The Top 5 Adventure Hoaxes of All Time

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.

Mt. McKinley photo courtesy of Unhindered by Talent on Flickr.

Ever dream of standing atop one of the Seven Summits, winning a marathon, or swimming across the Atlantic Ocean? So did these guys. But instead of following through, they lied about accomplishing their goals.

Presenting the top five adventure hoaxes of all time, because believing isn’t always achieving.

Inspired by Christian Stangl’s fake summit of K2 this past August.


Mount McKinley Hoax
When Dr. Frederick Cook’s team turned back from their summit attempt on Mount McKinley in 1906, Cook soldiered on with fellow adventurer, Ed Barrill. Cook claimed he and Barrill had reached the summit, becoming the first people to do so, but the other members of his expedition were skeptical. Since then, modern climbers have re-created every photograph Cook took; none of them were taken from the summit.

Rosie Ruiz’s Boston Marathon Win

In 1980, a 23-year-old New Yorker won the Boston Marathon, crossing the line in just under 2 hours and 32 minutes. But the win was peculiar; nobody remembered seeing her during the race, and she didn’t seem too sore or sweaty when she broke the tape. Marathon fans came forward to expose Ruiz’s con: she jumped out of the crowd half-a-mile before the finish line.

It wasn’t Ruiz’s first run-in with cheating. She rode the subway to a fifth-place finish in the New York City Marathon the year before, qualifying her for Boston. Check out this New York Times article pondering Ruiz’s now-iconic status.

The Great Atlantic Ocean Swim

On Feb. 8, 2009, reports about the 56-year-old Aspenite who swam across the Atlantic Ocean flooded news outlets across the United States. An AP story said Jennifer Figge swam 2,100 miles from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean’s Trinidad—in 25 days. Figge would have had to average 84 miles per day, or 3.4 miles per hour for 25 days straight to do so. In this case, faulty reporting created the hoax; Figge, who swam about 250 miles across the Atlantic, later told the AP she “never intended to swim the Atlantic.”

Read more about Figge, her Atlantic saga, and her next ocean-swimming adventure in the January issue of Outside, on newsstands Dec. 21.

Cerro Torre Hoax

Feb. 3, 1959. Italian Alpinist Cesare Maestri supposedly rappelled off Argentine Patagonia’s Cerro Torre, a 10,262-foot mountain said to be the hardest in the world to climb. Maestri’s teammate, Toni Egger, died in an avalanche on the mountain, taking the camera with photographic proof of the ascent with him, Maestri said. His achievement is still questioned today, though several climbers say there is no evidence on the mountain of Maestri’s route.

Read a 2006 interview with Maestri about his supposed ascent, in which Maestri states in a possible slip-of-the-tongue: “”What I did was the most important endeavor in the world. I did it single-handedly. But this doesn't mean that I . . . that I reached the top. . . . “

Sail Around the World

In the fall of 1968, British businessman, Donald Crowhurst, set sail from England in The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, the world’s first single-handed, nonstop, around-the-world sailboat race. Though he designed navigation devices, Crowhurst was an inexperienced sailor and a failing businessman. Everything Crowhurst owned—his home and business—depended on his performance in the race. Facing the humiliation of failure, he hid in the South Atlantic for weeks, faking radio silence, then proclaimed himself the leader. Then he truly disappeared. Evidence suggests his circumnavigation attempt ended in insanity and suicide.

Read more about Crowhurst in the classic adventure book, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst.
Find more adventure biographies you can’t miss in our list of the 10 greatest

Got a hoax you think should've made the list? Let us know in the comments below.

Erin Beresini

promo logo