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2013 Everest Report: A Curse, a Fight and the Aftermath
Mt. Everest showing (1) South Col/Southeast Ridge original route (Hillary-Tenzing Norgay, 1953). (2) Modern variation of the 1953 route favored by some for its decreased exposure to rockfall compared with the direct variation. (3) Modern direct variation fixed by commercial teams in 2013, favored by others for its efficiency and decreased exposure to serac fall. (4) Griffith/Steck/Moro's line of descent from Camp II. [A] (Not shown.) Everest summit (8848m). [B] Lhotse (8516m). [C] Nuptse (7864m). [D] South Col (7906m). [E] Geneva Spur. [F] Lhotse Face. [G] Western Cwm. [H] Khumbu Icefall. [I] 2013 Camp I (6100m). [J] 2013 Camp II (6500m). [K] Location of argument with fixing team (7100m). [L] 2013 Camp III (ca. 7500m). [M] 2013 Camp IV (7906m). CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. [Photo] Dick and Pip Smith/Hedgehoghouse.com
"This is when I came in between this mob, not wanting to see a death," says Marty Schmidt, who was later accused on Garrett Madison's blog of being a "careless Western climber" who threw the first punch—an act that Schmidt denies.
"I asked several Sherpas to put the stones down," he explains. "[I was] kicked several times, then hit hard with a stone, then punched in the eye, this time I hit back in self defense, which shocked them." A fight ensued. Several Sherpas aimed rocks, kicks and punches at the Europeans.
Arnot, Vernovage and Phunuru Sherpa, of IMG, separated the Westerners and Sherpas. Schmidt found Steck, who had been hit in the head with a rock, and brought him into a tent, while Griffith and Moro hid behind a rock.
"From inside, I could just see Melissa and Greg standing in front of the tent with all these people who were saying to get me out and that they were going to kill me first," Steck told Outside. "In the meantime, they were throwing huge rocks into the tent, the kind that, if they hit you in the head, you'd be dead immediately."
The Sherpas outside asked that the expedition leader apologize and threatened more violence if he refused. A Sherpa climber from the Europeans' camp discretely brought Moro into the tent while Griffith stayed hidden, Griffith and Steck explained. Moro emerged from the tent to apologize, and some angry Sherpas punched him again. He came out again, this time on his knees, saying "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" He says they kicked him and threw a small knife at him, which bounced off the hip belt of his backpack that he had removed.
Moro told National Geographic that the Sherpas said, "Okay, we give you one hour. In one hour, you have to fetch your tent and run away from here. And if you're here after one hour, we will kill you."
As the trio descended to base camp, they avoided the established route. "We were on a mission, going into deep valleys and crevasses and checking over our shoulders to see if they were coming after us," Steck told Outside. "We crawled on our knees so they couldn't see us. Then we snuck down the route as far as possible to a big ladder, because if they chased us, I knew we could cross that ladder and then cut it loose so they couldn't follow. That was the plan." Though they traveled through the heavily crevassed terrain with no ropes, they arrived at the base of the mountain without further mishap. "I don't know how the hell we made it through without falling into a hole," Griffith says. "But it felt like the safest place on earth as we could see the Sherpas lining the ridges of Camp II watching us but knew they wouldn't dare follow us in there."
It's important to note that a number of other accounts surfaced on the Internet shortly after these events, some written by climbers who weren't present at the incident and who received their information second-hand. Mike Hamill of IMG reported on their expedition blog that several Sherpas had told them to stay off the Lhotse Face on their approach. "The two foreigners passed off this repeated request from a handful of Sherpas with the swipe of a hand and nod of the head stating clearly, 'We will do as we please; we are going climbing on this route.'" Hamill wrote. ("Can you ever imagine anyone actually saying those exact words? [T]o present them as a direct quote is just embarrassing," Griffith wrote to Alpinist afterward.) Garrett Madison of AAI reported that Simone radioed from the Lhotse Face that he would go down to Camp II and "fucking fight" the Sherpa fixing team. (Moro vehemently denies saying this.)
Sumit Joshi and his business partner Lakpa Sherpa, who were in Camp II during the disagreement, also recounted a different version of events on Himalayan Ascent's blog:
When the three climbers arrived into Camp II, the fixing team [was] ready to meet them. Everyone else at Camp II [was] also anticipating the 'meeting....' Simone was apparently reluctant to offer an immediate apology and eventually the fixing team became impatient, so they walked into the group's camp to talk to Simone directly. To the many Western bystanders watching, this may have seemed like the fixing team were going into the camp to fight. The fixing team threw rocks at the tent to get the group to come out.... One western guide tackled a Sherpa carrying a rock perhaps thinking he was going to throw it to hurt someone. Unfortunately, this first assault on the fixing team triggered them to respond aggressively.
...[W]e saw some 30 Sherpas and other bystanders just WATCHING witnessing the event. Reports claiming that 100-200 Sherpas attacked the three climbers are entirely FALSE. Only the fixing team were involved. The bystanders may have been perceived as being a part of the aggressive "mob." We also did not witness other claims that rocks were used to hit others, and that Simone was stabbed by a penknife hitting his backpack waist strap (he wasn't wearing a backpack). During the times that Simone did come out to make his apology on his knees, we did see the unfortunate slap and kick. Sure the fixing team [was] feeling quite incensed, but they weren't fired up to kill anyone. Eventually the apology was accepted and the group disappeared to BC.
After apologizing privately to Mingma Tenzing Sherpa, Moro stated his regret for using foul language at an organized peace treaty in Base Camp. The Sherpas involved also apologized. Everyone present signed an agreement that read, in Nepali and English:
Today, on 2070 Bhaishak 16 (April 29, 2013) at Everest base camp at SPCC [Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee] office, with the presence of the Chief of Nepal Army team leader, Major Sunilsingh Rathor and the following attended personnel agreed to do the following decisions regarding the arguments between the two groups on April 27 while fixing ropes between Camp 2 and Camp 3.
On April 27, 2013, above Everest Base Camp, at Camp 2 and Camp 3 an argument arose between foreign climbers and Nepali climbers and the situation was discussed today at this meeting. Both parties have realized their errors and apologized to each other in front of those present. Furthermore, both parties agreed to help each other in the future to make successful each other's goals. It has also been decided that this issue will not be raised again.
All those present agreed and committed that such activities must never be repeated by anyone in mountaineering and in the tourism sector. If any party is dissatisfied with the actions of another party, they commit not to go into conflict or use violence against the other party. Instead they commit to report the actions to the government representatives or relevant government recognized association present at the base camps, to come to an amicable solution between the parties.
Nearly 40 Western and Sherpa climbers signed the handwritten agreement.
Agreement signed by attendees of the organized peace treaty in Everest Base Camp on April 29. While both the Europeans and the Sherpas involved in the Camp II violence apologized, neither side seems to have found resolution through the formal meeting. [Photos] courtesy International Mountain Guides