I am not a psychiatrist but do know that large goals seem to brings out the , illness and the worst in people. Everest is one of the champions in this area.
For many years now, Everest has attracted detractors. They find every reason to criticize Everest climbers as unprofessional, amateurs, ill-prepared, etc. They go on to decry the environmental impact, the impact on the local people; anything to support their point.
Some professional climbers join in the chorus making fun of the average Everest climber doing what they like to call the “tourist route”, and they often say worse. Their insensitivity when climbers die is sometimes crass, in poor taste and judgmental.
Even Reinhold Messner could not contain his criticism of non-professional climbers recently when he said “up to 90 per cent of those passing through Everest base camp could be using chemical assistance to climb the world’s highest peak”
Now we have a report of professional climbers fighting with Sherpas while the “amateurs” watched in disbelief.
A History of Conflict
This is not the first time people have lost their temper, or common sense, on Everest.
Outside Magazine published a long article on this back in 2001 where they accused Henry Todd of attacking a reporter from the Discovery Channel. Todd was banned from Everest for a time somewhat based on that incident.
In 2008, a climber took it upon himself to support Tibet with a highly offensive banner directed towards the Chinese. He posted the banner on his tent at Camp 2. He was escorted off the mountain by the Nepalese army as they were “guarding” Everest that year so the Chinese could take the Olympic torch to the summit without incident.
Last year, it was reported that The Tibetan rope fixers on the North side caught and bound a Chinese climber who was there without a permit in order to remove him from the mountain.
I have witnessed professional guides screaming at climbers to “get off my rope”.
The Sherpa community also exhibits tempers. I have been yelled at descending the Lhotse Face for going too slow or using the wrong rope. They take the rope fixing responsibility extremely seriously and have asked Westerns not to participate many times. It is rare and apparently annoying to have Westerners tailing them to claim “first summit”.
Many Sherpas feel Everest, Chomolungma, belongs to the Sherpas and it is their mountain and as such Westerners are guests. It is common for Sherpas to say they should own all the records. So when they feel like a Westerner is not showing respect to them or the mountain, it can be a trigger point.
I wrote an article for Rock and Ice magazine called Everest Deserves Respect so it pains me to report what happened last Friday. It is appearing like there is a lot of blame to be passed around.
Fighting on the Lhotse Face
There were hints of something serious last Friday when progress on fixing the line to Camp 3 came to an abrupt halt. Blog posts became quiet and some hints were made about a conflict.
On Sunday, professional climber Simone Moro posted a report on Montagna.tv of a fight that occurred last Friday. Moro, Ueli Steck and photographer Jon Griffith from EpicTV, were attempting a new route on the Southwest Face with Mora and Steck not using supplemental oxygen. They were not using Sherpas either. Moro and Steck are sponsored by The North Face and Mountain Hardwear respectively.
Moro has become something of a celebrity on Everest by flying a helicopter for Fishtail air frequently from the lower villages to Base Camp and occasionally into the Western Cwm to pick up sick, injured or even dead climbers. He has summited Everest four times.
In his report, Moro alleges that he, Steck and Griffith were simply climbing towards Camp 3 and passed the Sherpa team who were fixing rope on the Lhotse Face. Moro goes on to say an altercation took place which involved “touching”. They reacted and a fight ensued. Back at Camp 2, Moro states 100 Sherpas surrounded them, threw rocks and punches and threatened to kill them and their lives were saved only by an intervention of Western guides.
This is the link to the report and EpicTV’s translation. It serves as the primary basis for the media reports we are seeing. The Himalayan Times gave this account of the incident:
The two sides have their own versions of the incident. The injured tourists said they got attacked for no apparent reason, whereas the workers claimed that they retaliated after Italian citizen Moro threatened them identifying himself as an international tourist guide. Moro and Griffith have sustained minor injuries, while Steck has received a deep cut on his face. Preparations are on to airlift Steck to Kathmandu from Lukla. The other two were taken to the base camp for ment last evening.
