Not on top of the world? Tensions behind Mount Everest fight
If you caught our piece about a high altitude scrap on Mount Everest last night, you’ll know that a group of European climbers were lucky to survive recently when a rock-throwing mob of Sherpa guides threatened to kill them.
I have just received a couple of photos from one of the members of the climbing expedition, British photographer and filmmaker Jonathan Griffith and these pictures help paint a picture of what really happened.
The visiting mountaineers – climbing superstars Uli Steck, Simone Moro – along with Mr Griffith, decided their attempt on Everest would be as close to the “pure alpine experience” as possible. In practice that meant foregoing the sort of kit and comforts that most Everest climbers take as standard – like bottled oxygen and Sherpa guides to carry luggage and fix the rope lines.
The trouble started as the men acclimatised on a colossal sheet of vertical ice called the Lhotse face, above Camp 2 on Everest’s western face.
While attempting to skirt around a group of Sherpa guides fixing ropes into the ice for their paying customers, Uli Steck collided with one of them. The Sherpas also claimed that the Europeans kicked ice into the path of other guides who were working down below.
In the second photo you can see Uli Steck approaching the Sherpas on the Lhotse face.
When the three Europeans descended to Camp 2, they say 100 to 150 Sherpas were waiting for them. Jonathan Griffith told us, “they hadn’t come to discuss things …they’d come to attack us.” What followed must rank as the highest altitude brawl in human history. Punches and rocks were thrown and the visiting climbers say their lives were threatened. Another group of western climbers intervened and managed to calm the situation down.
In the third photo, taken just after the confrontation you can see the relieved faces of Messrs Griffith, Steck and Moro.
It is not immediately clear what caused this dispute – nothing like it has taken place before we’re told. But it may have something to do with increased competition for a precious resource – space on the mountain. Last year, hundreds of people tried to summit Everest – the vast majority using the same route during the same two month climbing season. It’s possible that the European’s “pure alpine” approach was received less enthusiastically by the guides who try to make a living on this treacherous mountain.