Everest: Sherpas and climbers fight on mountain

Nepal officials vowed yesterday to ensure the safety of climbers on Mount Everest, after three European mountaineers were involved in a fight with Sherpa guides on their way to the top of the world’s highest peak.
Hillary, left, and Tenzing on Everest. Picture: PAHillary, left, and Tenzing on Everest. Picture: PA
Hillary, left, and Tenzing on Everest. Picture: PA

Three experienced climbers from Britain, Italy and Switzerland were on route to camp three at 7,000 metres (22,965ft) on 8,850-metre (29,035ft) Everest when a brawl broke out on Saturday as the Sherpas fixed ropes.

Witnesses said the sherpas pelted the Europeans’ tents with stones and punches were thrown.

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Swiss climber Ueli Steck descended to Everest base camp after the attack and said he would abandon the climb and return to Kathmandu if proper security was not ensured.

Nepali officials were quick to respond after the unusual brawl on Mount Everest, which is a key source of income for impoverished country as foreign climbers pay royalties to scale the mountain.

Tourism ministry official Dipendra Paudel said the government would ensure the safety and security of the climbers.

“There was a slight misunderstanding and communication gap between them,” Mr Paudel said in Kathmandu, after contacting the base camp.

“This has been sorted out and the climbers are at the base camp.”

He said the climbers – Steck, Simone Moro and Briton Jonathan Griffith – would resume their bid to climb Everest.

Officials said hundreds of climbers from 32 expeditions and their Sherpa guides were on Everest in the current climbing season, which continues through May.

Sherpas are an ethnic group in the Everest region and on climbs are responsible for fixing ropes. They accompany most of the foreign climbing parties heading to the summit.

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Beni Hyoju, an official of the Cho-Oyu Trekking Agency, which organised the troubled expedition, said the three European climbers had failed to comply with a request from their Sherpas to stay at a location while the guides fixed the route.

Mr Hyoju said this made the Sherpas unhappy and they attacked the climbers. No-one was critically wounded in the fracas, he added.

“[Mr Steck] has now agreed to continue the climb after local administration assured proper security,” Mr Hyoju said.

“Sherpas who were responsible for the fight will offer [an] apology.”

Historian Elizabeth Hawley, who has been tracking foreign expeditions to Mount Everest for more than five decades, said this type of fighting on the mountain was rare.

“I have not heard of any such incident before,” said Ms Hawley.

About 4,000 climbers have reached the top of Everest since it was first scaled by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Sherpas have set speed records for climbing Everest.