Climbers Accuse Sherpas of Attacking Them While Climbing Mt Everest

This picture dated 26 May 2003 shows an aerial view of the world’s tallest 8,848 metre (29,028 feet) high Mt Everest (L). (Photo: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Three people climbing Mount Everest Sunday claim to have been attacked by up to 100 Sherpas after an argument. It is a fight that now has Nepalese mountaineering officials investigating.

Dipendra Poudel of the Mountaineering Department said the three climbers – Simone Moro from Italy, Ueli Steck of Switzerland, and Jonathan Griffith from the U.K.  – were involved in arguments with some Sherpa guides.

Poudel says both sides accuse each other of starting the fight, adding mountaineering officials based at the Everest base camp were investigating the incident.

Climbers Accuse Sherpas of Attacking Them While Climbing Mt Everest

A Nepali Sherpa adjusts his footing as touches up the paint on a large Mani Stone, which contains Buddhist prayers, near the village of Phakding, in the Nepal Himalaya, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. The route is the main pathway for local villagers, porters, trekkers and climbers on their way to the Mount Everest region. (Photo: AP/Kevin Frayer)

Sherpa guides hired by the hundreds of Western climbers attempting to climb the world’s highest mountain are the first ones to fix the ropes on the routes so their clients can climb to the peak.

A press release on Moro’s website went into detail about the climber’s perspective (emphasis added):

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 Sherpas are accusing the foreign climbers of starting the fight.

The climbers’ press release states that the Sherpas accused them of knocking ice on a Sherpa below, something they say on the mountain would be a natural occurrence. But they also speculate that the skill with which they were climbing without ropes might have instigated an argument as well. 

“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,” the press release stated. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.