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

"I knew it was important to change the relation between Sherpas and foreigners," Moro said in a National Geographic interview afterward. "Without Sherpas, nobody climbs Everest. Without foreigners, there are no jobs for Sherpas. This concept is too often forgotten."

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"Some people treat the Sherpas really bad, like slaves," Steck told The New Yorker writer Nick Paumgarten. "I don't want to be the face for this."

Steck and Griffith returned to their homes in Europe, but they continue to suffer recurring nightmares. Moro chose to remain on Everest to pilot helicopter rescues, offering these services to Sherpas for free. Not long after the fight, he helped recover the body of a Sherpa who had died while working. The commercial expeditions moved ahead with their summit attempts. Several guides wrote blog posts emphasizing a happy return to business as usual. Between May 17 and 25, Alan Arnette reported on his season recap, more than 500 people reached the summit of Everest; one hundred fifty summited on May 19 alone.

But few seem to agree that any real resolution came out of the ceremony. Steck told Wilkinson, "I think this 'ceremony' calmed the situation down, but it certainly did not solve the problem. This 'peace deal' was just a pretext for everyone to get out of the situation."

A Turning Point?

ALEXEY BOLOTOV AND DENIS URUBKO were on another part of the mountain when the fight occurred. In the subsequent weeks, they continued preparing for their own light-style attempt on the Southwest Face.

On May 15, while acclimatizing, Bolotov fell 300 meters to an instant death when his rope broke on rappel. Urubko left the mountain, too, with his partner's body.

From May 15 to May 21, the British guide Kenton Cool and the Nepali Glygen Sherpa completed the "Khumbu Triple Crown," linking Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse, but relying on pre-established camps and on the fixed ropes of commercial expeditions for all three peaks.

"When I first thought about climbing the trilogy some three years ago," Cool told Alpinist, "I thought Nuptse would be done alpine style. It would make a great route that way. Deep down, I wish I had climbed it that way." The question of whether anyone will ever be able to complete the enchainment or make the true "Everest Horseshoe" traverse in alpine style remains unclear. Even if a climbing team were capable of traversing the three peaks, all over 7800 meters high, in a single push, the commercial guiding infrastructure could present a hurdle no one can negotiate.

"I think we will only know the real impact of what happened this spring by the changes that take place next spring," says the anthropologist Janice Sacherer Turner, who has spent many years studying Himalayan cultures. "In retrospect, the world of alpinists may...come to realize that their chances for doing the sorts of routes that Moro, Steck, Urubko and others hoped to establish on Everest was permanently hindered by what happened."

Commercial operators are reportedly advocating for official closure of sections of the mountain during rope fixing, and for a declaration of this closure to be printed on each climbing permit, Wilkinson wrote in his Men's Journal article. While few alpinists seeking to climb new routes in lightweight style have paid much attention to Everest in recent decades, and the route preparation of the Khumbu Icefall has already eliminated the possibility of a pure-alpine-style ascent from that side, this further domination of the mountain by commercial teams could make adventure climbing even more difficult. "If they say the mountain is closed until the ropes are fixed, then this really is the death knell for adventure on Everest," former American Alpine Club President Mark Richey told him.

Ed Webster disagrees. In an email to Alpinist, he wrote that even if both the Chinese and Nepali governments enforced temporary closures:

There's been precious little 'adventure' on Everest's two standard ascents, the South Col route in Nepal, and the North Col/Mallory route in Tibet, for decades.... Fortunately, there are a multitude of difficult climbs up Everest that ascend other major faces and ridges.... On Everest's north side not a single hard "adventure" route branches off of the North Col/Mallory Route, so the peak's north-facing aspect would be completely unaffected by a two-week "fixed-rope" closure. Climbers taking on an alpine-style ascent of any of the sustained North Face routes—the American Direct, White Limbo, or the Super Couloir (Japanese and Hornbein Couloirs combined)—start miles away from the North Col. And, obviously, no lines-in-waiting at the base of the Kangshung Face of Everest either. No problem there! The only routes, and "adventures," possibly complicated by a temporary climbing ban would be routes up Everest's Southwest Face, since the Khumbu Icefall must be navigated.

