3-9 May 2013 #654

Mountain fight

Everest rage is a result of the clash of two distinct climbing styles in the Himalaya and was bound to happen sooner or later
Kunda Dixit

ENDURING PARTNERSHIP: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Mt Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
On the month that Nepal is preparing to mark the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Sherpa, the news of a gangland-style fight on Mt Everest has come as a disturbing reminder of how much climbing has changed.

The partnership between Hillary and Tenzing marked the beginning of a long tradition of teamwork between Sherpas and their mountaineer employers who valued their stamina, endurance, and sure-footedness at high altitude. But the undercurrent of resentment between the ‘sahibs’ and their hired porter-guides had been growing. It reached boiling point last Saturday on the Western Cwm.

The incident on 27 April on the Lhotse Face below Camp 3 has shaken the climbing fraternity, and divided the tourism fraternity into distinct camps depending on whose version of events they believe more. But the bottomline is that the publicity has hurt the reputation of both sides in the mountain fight.

It has also drawn attention to the over-commercialisation of the Everest industry that got international attention after the book and film Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about the death of 12 climbers in 1996.

The clash is between purists in mountaineering who say that the pioneering spirit of exploration and adventure has been eroded by large commercial expedition-style assaults on the mountain. Expedition climbing provides seasonal employment for thousands of Sherpas.

The fistfight this week between Sherpas and three noted climbers has been jokingly called the highest brawl in history, and got worldwide attention in media, blogs, and social networks.

Jonathan Griffith from Britain, Ueli Steck from Switzerland, and Simone Moro from Italy climb Alpine-style which means they do not use Sherpas, and climb in small groups without oxygen or ropes on some of the world’s most difficult faces.

Moro climbed Shishapangma South (8008m) without oxygen in 27 hours in 1996, using skis in the descent from 7100m. It was during his winter ascent of Annapurna South Face that his climbing companions Anatoli Boukreev and Dimitri Sobolev were killed in an avalanche.

Steck climbed the difficult north face of Eiger when he was 18, and is reputedly one of the three best alpinists in Europe. He was part of the daring but futile rescue in 2008 of Spanish climber Iñaki Ochoa de Olza at nearly 8,000m on Annapurna.

This week, Steck sustained facial injuries from a rock thrown at him and Moro survived a knife attack that hit his belt when a group of 100 Sherpas attacked their tents at Camp 2, according to Jonathan Griffith writing in The Guardian, “There was a 50-minute period where we all thought we were going to get stoned to death,” he said.

Earlier that day there had been an altercation on the Lhotse Face where Sherpas from different expeditions were fixing ropes. The trio were climbing freely and had to traverse the rope at one particularly exposed spot on the slope.

Despite the fight on the mountain between European climbers and Sherpas at Camp 2 this week, climbing the world’s highest mountain will still need the teamwork of both sides.

The Sherpas say the three alpinists continued climbing even after being asked not to, and at one point they met near the rope. Moro is said to have hurled expletives in Nepali at the Sherpas, and threatened them on an open walkie-talkie. Back at Camp 2, it got physical.

Says a Namche-based businessman, echoing a popular sentiment there: “The western media as usual is lapping up the blogs by these three guys and the Sherpas haven’t had a chance to tell their side of the story.”

On Monday at Base Camp, Moro and his team and the Sherpas had a meeting in which both sides acknowledged their mistakes and promised not to repeat it. The three have abandoned their climb.

Garrett Madison, a five-time Everest summiteer and guide wrote the first objective account of the fight in a blog on Outside Online saying: ‘In climbing Mt Everest all the teams collaborate in working together to ultimately achieve a mutual goal ... and the Sherpas are a major part of this goal. I sincerely hope that this incident does not damage how the Sherpas perceive the foreigners who come to climb on their mountain.’

Read also:

Escape to Pokhara

Clash of cultures

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