Everest 2013: Ueli Steck and Simone Moro Attacked, Lives Threatened By Sherpas

I’ll get to a normal Everest update later this morning, but wanted to share this breaking news from the weekend first. It seems it was an eventful weekend on Everest with lots of teams moving and continued rope fixing up the Lhotse Face. But the biggest news of all is that high profile climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith were attacked by an angry mob of Sherpas on Saturday and forced to descend the mountain. The incident was apparently bad enough to send Ueli to the hospital and death threats were given to the three men.

Apparently the altercation started when Simone, Ueli and Jonathan were climbing up to Camp 3 where the rope-fixing team was busy installing the lines up the mountain. As they neared their position, the Sherpas told the climbers to stay off the lines while were working on them, which the trio gladly did. The men moved up the mountain in parallel with the Sherpas to reach their already established Camp 3,  at which point they had to cross the fixed lines in order to reach the campsite.

When the lead Sherpa noticed that they were crossing the ropes he descended rapidly, possibly bumping into Ueli and then accusing the Swiss climber of touching him. A heated argument broke out with the Sherpa accusing the team of Europeans of knocking ice off the face of the mountain which then struck – and possibly injured – one of the Sherpas below. Simone attempted to diffuse the situation as he is known to have a good working relationship with the Sherpas, but tempers only flared further with reports of the Italian climber actually cursing out the lead Sherpa.

At this point, the lead Sherpa ordered all of his men to descend to Camp 2 and put an end to rope fixing for the day. In short, he was holding the rest of the teams on the mountain hostage for something he believed Ueli and Simone had done. Meanwhile, Ueli hoped to calm the situation by helping fix ropes himself, adding another 260 meters of rope up to Camp 3. After completing their work and delivering supplies to their camp, the trio descended to Camp 2, which is when things moved from bad to worse.

Upon arrival in Camp 2, Ueli, Simone and Jonathan were immediately set upon by a large group of angry Sherpas. The size of the group varies in reports from a couple of dozen to nearly a hundred. Either way, the men were assaulted viciously by the crowd. They were kicked and punched, rocks were thrown and one report even indicates there was a knife involved. Other Western climbers intervened the situation and helped calm things down over time, but the fracas apparently lasted for nearly 50 minutes.

In the immediate aftermath, Ueli, Simone and Jonathan were told to leave camp and head down the mountain or they would all be killed. Gathering a few essentials, they then descended to Base Camp without using the ropes. The threat was so serious that they didn’t even want to risk using the existing lines for safety.

During the fight in Camp 2, Ueli was struck by a thrown rock and as a result he was evacuated to a hospital in Kathmandu. His injury was minor thankfully and there are reports that he is already back in BC, although ExWeb indicates that he is heading home. We’ll have to wait for clarification on that point.

Several of the Sherpas that were involved in the situation have been ordered off the mountain and the situation is under investigation by the Ministry of Tourism, the Sherpa Association and the Nepalese police. As you can imagine, the government in Nepal takes this situation very seriously as they rely on the climbers coming to the country to help fund other projects. The mere thought of the lives of visitors being threatened isn’t good for business.

For his part, Simone says that he believes the lead Sherpa was over reacting because of hurt pride and being extremely tired. The Italian climber says that he,  Ueli and Jonathan made their descent very quickly and easily, catching the Sherpa team that was moving much more slowly. He feels that bruised the ego of the head Sherpa, who was looking for an excuse to head down the mountain and get some rest anyway. Whether that interpretation of the events is accurate is hard to say, but it seems that there was probably a bit of blame to go around on both sides here.

In the case of the three European climbers, it seems that they probably could have been more careful crossing the ropes, taking caution to not knock ice off the slope that could injure a Sherpa below. But it should be noted that ice falling from above is a common occurrence on a climb like this, and as of now, no Sherpa has come forward to claim an injury from falling ice.

Regardless of whether or not this actually happened, the Sherpas have no excuse for their reaction. Having an angry mob assault three climbers on Everest is simply inexcusable. To threaten their lives, beat them senseless and even injure them is unthinkable. The mountain offers enough dangers without these kinds of situations as well.

I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about this in the days to come, but it sounds like it was a scary situation for the Euro climbers on Saturday. Whether or not they’ll feel safe enough to attempt to go up again remains to be seen. They may decide that it simply isn’t worth the risk and they truly will go home for the season. Simone does operate a rescue helicopter in the region however, so if he doesn’t climb, he is likely to stay to continue those operations.

For more information on the incident, read this full account at EpicTV and check out Stefan Nestler’s well written and objective take on the story as well.

What a crazy story to start the week off on. Wow!