has been analysis of it on this site. It appears to show the summit and the surrounding mountains. Chogolisa can be seen in the background and the glaciers below K2. This seems broadly to be in line as one would expect for a summit picture from K2. But there were at least 2 areas of concern about the photo.

A reader made a Google Earth screen shot of what it would look like from the summit of K2 looking towards Chogolisa here.

In the initial analysis of the summit photo it was noted that there was a line down the left hand side of the photo that could be not explained. Photos normally do not have a line down the side, so it needed an unusual explanation. A possible explanation given by this site was that the hardware failed slightly, maybe the electronic shutter and produced a line to the left. Or maybe the software failed slightly when converting it to a jpeg. Normally one would never expect this to happen, but if the photo is authentic then an explanation like that would have to explain the line that is several pixels wide.

A more sinister explanation for the line on the left of the photo is that it has been digitally altered in Photoshop 7.0 and it has been a sloppy effort to concealing what has occurred. In that view point, the picture was created in layers. Several pictures could have been put together to create the one on the summit. Thus the picture would be faked to make it look like he was on the summit. The details on the left of the picture would have been added in a layer to make it look like the mountains were in the background to Stangl.

If it has been manipulated then the ‘smoking gun’ of the photo would be the lines on the left hand side. Sometimes when people use Photoshop it’s the little details that they overlook when correcting the photos. And sometimes those trails are left on the photo that has been processed. Thus if it turns out Stangl did not make the summit those lines could be a ‘smoking gun’ and shows sloppiness when the photo was put together.

Also the EXIF information from the photo was missing. This is the information that shows the date taken, shutter speed, aperture and lots of other camera information. The only useful information in the EXIF is the date which showed when it was digitally created in Photoshop 7.0 which was the 13th of August.

A key to knowing whether Stangl made the summit or not of K2 will be hearing from George Dijmarescu on the K2 2101 expedition. He has been writing for Everestnews. The last report that he sent said that,” When you will hear the entire story, you will laugh.” It was not easy to see what he was referring to but it certainly occurred that he might be talking about the Stangl summit of K2 …. We will see whenever he updates what he was talking about there. It will be interesting to see whether he verifies all that has been written by Maxut.

Since a climber at K2 has raised serious doubts that Stangl made the summit, and claims all of the other climbers do not think he made the summit, then it will open discussion on what really happened. The problem with going alone to the summit is that he must provide all of the evidence. But GPS readings that he claims to have taken and further photos that have not been saved in Photoshop with the EXIF information would help the case that he in fact made the summit. There may be a case for not giving the summit to Stangl until better evidence is produced.

Source: Kazpatriot (in Russian)

Source: Everestnews 2010 K2 expedition

Picture of Christian Stangl’s bivouac equipment that had been hidden under rocks (Source: Kazpatriot)


13 Responses to “Serious doubts raised about Christian Stangl’s K2 summit”

  1. Dromaludaire Says:

    Another source (given in a comment on Kazpatriot) :

    I do not know what to think. But as you say (and as I have shown), the picture looks taken from the summit. I can’t believe a climber like Stangl would be capable of publishing a digitally altered picture. Really disturbing.

    NC from France.

  2. k2bottleneck Says:

    Thanks for that analysis in Google Earth. I was looking for that bit more information that you provided.

    I had some doubts after looking at the summit photo but it was not enough to say he didn’t make it. The photo did not convince me because of the problems mentioned, but maybe further evidence could of. I really needed to hear from some of the climbers there to see whether my suspicions had more basis than faults in a photo.

    Thanks for the new link too. That’s 2 climbers at K2 who believe adamantly that he did not go any where near the summit of K2. And it looks like none of the other climbers believe he made it too. They obviously think he used the bivouac gear to camp somewhere hidden on the lower slopes. They have provided good evidence of this. There was no trace of Stangl up the mountain and his bivouac gear was suspiciously hidden.

  3. Dromaludaire Says:

    Actually, when I was at first the summit photo, I had some doubts as well : why didn’t he take a picture of the summit itself (the shape of the summit of K2 is easily recognizable) ? Your very interesting analysis of the picture (especially the EXIF problem) strengthened my initial suspicion.

    And you’re right : the doubts raised by Maxut Zhumayev and T. Zsolt are very very serious ! It sounds really believable (thanks for the summary of Maxut report by the way).

    But this picture still intrigues me. I made further investigations and I’m now 100% sure that, if Christian Stangl’s would have been on the summit, this is the view we would see on a self-portrait photo. For instance, the background of his photo is exactly the same as here :

    Therefore, if Zhumayev and the other climber are right, your “sinister” explanation (a fake picture made with layers) is the only one that makes sense, until we can have more information.