For what it is worth, few of the guides or climbers who are posting regularly have much to say about this publicly. Most are making oblique references to “a few unforeseen delays”. Kind of a ‘what happens on Everest, stays on Everest’ approach. But with Moro publishing his report, the story is out.
Adrian Ballinger, Alpenglow, did make a post on his blog:
To me, the bottom line is that multiple mistakes were made by both sides. On Everest, the professional climbers (even when attempting new routes) also benefit from fixed ropes, trails broken, and rescue caches placed, primarily by the Sherpa. The professional climbers involved could have and should have chosen somewhere else to acclimatize on this day, instead of solo climbing above the rope fixing team. Everyone knew about the rope fixing effort, and other teams that would have liked to be climbing where the incident occurred respected the rope fixing effort and stayed off the Lhotse Face. Even if no rock or ice actually was knocked off by the professional climbers, and even if no rope-fixing sherpa was injured, there was still a perception of disrespect for the effort. As part of past rope-fixing efforts on Everest, I can attest to the importance of not having other climbers pushing the team from below, or putting the team at risk from above.
With that said, the response from some (not all) of the Sherpa was inexplicable and inexcusable. Regardless of the disagreement, or the inappropriate language used by the western climbers, the threats and attempts at violence by the Sherpa involved were wrong. I was given numerous possible explanations for the severity of their anger, but none of them justify attempting bodily harm. This behavior would be wrong anywhere. Above 6000 meters on a mountain, where we all need to depend on each other to try to minimize accidents, injuries, and death, this behavior does nothing but undermine the bonds between teams and climbers that we depend on. It is my understanding that a small number of sherpa led and incensed the rest of the “mob” that formed. It is my opinion that these sherpa should be removed from the mountain for this season, and potentially prosecuted. The same goes for the westerners, if eyewitness reports stand true, that responded with violence. Their behavior stands in sharp contrast to the numerous westerners and sherpa that did not resort to violence and attempted to diffuse the situation, even at risk to themselves.
I think most expeditions see it as an embarrassment and want it to go away. I believe it will pass but be used by Everest critics as yet another reason Everest is a bad thing. And the press will sell a lot of advertising based on the headline.
Putting Together What Happened
I have received some insight into what happened directly from people who were there. One point is that, publicly, we only have Moro’s version of the story. It is doubtful given the Sherpa culture, that we will have the same level of detail for the Sherpas involved so for now the Moro version will control the media.
This is what I think happened based on my investigating and first hand reports. I could be way off so this is just an opinion.
Moro, Steck and Griffith were climbing to spend an acclimatization night at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. At the same time, the Sherpa team was trying to set the lines to the same Camp to be used by a large number of commercial climbers located at Camp 2.
There is an unwritten rule that all climbers stay off the Face while the Sherpas are fixing rope. In fact, a team of Russians began following them, were asked to stop by a Western Guide and complied with the request, turning back to wait until the work was finished.
The Sherpas had been working hard to find a safe route up the Lhotse Face. They had been stalled the previous day after finding a large crevasse near the normal location of Camp 3 thus needing to return the next day and find a new safe route.
In 2012, several Sherpa were injured by falling rock due to low snow levels that year prevented lose rock from being attached to the Face. In 2013, early conditions were similar so they had initially taken a longer, more difficult route to avoid the hazard but then ran into more difficulties. Now they were taking the normal direct route up the center of the Lhotse Face.
Moro and crew were anxious to reach their camp and started climbing a bit away from the Sherpas working on the Face. They must have had little patience for the slow moving Sherpas who had to go slow since they were carrying line, anchors and setting protection every few hundred feet, a slow and tedious process by design.
The Sherpas seeing the three climbers, asked them not climb above them due to potential rock fall. They also asked them not to touch the ropes, a common request given they need to be manipulated during the fixing. Everyone agreed but the three continued climbing higher and became parallel with the Sherpas but still trying to be very careful along the way.
Once they reached their high point and location of a tent previously established by Denis Urubko, they traversed across the Face just above the Sherpas.
