The recent violent attacks between a mob of angry Sherpas and three high profile mountaineers – Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith – continues to cast a large shadow over Everest. Even though the two sides of the dispute have shaken hands and attempted to bury the hatchet, the stories about what actually happened on the mountain continue to trickle in and they aren’t pretty.
The showdown at Camp 2 this past weekend was an ugly one to say the least and while it seems both sides did some things that helped to escalate the conflict, the brutal attacks from the Sherpas was unjustified and terrifying. Yesterday, Garrett Madsen of Alpine Ascents gave us an account of the situation from the perspective of the Sherpas, which helped to shed some light on things, but as more information is revealed, it seems that the Lhotse Face was kettle that was just waiting to boil over.
While I had hoped to put this story behind us today, it seems that there is still more to be told. For instance, I’d encourage you to read Chad Kellogg’s account of the situation as it actually begins a few days before the fight broke out. It seems Chad and his climbing partner joined the effort to fix the ropes up the Lhotse Face, taking a route that was used last year in an effort to avoid falling debris on the mountain.
The two men spent the better part of the day placing ropes on the mountain, with the support of some of the Sherpa. Late in the day however they reached an enormous crevasse. One that was too large to cross and so all of their work was in vain. Chad and his companion told the Sherpas that the route wasn’t good, and the Sherpas simply dropped all of their rope and went back down the mountain, not in a good mood. That left the two Western climbers to pick up the gear before returning to Camp 2.
When the did reach C2, Chad says that there was already tension amongst the Sherpas there. They felt like they had wasted an entire day following a route that was useless and that it was the fault of the foreigners for doing so. He also discovered that fixing the lines is a point of national pride for the Sherpas, and they didn’t like anyone else doing it for them. That grumbling would continue into the next day and would eventually boil over more violently on Ueli, Simone and Jon.
After the incident occurred, Chad also spoke to a number of the other climbers who were in Camp 2 when the fight went down and got a first hand account of the brutality there. One of those climbers took a rock to the head himself for attempting to protect Ueli, who was immediately struck in the head with a rock as soon as he stepped out of his tent. Chad also says that Simone was told that if he came out of the tent on his knees to apologize that things would be better, but when he did he was also attacked on the spot. A second attempt to ask for forgiveness on his knees, resulted in the Italian climber being kicked under his jaw. One Sherpa even tried to stab Simone with a pen knife, but the blade struck the padded portion of his backpack, thankfully not doing any damage.
Reading this harrowing account of the attack is scary and it helps to understand why Ueli has now said he is finished climbing in Nepal and possibly the Himalaya in general. He and Jon should be heading home today, but it is unclear whether or not Simone is also heading home. Considering just how talented and dedicated these two men are as alpinists, it would be a shame if they didn’t return to the region in the future.
Meanwhile, as more and more of these stories trickle out, it becomes clear that Melissa Arnot played a large role in helping to diffuse the situation. Ueli himself says that he owes her his life, as she served as a buffer between him and the angry mob. Thankfully the Sherpas refused to hit a woman, and Melissa is a well respected climber who knows a number of the Sherpas personally. She has made the choice to not speak publicly about the incident and now simply wants to concentrate on climbing. Something I think we can all appreciate and understand.
To that end, it is important to note that most of the teams have now gone back to work and are on their latest rotations up the mountain. Several took a few days off to let the emotions settle, but are now once again on the move as they prepare for eventual summit bids. The ropes have been fixed above Camp 3 and the Sherpas have even started progress towards Camp 4 on both Everest and Lhotse.
The latest updates indicate high winds have moved onto the upper slopes however and for now the rope fixing efforts have come to an end. They hope to resume tomorrow or the next day, with the hopes of reaching the summit sometime next week.
Teams that are currently acclimatizing in Camp 3 include IMG, Peak Freaks and RMI. Each of them reports that their teams are doing fine and climbing well. Everything is going according to schedule and after spending a day or two at altitude, they’ll probably head back down to BC to wait for the rope fixing to be finished and the weather window to open.
David Tait is heading up to Camp 3 tomorrow after spending two days at C2. He’s climbing with Himex but with his experience he tends to climb on his own schedule. When the rest of the team returns to Base Camp to rest up, David intends to stay at altitude, wait for the rope fixing to finish, then make a quick dash to the summit ahead of the big crowds.
He’s done this in the past to much success and it is clear that he wants to be amongst the first to top out once again this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t follow the Sherpas fixing the lines and isn’t on top shortly after they complete their work. I guess we’ll find out next week.
Finally, a brief update on Denis Urubko and Alexei Bolotov. The two climbers are still hoping to complete their new route along the Southwest Ridge, but after the recent incident between the independent climbers and the Sherpas, they have moved down the mountain for some rest. Alex is apparently in BC while Denis has gone down to the village of Deboche. Both men are friends with Simone and Ueli, so no doubt they’ve taken word of the attack very seriously. With any luck, they’ll be headed back up the mountain soon.
That’s all for now. Hopefully more to report tomorrow.