Brawl on Everest!
UPDATE (4/30 @ 6:20pm): Click here for an update on this story.
A fight broke out on Mt. Everest this weekend between the team of Western alpinists Simone Moro, Ueli Steck and Jon Griffith and a group of Sherpas.
Initial reports, including a detailed one from Moro (pasted below), indicate that what began as a simple misunderstanding quickly turned into a heated argument, which later spiraled into a frightening scene of apparently premeditated mob violence.
Apparently, an argument started between the two groups high on the Lhotse Face Saturday, when the alpinists, climbing unroped at around 7,200 meters elevation, overtook some Sherpas who were fixing lines between Camp 2 and Camp 3. Standard protocol on Everest is for climbers to give Sherpas plenty of space while they’re doing this important work. Moro and Steck claim they were climbing 50 meters off to one side, but eventually had to cross the Sherpa’s ropes to access their tent, which was located 20 meters to the other side. An argument broke out between the two groups, with the Sherpas claiming that one of the alpinists had dislodged a chunk of ice that injured one of them. In an act of protest, the lead Sherpa ordered his 17 men off of the face and back to Camp 2.
Later, when Moro, Steck and Griffith returned to Camp 2, an “angry mob” of up to 100 Sherpas was waiting for them. They attacked the three men, punching and kicking them, and even throwing rocks. Another party of Western climbers stepped in to try and bring the situation under control, and were themselves attacked. They directed Moro and company to hide and, after an hour, calmed the Sherpas down sufficiently for the team to escape, but not before allegedly being told that someone would be killed if they didn’t leave.
The men descended to Base Camp via a circuitous route. Nepali officials are investigating the incident, and have pledged to protect the climbers. At least one report, though, indicates that a Swiss national, possibly Steck, has left the mountain altogether. Swiss media backs this account, saying that Steck has lost the desire to climb Everest this season. In addition, Griffith told The Telegraph last night that any claims that the team would continue its climb were "Total bullocks. We are leaving Nepal as soon as we can." Steck and Moro were planning to climb a new route up Everest without the aid of supplemental oxygen, and alpinist-photographer Jon Griffith was along to document the expedition.
Here’s the full report from SimoneMoro.com:
“April 28th, 2013
MOUNT EVEREST, NEPAL.
At about 8am on 27th April 2013 Simone Moro (IT), Ueli Steck (CH), and Jonathan Griffith (UK) left Camp 2 to reach a tent at around 7200m (lower Camp 3) on the Lhotse Face of Mount Everest. A team of high altitude sherpas were 'fixing' the Lhotse face and the climbers were asked to not touch the fixed ropes they were establishing. As such the trio climbed about 50m away and to the side of the Sherpa team to avoid disturbing them in their work. It should be noted that all three climbers have extensive climbing experience all over the world and were very aware of the work being carried out by the Sherpas and the respect given to them for it.
When the three climbers reached the height of their already established tent, they traversed across the snow and were forced to step over the lines of the Sherpas to reach their tent about 20 meters to the side. The climbers chose to step across the lines at a belay stance where 4 other sherpas were attached to the ice face whilst their lead climber continued to fix the line above. Stepping over the lines does not interfere in any way with the work being carried out. The climbers were soloing and not using ropes so there was no rope tangling either. In addition by passing beneath the lead climber no ice or snow could be knocked down on him.
Jonathan Griffith was in the lead at this point and after crossing the rope and traversing another 15 meters on a snow ramp Ueli Steck followed. At the point where Ueli Steck stepped over the rope the lead climber noticed the climbers below and began shouting and banging the ice with his axe erratically. Still shouting down at the climbers, he fixed his rope and abseiled down to the belay stance. As Ueli was soloing and therefore not attached to a rope it was natural that he should hold his hands up to take the impact of the force arriving on him from the lead climber abseiling right on to him. This prompted the lead climber to accuse Ueli Steck of 'touching him'. In between hitting the ice with all his force and screaming at Ueli Steck 'why you touch me' he said that they had kicked ice down on them and injured a Sherpa. Seeing as the trio were climbing a completely independent line and entirely on snow this is highly unlikely.
Ueli Steck tried to help calm the situation by offering to help fix the lines up to Camp 3 but this only made matters worse. Simone Moro then joined the team and the lead climber turned on him wielding his ice axe in his direction. Simone swore at the lead climber as is the natural reaction when faced with this aggression. No amount of talking would calm the lead Sherpa down and as a final act of defiance he ordered his whole team of 17 Sherpas off the Lhotse Face and back to Camp 2. There was no reason to descend off the mountain because of the three climbers. They had not touched or interfered with the Sherpa's work. To help smooth things over Ueli Steck fixed a further 260m of rope to Camp 3.
By the time the climbers descended back to Camp 2 some 100 Sherpas had grouped together and attacked the three climbers. They became instantly aggressive and not only punched and kicked the climbers, but threw many rocks as well. A small group of Westerners acted as a buffer between the out of control mob and the climbers, and they owe their lives to these brave and selfless people. Nevertheless all three climbers were attacked as well as many of the Westerners who were trying to calm the situation down. The climbers were told that by that night one of them would be dead and the other two they would see to later. After about 50 minutes the crowd had calmed down and the climbers, who had been pushed away and told to hide, had regrouped and were told that if they weren't gone in one hour that they would all be killed.
The climbers packed the bare essentials and made a circuitous route back down to the base of Mount Everest in heavily crevassed terrain with no rope on, feeling that given the current situation this was the safest place to be.
The Sherpas said that the reason they attacked the climbers was because they had knocked ice down on a Sherpa below. As it stands no Sherpa has come forward to show any injury. Furthermore on an ice face getting hit by chunks of ice is a very natural occurrence. The climbers believe that the lead Sherpa was tired and cold and felt that his pride had been damaged as the three climbers were moving unroped and much faster to the side of him. Whatever the reason may be, there is no reason to instigate vigilante rule and to try and kill three visiting climbers.
The Nepalese authorities have taken the matter very seriously as have commercial teams on the mountain. At the moment the 3 ring leaders have been taken off the mountain and the Police, Ministry of Tourism and the head of the Sherpa Association are investigating.
The three climbers would like to extend a huge thank you to all those who saved their lives at Camp 2 and to those who are now taking over the investigation."