A piece of ice was dislodged, falling down the face and hit one the Sherpas who works for a large commercial guiding company. He was slightly injured.
This continued movement
and falling ice enraged the lead Sherpa who reacted emotionally. He decided to take action.
Update 2: The falling ice now appears to have been true based on this report.
The lead Sherpa fixing the ropes, approached them and apparently he and Steck touched, most likely by accident. However, there was one report of a Sherpa being “grabbed” by his jacket. The situation became even more heated and the Sherpa team descended to Camp 2 leaving Moro and team alone on the Face.
Moro and Steck took some of the fixed rope and continued climbing higher and finished fixing the line to Camp 3. Perhaps this was an effort to appease the Sherpas. However, it probably inflamed the situation as now they were doing the Sherpa’s work.
Moro and team returned to Camp 2 where words were exchanged, tempers flared, threats were made. Other Sherpas joined in, most likely standing around to see what all the yelling was about. Western climbers and guides also came out of their tents.
One Western Guide was reported to have swatted a rock out of the hands of one of the Sherpa. This was the final straw for the Sherpas.
With the huge crowd gathered at 21,500 feet, tempers flared, a few rocks were thrown and there was a push or two. Some of the more senior Sherpa and Western Guides interceded to calm things down.
Moro and crew returned to Base Camp as did the Sherpas crew but by different routes avoiding each other.
The rope fixers took Sunday off intending to resume work on the Lhotse Face Monday.
As for how Ueli got his “deep cuts”on his face, that I have no idea and will not speculate but hope he is safe.
A large meeting was held today, Monday at Base Camp. A very senior Sherpa speaking for all the Sherpa formally apologized to all the Westerners. All the expedition Sidars (leaders of the Sherpas for each expedition) pledged that something like this will never happen again.
Moro and Steck also stood up and apologized to the rope fixers. It is reported now that they announced their expedition and attempt for a new route was over. Ueli said he is leaving Everest and returning home while Moro is staying to continue flying helicopters for Fishtail Air. Moro’s Facebook page says they are evaluating the situation.
Everyone at Base Camp expressed a desire to put this behind them and get back to climbing.
It is reported the Nepal police and Ministry of Tourism officials are investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, teams continue climbing and are positioned at Camp 2 ready to go to C3 when the lines are ready.
UPDATE: Planetmountain.com has posted an interview with Moro where he continues to say he has no idea why the Sherpas were upset. He also states the expedition is over with Steck and Griffith leaving and Moro staying to fly helicopters. But there are also other reports saying they will stay so time will tell.
UPDATE 2: In mid August 2013, Tashi Sherpa, 30, spoke with reporter Deepak Adhikari explaining what really happened from the Sherpa’s viewpoint. Tashi was on the rope fixing team and at Camp 2. This is the first time we have heard the Sherpas’ version of the incident.
The storyline remains the same as what the professionals reported but Tashi claims the professional climber’s started the fight by kicking ice on them, assaulted them verbally and physically on the Lhotse Face. The fight at Camp 2 spun out of control when a Western guide “assaulted” a Sherpa. Tashi goes on to say there has been years of resentment between the Sherpas and the “whites” but this incident was personal with Moro. Click here for the story
Memories are Everything
I want to thank everyone for your thoughts on this difficult event. I cover Everest each season, when I am not climbing, to promote the awareness and research on behalf of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alpine mountaineering is my passion and I do not condone any form of disrespect or violence for any reason, anywhere. Please use this dedicated page for discussion on this topic on the Simone More/Sherpa Conflict.
I’m happy to hear both sides of this story apologized. Work can be stressful…the Sherpas are working on Mt. Everest for their living and supporting their families. Climbers in a way are on vacation. Guides are working to make a living. Some climbers have their own personal agenda like summiting without oxygen. Everyone on the mountain has a different purpose for being there. Where are the scientists anymore…are we learning more that will help mankind by climbing the mountain. Maybe every year all the climbers..trekkers…Sherpas and Guides should write why they are at Mt. Everest and copies of each persons writings should be given to the other climbers to read either before arriving in Nepal or read while acclimatizing and between rotations. Maybe then everyone will be respectful of one another and be more understanding and supportive of one another.