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thanks for that picture from the summit. It does provide a similar view as does Stangl’s summit picture. Though it has much more detail about the surrounding area.
      The EXIF problem was really only a hint there maybe a problem. I’d expect someone to have claimed a landmark like the K2 summit to have left it in there regardless whether it has been improved or made smaller with Photoshop. The original photo of course would have solved that. EXIF data can be tampered with so it’s not definite proof but it can show alot of information.
      Also Photoshop has ways of removing the EXIF information innocently when saving it. Only one way of saving in Photoshop actually does this and removes the EXIF information. The others keep the EXIF information in a jpeg. It just won’t save it as the original file if you are careful. So what would be left would be original photo and the newly created one with no EXIF information. Just not having it there adds suspicion. A user may or may not be aware of this.
      I was more concerned about the line on the left hand side of the photo. Under normal viewing it cannot be seen.
      I would blow the summit picture up with whatever photo program u have so that you can start to see the line on the left hand side. It starts off white and then becomes a deep blue further up the left hand side. It’s like the edge of a photo but it’s within the frame of the photo by a few pixels. It should not be there.
      An explanation I offered was that there was a camera fault when it was taken. Maybe the cold caused this or high altitude. It’s just speculation. A better explanation and what would happen more often is for that line to be the cause of the sloppy use of layers in Photoshop but it’s not definite.
      Other than that there’s much that makes the photo look authentic like the view as you say.

  4. Dromaludaire Says:

    I don’t know if you have read this :

    Your analysis is quoted and, so far as I know, there will soon more articles focusing on this controversy.

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thankyou for that link, I was not aware of it. I don’t think the controversy is going away.

      As mentioned in the comments of that article Saving for the web in Photoshop does get rid of the EXIF information. If you just normally save a file it will keep the EXIF information.

      Still what they did not pick up on was that its the line on the left hand side of the photo that bothers me, and gives an indication that the region has been changed with Photoshop. That’s the mountains down the bottom left of the photo.

  5. bob Says:

    When i consider myself as the most intelligent and best mathematician at university and another student tells me that he passed the hardest exam in which i failed, i would also say that he lies or cheated. I dont want to say that Stangl really summitted but trusting other climbers who failed in achieving the same thing is a bit strange. Other than that: the google earth “proof” is really funny. The google data are approximations and have definitely not been developed for shooting summit pics. A bit more scientific integrity would definitely make sense in the discussion.

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thanks for your comments.
      Using the school/ teacher analogy that you have mentioned is a good one so I will explain myself using a similar one.
      In primary school if there is a student who gets the highest mark, yet there are other students who say this student cheated. What the teacher does is collect the evidence from each of the students. Chances are there will be conflicting information and its the teachers job to try work out what really happened.
      What if the teacher also had the test paper and that showed evidence of cheating too? Surely the teacher would weigh all this up and come to a decision.
      Would it be a good thing if the student gets that achievement even through cheating? And what would that do to the other students? I think more students would cheat and get full marks too.
      The teacher would not be pleased to have a student in the class who cheated – they would like perfect students – but its their job to do this.
      In real life we are presented with situations like this all the time. Cheating just devalues the accomplishments of others.
      So its not taking sides, its just working out what really happened.
      In this case there is alot to gain for Stangl if his summit is recognized. He could become the first to make the first and second summits of the 7 continents. As for the others, they are a diverse band of climbers. They come completely different backgrounds and have different personalities. In the past the accomplishments of Stangl has caused jealousy amongst climbers. The question is that going on here. No I don’t believe that at all.
      In terms of using Google Earth it was mainly used by me to orientate myself with the other mountains around K2, so I knew which was he was facing. Because the skill and tools of those who try to manipulate photos is so good, every tool has to be used to get a perspective on what has really been going on in this photograph.

  6. Brent - New Zealand Says:

    When I first saw the pic he submitted I didn’t believe it but thought he’d provide better proof later. If you had it, you would wouldn’t you.
    After all he sai he took picture/s plural.
    I think he’s now proved himself to be a liar as if you had proof you would not withhold it for any reason.
    Strange thing is, I thought you only got altitude sickness on the mountains not back in your home town!

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thankyou for your comments.
      The way he has reacted hasn’t surprised me at all. I expected the reaction that he has given so far including laying the blame on others.
      I think he will need to provide not only an original photo but also a GPS reading such are the doubts surrounding his summit.
      It would be good if he could do this and the problem would just go away for him.
      Also by not giving the raw data straight away then it could be implied it gives more time to properly manipulate the data rather than unequivocally giving it as soon as possible and removing doubt.

  7. Bret Says:

    It is interesting to compare some details of Stangl’s photograph and that of Liban’s listed above. In particular, I’d like to draw attention to the junction of the Upper Baltoro and Vigne glaciers seen in the lower left of both photos. In the Liban photo, a stretch of the Upper Baltoro glacier is visible below nearly the entire width of Chogolisa. The view of the glacier is cut off from below and the left by a spur protruding from the Gasherbrums. Comparing this region with the comparable area depicted on the Stangl photograph, the spur is much more prominent and cuts off much more of the Upper Baltoro. It would appear that the Stangl photo was taken at a location that is both lower and to the east of the summit.

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thankyou for your observations.
      I agree with you on this point. It does look lower and to the east.
      My only reason for holding back on what you said was I was looking for other photos to confirm this. So I was a little careful on pointing it out, but its pretty obvious that the perspective is different in the Stangl photo.
      My thoughts have been all along that the mountains on the left hand of the photo were taken lower on the mountain by Stangl himself on a previous attempt up the mountain. It could have been taken on any of the trips up K2 over the last 3 years.

  8. What’s wrong with this picture? : Comics and Context Says:

    […] derstandard (de), K2 blog, bloomberg Published: September 7, 2010 Filed Under: stuff Leave a Comment Name: […]

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