A new account of a brawl on Mount Everest that emerged yesterday said one of the foreign climbers involved had sworn at a group of Nepalese guides and challenged them to a fight.
Famed climbers Ueli Steck of Switzerland and Simone Moro of Italy, accompanied by British alpine photographer Jonathan Griffith, were involved in a bust-up with the Sherpas on Saturday which has shocked the mountaineering community.
The events have overshadowed the climbing season in a year when Nepal is preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the world’s highest peak.
Eyewitnesses say the European climbers had ignored a request to wait while the Nepalese Sherpas rigged up ropes on the upper reaches of the mountain, sparking an argument between climbers on the Lhotse ice face.
“Simone began to shout, many of the words in Nepali language, and many of the words were inflammatory,” US climber Garrett Madison said in an e-mail sent to Outside Magazine.
After this first clash — when the European climbers say they faced an aggressive Nepalese Sherpa who threatened them with an ice pick — both sides descended to Camp Two at an altitude of 6,500m.
“At one point Simone stated over open radio frequency … that if the Sherpa had a problem he could come down to Camp Two soon and ‘fucking fight,’” Madison said.
Steck and Moro claimed they were then attacked by an “out-of-control mob” of Sherpas who threatened to kill them and threw stones at their tents.
Madison and a witness said another Western climber not involved in the original argument had actually sparked the fight after he “entangled physically with a Sherpa” during efforts to mediate the argument.
“The events at Camp Two can only be described as sad and unacceptable,” said Melissa Arnot, a US mountaineer who told AFP that she had helped separate the two fighting parties.
“I think the foreign climbers made the mistakes and the Sherpas made some mistakes in communication,” she later told US television channel ABC.
Photographer Griffith, in an interview with Britain’s the Guardian newspaper, also said Moro had sworn at the Sherpas. He praised Arnot for helping save them from a potentially life-threatening situation.
Nepal is set to to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first summit of Everest by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese guide Tenzing Norgay in May 1953.
The event is to be marked with, among other things, a commemorative flight around the peak featuring their sons, Jamling Norgay and Peter Hillary.
Steck and Griffith returned to Kathmandu on a morning flight yesterday after aborting their plans to summit Everest by a new “undisclosed” route.
They are planning to meet Nepalese Prime Minister Khilraj Regmi to work on a joint public statement.
Jake Norton, an American who has climbed Everest three times, said the friction may stem from over-commercialization of the mountain.
“The proliferation of commercial climbs means people are going up Everest for many different reasons and not necessarily with the traditional mountaineering mindset, which changes the game,” he said.
“I hope an incident like this gives the mountaineering community pause to think about what we are doing, who we are working with and how we are treating them -— be they Sherpas in Nepal or Quechuas in Peru,” he said.
While the details of Saturday’s drama remain murky, the increased crowding on the peak, including 150 people reaching the summit in a single weekend last year, has caused widespread concern for the safety of expeditions.
Hundreds of climbers from 32 expeditions and their Sherpa guides and helpers are at the base camp waiting for the window of good weather in May to make their way to the 8,848m summit. Spring is considered the best season to climb.