On May 17, 2018, Ukraine-based Q&A network, ASKfm upped the testosterone-driven enthusiasm of the crypto community with a video announcing that a hard drive containing worth $50,000 of its ASKT tokens had been buried at the summit of Mount Everest.
Four crypto enthusiasts. Source: Youtube
In the bullish world of cryptocurrency with its constant references to ‘hitting the moon’ and other height-related metaphors, this stunt seemed harmless, albeit slightly over the top and kooky. What happened next became a still-unfolding story that brings together adventure, tragedy, sleight of hand and suspicions of foul play.
The Missing Tour Guide
According to a press release sent to the media by ASKfm, the mission went well, with four Ukrainians successfully scaling the famed summit. It did, however, allude to the possibility that not everything went according to plan.”
“Of course, there were issues… two guys were stuck at above 7,000 meters with no reserve oxygen for all of that time. Under extreme temperatures and unable to descend, they had during the second day to call for a helicopter squad to rescue. Now they’re both safe and receiving treatment. And strong having made such a move.”
Smelling a rat, FT journalists Jemima Kelly and Alexandra Scaggs decided to carry out some research into ASKfm’s story, checking with a popular summiting blog that chronicles climbing incidents on the mountain. To their horror, they discovered that the ASKfm mission was referenced under “Preventable Deaths.”
As it turned out, an experienced local Nepalese guide called Lam Babu Sherpa accompanying the Ukrainian quartet had not made it back from the trip. According to information from Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism, he was struck by a bout of ‘snow blindness,’ which presumably led to his disappearance. The journalists tried to get some more information out of ASKfm, and the story got even more complicated.
When contacted for his version of events, a member of the four-man mission, Taras Pozdnii pleaded ignorance, saying that he last saw Lam Babu at the summit of Everest. Upon further digging, it turned out that the “four-man mission” was a three-man mission, as the fourth climber, Irina Galay was falsely portrayed as a team member for marketing purposes.
Having gained fame as the first Ukrainian woman to scale Everest in 2016, she did not take part in the ASKfm mission. This important detail was completely left out of all ASKfm marketing material.
It gets worse.
Initial information about the mission from ASKfm indicated that each climber was accompanied by one Sherpa, which Pozdnii also confirmed. However, when asked about the disappearance of Lam Babu Sherpa, an official statement said, “The team sponsored by ask.fm was assisted on their expedition (which included climbers from other groups and projects), by over 100 Sherpas. We have become aware that a Sherpa who successfully assisted one of our sponsored climbers on the part of their journey, before assisting other non-related groups of climbers, later became missing.”
“The last official update we received was that the condition and location of the missing Sherpa were unknown and it was not our place to make public statements which could’ve resulted in false information being circulated.”
Apart from contradicting that crucial detail, its version of events also clashes with that told by Pozdnii. To put that in perspective, ASKfm lied about the makeup of its Everest mission team and withheld crucial information about a death that occurred during the mission.
On his part, Alan Arnette has continued to question all reported versions of events, saying on his blog, “I find it hard to understand how the 45-year-old Sherpa developed snow blindness, was reported to be staggering and no one was able to help him. I look forward to obtaining more details on this sad event.”
And the 500,000 ASKT on the hard drive?
According to ASKfm, the stunt team buried a hard drive containing ASKT coins worth approximately $50,000. This figure is based on its expected value once the pre-sale and ICO get underway.
In other words, an experienced Nepalese Sherpa has lost his life and a cryptocurrency ICO has been associated with tragedy and dishonesty in a stunt for the sake of a token figure that currently has no proven value.