Climbers walking between Camps II and III at the base of the Lhotse Face. On Everest's normal routes, all user groups within the mountain-climbing community—commercial clients, hired Sherpa and Western guides, expedition operators and independent climbers—are funneled into the same "yellow brick road," as Scott Fischer described the way up Everest to journalist Jon Krakauer. [Photo] Adrian Ballinger

DAWA STEVEN SHERPA TOLD PAUMGARTEN that he thought the fight was merely a result of "one small thing between a few egomaniacs." But for some Nepali and Sherpa climbers who have relied on their work on the mountain for generations, the fallout reflects much more than a dispute about style preference or the bickering of a few altitude-affected men.

Sumit Joshi and Lakpa Sherpa write:

This dispute was not really about a turf battle between three foreign alpine climbers and a fixing Sherpa team. It certainly wasn't about Sherpas feeling jealous of western guides or threatened by western alpine climbers. As...[alluded to] by others, the fixing team was venting the frustration of all highly skilled and experienced Sherpa climbers who want to feel more respect from their fellow western colleagues. For years they have quietly suffered and endured arrogance displayed by some western guides and professional climbers.... They know the mountains here like no other western climber, and commercial expeditions admit they cannot operate in Nepal without Sherpa support. After more than 60 years of climbing alongside their western colleagues, helping them to achieve first ascent glories on 8000m mountains, it's a small request from humble mountain men.

As a Nepali-owned outfitter, we often hear our western outfitter friends acknowledge that the skilled Sherpa climbers deserve more. But what are they actually willing to give more of? More money? More benefits? More fame? Perhaps they should start with more respect.

"These Sherpas had a right to express themselves," Marty Schmidt now says of the men who struck him, "but they had no right to hurt another soul."

Sources: anonymous sources, Peter Athans, Christine Avakian, Adrian Ballinger, Damian Benegas, Guillermo "Willie" Benegas, Russell Brice, Luis Benitez, Kenton Cool, Luanne Freer, Jonathan Griffith, Katie Ives, Sumit Joshi, Eberhard Jurgalski, Simone Moro, Amanda Padoan, Nick Paumgarten, Grayson Schaffer, Marty Schmidt, Jangbu Sherpa, Ngawang Nima Sherpa, Dawa Steven Sherpa, Ueli Steck, Janice Sacherer Turner, Edward Webster, Freddie Wilkinson, Alpinist 5, Alpinist 26, Alpinist 27, 1985 American Alpine Journal, 1989 American Alpine Journal, 1992 American Alpine Journal, Americans on Everest, Buried in the Sky, The Crystal Horizon, Everest: The West Ridge, Everest: The Mountaineering History, Life and Death on Mt. Everest, Fallen Giants, Into Thin Air, Memoires d'un Sherpa, National Geographic 182, The New Yorker June 3, One Mountain Thousand Summits, Rock & Ice October 2012, Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends, Snow in the Kingdom, Tiger of the Snows, Tigers of the Snow, Tigers of the Snow and Other Virtual Sherpas, Touching My Father's Soul, White Limbo, agu.org, nationalgeographic.com, ukclimbing.com, ukclimbing.com, beckeyrippel.blogspot.com, outsideonline.com, outsideonline.com, india.blogs.nytimes.com, himalayanascent.com, mountainguides.com, explorersweb.com, alanarnette.com, mensjournal.com, outsideonline.com

[EDIT: On July 12, 2013, several sentences were added to the section about the April 26 failed day of fixing after a phone call with one of the members of the fixing team, Damian Benegas.]

[CORRECTION: The date of the rope-fixing meeting was April 25, not April 18, as previously written.]

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