Everest Climbers, Sherpas Make Peace

The three climbers who were brutally attacked on Everest earlier this week have met with the Sherpas that instigated the violent incident and signed a “peace agreement” of sorts. Both sides came together in Base Camp on Tuesday with a mediator present to help facilitate an amicable resolution to the situation. At the end of their meeting, the two sides shook hands and vowed to never repeat their actions, effectively closing the book on the whole sordid affair. But the incident has left a bad taste in the mouths of the three climbers, who have abandoned their expedition and are now heading home. On Monday of this week we told you about the nasty fight that broke out on Everest when three European climber – Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith – got into a dispute with the Sherpa team that was fixing ropes up the Lhotse Face. The Sherpas took exception to the foreign climbers crossing the ropes they were working on, claiming they had sent ice an snow raining down upon the Sherpas working below. A verbal altercation broke out and heated words were exchanged. Before the trio of European climbers knew what was happening, the Sherpas had stopped working and immediately began descending to Camp 2 in protest.

Feeling guilty for putting a halt to the rope fixing work, Ueli, Simone and Jonathan finished installing the lines up to Camp 3, covering about 260 meters in the process. They then followed the Sherpas down to Camp 2 with the hope of resolve the situation quickly and peacefully. But not long after their arrival in C2 the scene turned violent. The three climbers were punched, kicked and beaten with rocks, and if it hadn’t been for the intervention of some brave mountaineers from other teams – not to mention some Sherpas who stood against their countrymen – it is possible they would have been beaten to death.

Over the past few days, more details of the incident have trickled out, helping us to get a more complete picture of what went down. Various reports indicate that tension was already running high amongst the Sherpas before they ever confronted the Europeans. The native climbers take great pride in being the ones to fix the lines up the slope and they weren’t expecting other teams to be on the mountain at the same time. This caused an overreaction at Camp 3, which led to the nasty scene in C2 later on. Witnesses say that Ueli, Simone and Jonathan were attacked senselessly, as was a fourth Western climber who was struck by a rock when he tried to diffuse the tension.

Everyone agrees that this was an incredibly bad situation and one that can’t ever be repeated. Nepal and the Sherpa people rely heavily on the money from foreign climbers and these kinds of conflicts will make people think twice before visiting there. Hence the need for the summit meeting between the two parties on Tuesday. The Ministry of Tourism wanted the situation to be resolved as quickly and quietly as possible so as to not cast a larger shadow over the current climbing season.

The two parties emerged from their tent in BC with handshakes and apologies, but it is clear that the incident has left a lasting impression on all involved. Wenger athlete Ueli Steck in particular has already been quoted as saying that he won’t return to the Himalaya, as his trust and confidence in the people there has been shattered. Lets hope that once he’s had a chance to step back and examine the situation he decides to change his mind. Ueli is one of the best climbers in the world today and it would be a shame if he weren’t active in the Himalaya. For now though, he says he’s heading home to concentrate on climbing in the Alps.

The rest of teams on Everest have also attempted to put this situation behind them. Work has resumed on fixing the ropes up to Camp 4 in preparation for the inevitable summit bids that will come sometime in mid-May. While the Sherpas toil away on their work, the other climbers are busy acclimatizing in various camps and getting ready for the final push. Hopefully things will remain calm the rest of the season.

[Photo Credit: Carsten Nebel]