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Migros' Exclusive Interview with Ueli Steck

Ueli SteckUeli Steck has given Migros the following exclusive interview regarding the events that took place at Mount Everest.

His confidence and motivation are gone: After Sherpas made death threats against Ueli Steck, the Bernese Oberland climber has decided to cancel his 16th Himalayan expedition. "For me, a big dream has burst."

Ueli Steck, how are you currently doing?
I am sad, shocked and disappointed. At the same time, I'm happy that all three of us (fellow climbers Simone Moro, Jonathan Griffith) are alive. Because they wanted to kill us.

What happened exactly?
The fact is that around 100 Sherpas went off on us. I was very lucky that American climber Melissa Arnot, got between us, and deflected the first attack. I had assessed the situation too slowly, and was hit by a rock on the head. Jonathan and Simone ran off and hid. Greg Vernoovage pushed me into the tent to bring me to safety, and then stood in front of the tent door. The Sherpas surrounded the tent, and said I should be taken out. They wanted to kill me. Then the Sherpas called for Simone. He had to apologize on his knees for yelling at them on the mountain. Yet he still received several kicks to the face. After his apology, the situation calmed somewhat. Then the Sherpas told us that we had an hour to leave the mountain, and that we were not allowed to return.

What triggered this anger?
On April 27 at 9am, Simone, Jonathan and I, left from Camp 2 to reach our tent at the next 7100 meter high camp. A Sherpa team was on the road at the same time, and they wanted to secure the route to Camp 3 with fixed ropes. In order to avoid hampering the team, we climbed 50 meters to the left of the Lhotse face, to the level of our tent. The Sherpas had a discussion with their leader via radio, and said that they are going to stop by throwing ice down. We were only around their group for a very short time, and decided to cross to the left so that we were out of the firing line.

Simone Moro and Ueli Steck several days before the incident.And then what happened?
In one and a half hours we were at Camp 3, and went to our tent. We went right to a stand where we crossed their line of ascent. Our photographer, Jon was the first to cross. When I arrived with the Sherpas, their leader came down and yelled at me. At first I tried to calm him down, and told him that this was our tent. That did not interest him. It was quite cold and a little windy. The discussion went back and forth, and the Sherpas decided that no more ropes would be used to descend. (Image: Simone Moro and Ueli Steck several days before the incident.)

And you have offered to help in securing the ropes?
Yes, but this made him even more angry. Simone was pretty loud, and then said a few curse words. Then 17 Sherpas descended. There were about 260 meters of fixed ropes remaining. We decided to descend to Camp 2 to discuss the matter - rather than our initial plan of staying in Camp 3.

What had you done wrong?
We had not done anything wrong on the mountain. In this tense situation, we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. If a Sherpa had actually been injured by falling on the ice, this was certainly not a valid reason to attempt to kill us. What happened after that is not acceptable. I met these Sherpas on an expedition in 2012, and a year later they were throwing rocks at me. They told us that we had to leave within the hour or they would kill us.

Apparently, a much calmer discussion had taken place on the mountain. Is that true?
Yes. The meeting was led by the liaison officers. We all signed an agreement. It says that it was an unfortunate incident that our team and the Sherpas collided. Both have the right to be on the mountain. It was stated that this must never happen again. If there is any dispute, it must be officially controlled by the liaison officers.

Written agreement between Ueli's team and the Sherpas.What good is the agreement in regards to the future?
It's a nice piece of paper, a step forward; but certainly not the solution to the problem. This hatred was not stirred up by this individual situation. This has been building for years. (Image: the written agreement between Ueli's team and the Sherpas.)

Where are you now?
I am in Kathmandu, waiting for Simone. Then there will be a press conference here. In addition, we will listen to the Nepalese Prime Minister speak.

So the Himalayan expedition has definitely been canceled?
Yes. Now it's important for me to draw attention to the problem. In our minds we have a picture of a peaceful mountain people. The Sherpas fix problems differently than we do in the western world. Vigilante justice in Nepal is still very common, especially among themselves. Whether anyone has done right or wrong is another matter. But the fact that 100 Sherpas wanted to kill the three of us, is not acceptable. For me, a big dream has burst. We were a good team, and we have great partners in Switzerland. And the conditions on the mountains were great. This makes me sad. That is one side. On the other hand, I can now decide where I would like to climb next. I do not need to climb Mount Everest. I have absolutely no need.

Except that mountaineering is your profession. What are the alternatives?
Everest is only one mountain. I climbed it in 2012 without oxygen. The Himalayas are huge. Karakorum, the Andes or Alaska. There are many alternatives!

You are on your 16th Himalayan expedition. Have you ever clashed in the past with the Sherpas?
Never before on this scale. I once had a problem where I was accused of stealing crampons out of a tent on Ama Dablam. Since my name was written on the crampons, the Sherpa gave them back, and I descended without resistance.

During this season there are around 300 climbers from the West coming to climb the Himalayas. Do you believe that commercial tourism is to blame for the incident?
It is clear that the Sherpas realize how much we spend to climb the mountain. This leads to envy. It's very much about power and money. This creates problems. In addition, many Sherpas earn money through Nepalese conditions, which gives them a certain sense of power. This is the point at which the cultures collide.

So what's next for you?
There is only one possible conclusion: leave. Although the Sherpas guarantee that something will not happen, my confidence is gone. Imagine if the Sherpas cut through a rope, or cut through a tent. This would be incredibly dangerous. Additionally, I have lost my motivation after the incident.

What does the termination of the expedition mean to you?
Disappointment and a lot of anger!

What is the financial damage due to the aborted attempt?
Too big!

After the clash, you went to Lukla and then back to base camp. Why?
I'm not a guy who just runs away. But I needed some distance to collect my emotions. After that I wanted to control the situation. In other words, look for a solution. We did that, and now it's time to fly home.

Interview conducted by Reto E. Wild.

Read the original interview (French).
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