On May 14, three Ukrainian climbers and two Sherpas summited Mount Everest in a publicity stunt to support ASKfm, bringing two Ledger crypto wallets of the company’s new cryptocurrency, ASKT, each containing 500,000 tokens estimated at $50,000. The Dublin-based start-up, similar to Quora or Yahoo Answers, is the largest Q&A discussion platform in the world. As part of a new initiative, ASKfm 2.0, the company now bills itself as “the first blockchain-based Q&A social network with its own internal cryptocurrency, where users can be rewarded for quality content.”
The climbers brought one of the Ledgers back down, and its $50,000 in tokens will be raffled off to whitelisted members, those who have pre-registered for the ICO. They left the other Ledger with $50,000 in tokens buried somewhere on the summit. In a slightly unnerving, robotically-narrated video promoting the stunt, ASKfm encourages crypto enthusiasts: “If you’re brave enough, go get them.”
In a world saturated with so-called “shitcoins” (investing.com lists 1,875 cryptocurrencies currently on the market)—near worthless altcoins (“alternative coins”) hoping to piggyback on the cryptocurrency boom of recent years and shoot “to the moon”—ASKfm was likely hoping to market itself as a different kind of coin, making a statement about its new token being “on top of the world.” It described the stunt in a press release as “an elegant way to boast ideological superiority to every other crypto.”
Sadly, the stunt ended in tragedy. It has recently come to light that one of the Sherpas accompanying the climbers, Lam Babu Sherpa, was left behind on the mountain during their descent and is presumed dead. ASKfm did not mention the incident in their jovial press release, published May 17 after the other climbers made it back to basecamp.
Reportedly, weather began to worsen soon after the climbers reached the summit, and the three Ukrainians began a hurried descent, leaving the two Sherpas, Lam Babu and Mingma Sherpa, behind. In an Outside Online article written by the Everest veteran Alan Arnette, one of the Ukrainian climbers is quoted as stating, “The death zone starts at 8,300 meters. It’s every man for himself.” The Sherpas were anything but novice climbers, however. Lam Babu was a veteran of three Everest summits, as well as three other 8,000 meter peaks—Cho Oyu, Manaslu and Annapurna— all in the Himalaya. However, the same climber quoted above, Dmitry Semerenko, is openly critical of the Sherpas in Arnette’s article, stating, “We could tell by the look [of] them that they were inexperienced, and had to clarify if they [had] ever been to Everest before. They barely understood English and basically were porter Sherpas.”
A rescue team, on standby nearby, was reportedly unaware of the event as it occurred. In a Financial Times Alphaville article written on the event, another of the ASKfm climbers was reported as stating, “At the top of Everest the weather was very bad, and then we were coming down. We were going down to Camp 4, which is at about 7900 m, and one Sherpa was dying. That’s all we know. … He was behind us, so we don’t know what happened to him. We were going fast and the Sherpa wasn’t coming with us. He was coming behind so we didn’t see him.” It is unclear if the Sherpa who was dying was Lam Babu. Mingma Sherpa luckily made it down, but Lam Babu is missing and presumed dead.
The author of an article on Bitcoinist appeared stoked on the stunt, stating that, unlike other competing crypto-based start-ups, “ASKfm … is doing something fun and original with their tokens. The team is holding a massive giveaway of their tokens — ASKT — which have been on the summit of Mt. Everest.”
As this season and countless others have proven time and time again, the harsh conditions of the world’s tallest peaks are no place for games, stunts and marketing ploys. Nearly 300 people have died on Everest since 1921, with a median of six annually in recent years. This season the Everest death toll is at five, including Lam Babu. It’s one thing that the company risked the lives of its sponsored climbers. It’s another that they risked the lives of Sherpa guides, which resulted in a death. The icing on the cake is that they’ve left a Ledger up there and invited others to hunt for it, “if [they’re] brave enough.” -Owen Clarke