Pretty disrespectful of the trio to even try to get ahead of the rope fixing team, thereby endangering the lives of some “dispensable” Sherpas…….how typical…..hopefully they have learnt a lesson now, albeit with a few bruises….throw them out of the mountain and let the Sherpas climb on !!
great coverage alan. I just hope this blows over and all on the mountain will get back to NAMASTE.
Ueli and Jon haven’t left yet – apparently they were in BC with Simone talking to expedition leaders. Sounds like their expedition/Southwest face route may still happen.
It was a dark and stormy night… The climbers were snuggled deep within their -40 degree sleeping bags dreaming of sugar plum summits and hot cocoa beds. Then all of a sudden there rose such a clatter, I sprang to the roof of my tent to see what was the matter… I put on my long underalls, more underalls, and then my 18 volt milwaukee long undies, my crampons, my patagonia 3 layer shirt, some sunscreen, some more layers, to see what was the matter… and long and behold… Some alpha males were fighting with sherpas were fighting with tour guildes and some chick from the Jersey Shore.
Everest is about making it to the top. If it was a bunch of pot smokers, vegans and antioxygens who despise the use of oxygen then who gives a crap if anyone summits. I cant believe I saw this story briefly in the drudgereport… Newsflash, athletes get into a fight,,,, details at eleven..
Alan, if you would like to raise money for your cause, write a book about a murder mystery on Everest. I wil by the hard copy as long as you sign it!
Having only trekked to EBC (and want to go back and climb something,) I have a hard time accepting/believing that Mt Everest is the Sherpa’s mountain. Does that mean McKinley is the American’s mountain, and everyone climbing it must abide by the lead American climber’s climbing schedule?
Regarding the “it’s sacred” theory – it’s really hard for me to believe Everest is *that* sacred to Sherpas, when they continue to support the foreign climbing groups.
I’m glad to hear that everyone is over it there, but I will be curious to learn how the Nepalese gov’t pursues justice.
Thanks for the post Alan, I hope you circle back later and tell us what resulted (if anything.)
Other nationals complain about how Americans control Denali. You may want to look into it.
Thanks for breaking everything down for us. Reading the initial reports were confusing…
Thanks for this timely update. Egos and tempers sounds like it got out of control . The Sherpas are a very important part of climbing and summiting Everest , I am glad that everything is now ok and everybody apologized. I know that the media would overboard on this story !
Moro an Steck have a long mountaineering story behind them, and a story that shows their respect for Sherpas: Moro just a few days ago accompanied a sick sherpa on his helicopter to Kathmandu, holding his hand. Just a recent example.
Neither Moro nor Steck can be described as detractors of Everest climbers, or commercial expeditions. And they are certainly not detractors of the work of sherpas, quite the contrary.
Moro thanked westerns climber (not guides, just climbers) who “saved his and his teammates lives”.
I don’t see how the examples under your chapter “A history of conflict” could apply to this case, unless you think what Moro writes is not true. It seems to me they are different stories, from this story.
Moro and Steck had (have) regular permits to climb up the Lothse face. They had the right to be on the face.
Assuming Steck, or Moro, or both, broke some unwritten code of behavior, does that justify death threats for them both, and for Griffith? 3 persons against a mob of 80? Stones, and even a knife? 3 persons forced to come down the icefall in a hurry by an alternative route?
The thin air, the fatigue, stress, whatever. So many good reasons to loose you common sense and next thing you know a fight starts. It happens everywhere, altitude makes things worse. All that I understand. But when it becomes a “us against them battle”, that is scary; when it becomes a “this is my mountain” battle, that is unfair, and frankly, too simple.
So let’s not make its a “professional climbers” vs “Amateurs” battle neither, which it’s certainly not. And let’s not accept the idea this could be a “Westerners” vs “Sherpa battle”, it’s not. Sherpas and westerners are the history of Everest climbing, together the are.
