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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

World

Cold rage on Mt Everest
Utpal Parashar, Hindustan Times
May 05, 2013
First Published: 01:38 IST(5/5/2013)
Last Updated: 03:21 IST(5/5/2013)

Tempers are likely to get flared on Everest, the world's highest peak, where many unaccustomed enthusiasts fall sick due to lack of adequate oxygen.

Last week, a clash of egos and possible misunderstanding led to a brawl on the mountain, dubbed by some as the world's highest fight.

Saturday's quarrel between some Sherpa guides and three foreign climbers and the subsequent fight started due to differences over climbing when fixing of ropes for this season was underway.

But despite various accounts from the climbers involved and those present, the truth behind the incident is still unclear as no statement has come from the Sherpas involved.

On Thursday, Nepal's culture, tourism and civil aviation ministry announced an investigation to unearth details.

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The incident occurred between Camp II (6,500 m) and Camp III (7,470 m) when the Sherpas were fixing ropes and the three climbers trying to reach the top through an undisclosed route.

Every year before start of the climbing season, Sherpas, who reside in the Everest region, fix ropes along treacherous sections of the route to help climbers reach the peak at 8,848 m.

Since the task requires concentration, the Sherpas had asked the climbers to discontinue their ascent. But the trio who were climbing without ropes continued along a different route. Trouble started when the climbers crossed over ropes to reach their tent and some pieces of ice allegedly fell on the Sherpas. This led to a war of words between both sides.

The Sherpas then abandoned their work the descended to Camp II. Soon the climbers Simone Moro, Ueli Steck and photographer Jonathan Griffith too got down to the camp.

Angry at being disturbed during work, a group of nearly 100 Sherpas allegedly attacked the three climbers with stones, kicks and even a penknife.

"There were around a hundred people, mainly Sherpas, around our tent, and one group of Sherpas started the real attack. They came (to us) with the aim to kill us," Moro told National Geographic.

He added that besides both him and Steck being punched at and hit with stones, someone attacked him with a penknife. But he was saved as it hit him on the belt of his rucksack.   

The three climbers soon fled to base camp (5,364 m) after Sherpas allegedly threatened to kill the climbers if they didn't leave Camp II within an hour. They have since abandoned their expedition.

Moro maintains no ice fell on the fixing team. Initial media reports also suggested the attack by the Sherpas was unprovoked. But subsequent accounts say the climbers may have instigated them.  Writing for www.outsideonline.com, climbing guide Garrett Madison, who is at Everest base camp, said Moro's use of Nepali slang words and a challenge to fight could have escalated tensions.

He writes that the ignition for the fight was when a "careless western climber" not involved in the initial verbal duel arrived at the scene and "entangled physically" with a Sherpa.

"At this point the Sherpas felt as if they needed to defend themselves as they had just seen one of their colleagues attacked. The tense situation ignited and a brawl ensued," wrote Madison.

The fight continued for nearly 50 minutes. But presence of veteran climber Melissa Arnot, who positioned herself between the climbers and the Sherpas, prevented it from getting uglier.Both sides came to a truce the next day. Moro decided not to take legal action for the attack and said sorry for using inflammatory words. The Sherpas expressed regret for the assault. 

The incident has soured start of this year's climbing season and divided the mountaineering community with some blaming the Sherpas, others the climbers and a few finding fault with both sides.

Some reports say 35 western climbers have left the base camp after Saturday's incident. But there's no proof of whether they decided to quit midway because of the brawl or some other issues. It has also created a dent on the relationship shared by western climbers and Sherpas who help them reach the peak by fixing ropes, carrying luggage and helping them overcome difficulties.

Some believe that Saturday's fight could be the outcome of tension during each climbing season due to the heavy rush, clamour for records and the small window provided by weather to reach the peak.

"When Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest in 1953, the relationship between Sherpas and foreigners was completely different. Today everything is business, anger, competition, high tension," Moro told National Geographic.

Till date over 3,000 people have climbed Everest with the rush increasing rapidly in past few years. There have been cases of traffic jams on Everest forcing climbers to speed or abandon their attempts. 

At present 29 teams comprising 315 foreigners and the Sherpas guides are camping on the mountain at various heights waiting for things to cool down and clear weather needed for ascent.

And if the Nepal government doesn't step in to address the issue and increase security for climbers - it could affect the huge revenue earned every year through permits priced at $25,000 per climber.It could also hurt the Sherpas, 20,000 of whom reside in the Everest region, and look forward to each climbing season, which brings them enough income to last the entire year.


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