Three prominent foreign mountaineers are heading home from Mount Everest after a dispute about climbing ropes turned ugly. Ueli Steck, Jon Griffith, and Simone Moro report that they were punched, kicked, and had stones thrown at them by a group of Sherpas. Only the intervention of some other western climbers prevented the incident from being worse.
Sherpas are the original residents of the Everest region and often work as trekking and mountaineering guides and staff. Spring is the peak season for climbing Mount Everest.
The three mountaineers were ascending from Camp Two (21,300 ft.) when there was an argument about climbing aids called fixed ropes. A group of Sherpas were placing fixed ropes on a part of the climb known as the Lhotse Face, in preparation for their own clients’ ascent.
Crossing The Ropes
The Sherpas asked Steck, Griffith and Moro to wait for them to complete their work, but the trio declined. They were then told to stay away from the ropes, and they agreed.
But after ascending about 2,300 feet the three had to cross the Sherpas’ rope to reach their tent, and an argument broke out. The Sherpas claimed that the solo trekkers had caused snow and ice to fall on them, a potentially dangerous thing. Steck, Griffith and Moro said that they did not. As the argument raged one Sherpa became incensed because, he said, he had been touched.
The three climbers decided to return to Camp Two after the incident. When they reached it they found a large group of Sherpas, who quickly became violent. Other climbers intervened and partially defused the situation. The three say that they were told to be gone within an hour or they would be killed.
At a mediation meeting at Base Camp the next day both the mountaineers and the Sherpas apologized, but that was not enough to persuade the climbers to continue their expedition. The AFP quotes Griffin as saying, “There was never a question of us continuing.”
Respect On The Mountain
All this is most unusual indeed. There is longstanding resentment among Sherpas working on Everest towards what they see as clients’ lack of respect for them and their work. But that almost never rises above the level of complaints, and then mostly among the Sherpas themselves, not arguments with foreign climbers.
The Sherpas’ problem with these three climbers started long before the incident with the fixed ropes. The trio had bad attitudes, say Sherpas, and there were rumors that they were disturbing Sherpa caches on the mountain, and perhaps even using their oxygen cylinders.
The oxygen cylinder detail seems unlikely, since Steck, Griffith and Moro were planning to climb without oxygen. But whether the brawl was about respect or something more serious, it will certainly give Nepal’s flourishing tourism industry a black eye.