Maybe this will lead to a reflection about how two approaches to climbing could, and should, and must coexist on the same slopes.
But for now, I’m inclined to sympathize with the weak side. The 3 against many that had to run down the icefall.
Well written Max. I think you filled in well what was lacking in Alan’s article.
Here’s an interview that just appeared with Simone Moro:
It’s a relief to know that there was an explanation at base camp, and that people have forgiven and embraced and shook hands.
Also, it’s nice to give credit to the people who helped save the situation, such as Melissa Arnot, one sherpa, and one guide from IGM.
Still, Moro and Steck expedition is over, and the shock will take long to absorb, some big question marks are now there, and will need to find answers.
Yes agree with Maz and Sven whatever happened some of the behavior shown by some of the Sherpas if it happened ie being pelted deliberatley with rocks and stones putting peoples life in danger is totally inexcusable and should not be defended in any way.
The westerners involved are not “tourist” climbers they are extremly experienced climbers and know how to behave on a mountain I can’t see they have made this up and find it hard to believe they would be irresponsible on the mountain putting sherpas lives in danger.
1st of all Alan thank you for your insightful reporting on this. I’ve chosen to ignore the BBC report and read yours as I trust you more. I am sorry but I have to disagree with Max. Moro, Steck and Griffiths had absolutely no right to climb above the line fixing sherpas hence endangering their lives,no matter how experienced they were. In fact as experienced mountaineers,they’re supposed to set an example aren’t they? Yes the threats by a mob of Sherpas is not excusable,but considering the problems they’ve faced so far with fixing the line up the Lhotse face,and also the pressures of time,their anger at this lack of regard for their safety is somewhat understandable!
A Swiss newspaper wrote today that Ueli Steck changed his mind and is returning to Everest BC now
This is so funny. Everybody fighting so high on the mountain for some obscure reason. Disrespect? Disrespect of what? Because those 2 guys were higher on Lhotse than the sherpas? How ridiculous.
Appreciate your updates.
Reports from some camps suggest there has been an air of animosity from the Sherpas this year. Moro and steck unfortunately on the receiving end
It appears that emotions run as high as the mountains themselves. Thanks for the write up !
Two versions. . . .they do not know what happened.
Listening to BBC this very moment!!
This all seems highly bizarre and a news story that the media will clearly enjoy to publish. It seems there is blame to be attached on all sides with an element of disrespect (probably unintentionally) displayed by the professional climbers. But there is simply no excuse for violence and actual bodily harm to have taken place. I suspect the Nepalese authorities will come down extremely hard on the perpetrators. All very sad but I hope that common sense and purpose will prevail from hereonin.
I have always known Sherpas to me passive peace loving people. I think who started it were the westerners.
Great work Alan, thank you for all of your efforts!!!
I agree very much with your point that “Everest, Chomolungma, belongs to the Sherpas.” I would hope that truth would be self-evident to every westerner on the mountain at ALL TIMES..
But hey, (thankfully) I wasn’t there….
Everest is not Sherpas mountain nor any others mountain! Everest belongs to nobody…
I wasn’t there either and so would never know the “actual” story beyond what you have here, which seems pretty objective.
It seems like two things come to mind
1. This behavior, besides being unusual, seems like it would be dangerous – – not the ice fall – -but when the team vibe starts to fracture any mountain becomes more dangerous than it already is.
2. (from a business standpoint) Mountain Hardwear and NorthFace have a PR problem on their hands. Weird to think about mountaineering creating PR problems for companies. Guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.
So unfortunate that this happened. You would hope that everyone would want to get up the mountain in as safe a manner as possible and appreciate the efforts of the Sherpa who fix lines. What is going to be next, hired security or armed military from Nepal at each camp?
Thanks Alan, it’s good to have the perspective from your experience
Thank you Alan, I’ve been waiting for your post on this incident. As ever well balanced, unlike some of the other posts I’ve seen today which have been very one-sided.