Editorial: The Guinness Book of Crap Records

When climbs and polar treks get judged by a UK beer brewery.

Before we decided to try and ski to the North Pole, Tom and I went to Norway and discussed the plans with the veteran Norwegians who had done it before us.

Rune, Borge, Lars Ebbesen. Sjur Modre even came up North to rehearse the ropes with us before we headed out. That kind of preparation is unusual these days. So is another fact: Out of respect for tradition we checked with the veterans what the protocol was regarding starting points and support.

The rules

The rules were simple and clear: you start from land. Any airlift over open water is support. You don’t take airdrops if you want to claim no support. A trek goes from edge of land to the pole. A traverse goes from edge to edge. And so forth.

Success is rare, the grueling trek takes months and felled even ol’ Messner at one point; one week fully loaded in the devil’s maze (the hardest part close to the Canadian coast, the first degree) and he was out.

Fast forward 15 years and millions of commercial guiding dollars later: an explosion of individuals now claim to have trekked to the North Pole. Neither checked with me about any standard, nor with the Norwegians I suppose.

These folks – aged 7 to 97 – take a plane to the pole, ski around for a while, and get into the paper.

How is it possible? Easy answer: Money.

A visit by the Guinness Book of Records

Some years ago the chief editor from Guinness Book of Records came out to Colorado to meet with Tom and I. His errand: Would we (Adventurestats) oversee the polar and mountaineering stats for them?

Sure thing, we said, if Guinness covered the costs. Negotiations didn’t go much further, the fellow was pleasant but not in his best shape so we escorted him to a hotel for rest.

We heard nothing more until headlines began to crop up. So and so had this and that record – strange constructs signed off by commercial guides and yes, the Guinness Book of Records.

Here comes the Grand Slam of Bullshit

The record holders, usually wealthy trophy tourists with staff overseeing media contacts and wikipedia pages, served catchy press releases to gullible reporters too underpaid and uninspired to check anything at all.

The new heroes had all trekked to the poles. PR copies would include the words “last degree” at first, then that too was gone.

It didn’t stop there. Seven Summits replaced the 8000ers, treks to BC became Everest climbs, half-way stops became tippity tops, paddling vacations became Amazon descents and ocean crossings shrank to island hops.

Media sold ads, guides sold services and their clients sold books and speaking tours; beating their chests and throwing pennies at some charity to show that they were not only rich, famous, brave and strong, but virtuous too!

Most-Interesting-Man beer commercials replaced Spirit of Adventure and finally someone bundled the whole tournament of exotic trips complete with sushi and massages into one big pile of Adventure Grand Slam bull: Medals to be had at the Guinness World Record booth.

Previously the Grand Slam title (in itself implying the hardest feat in a genre) had been used by explorers in relation to very few people – a Frenchman here and a Korean there – who had spent a lifetime climbing the really highest mountains on earth and crossing from edges of continents to the poles.

But those people spoke funny languages and died in strange accidents – such as attempting a new route on Everest – so, you know, who cares.

Fastest time to peel an orange

Should we bother though, about folks burning to share fame with the fastest time to peel and eat an orange blindfolded? (More than anything applying for a Guinness record takes a lot of paperwork.)

I say we should.

If we are serious about changing corruption in Washington why not start in our own neck of the woods. Caring about wrong and right on every level builds momentum.

I see courage taught by cowards and virtue lectured by cheaters; I see clowns diluting real achievement and stealing money from champions. I see it spread like wildfire, rousing new generations to chase Pokemons instead of Stars.

Is this our future? I think not. A lie can travel around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes but give it time and true Spirit of Adventure always triumphs.

They say the only thing vile needs to win is for good folks to do nothing.

I wrote this. You spread the word. Peace out.

Ed note: I’m holder of three Guinness adventure records for neither of which I applied.

The fastest time to peel and eat an orange blindfolded (team of two) is 17.15 seconds.