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4/29/13 – Headlines and social media this morning are alive with reports of three well-known climbers fending off a mob of angry Sherpas after an altercation on the Lhotse Face of Mt. Everest. Simone Moro and Ueli Steck, along with climber/photographer Jon Griffith, were acclimatizing above Camp 2 (ca. 21,325 feet) for a possible new route without supplemental oxygen. On Saturday, April 27, the three men were climbing adjacent to a team of Sherpas who were fixing rope for guided clients to follow. Words broke out, and when the Western climbers returned to Camp 2 they reportedly were set upon by a large group of Sherpa climbers. Several minor injuries resulted, and the Western climbers said they received death threats; other climbers at Camp 2 helped guard the three men and defuse the situation. They quickly retreated to base camp, and Nepali authorities are investigating.
The Moro-Steck “NO2 Limits Expedition” is over. Steck flew to Kathmandu by helicopter the morning after the incident, but reportedly has returned to Everest base camp, and is planning to leave with Griffith. Moro reportedly hopes to stay and work as a high-altitude helicopter pilot, as he has in previous seasons.
At his Facebook page, Griffith wrote, “We only lived thanks to some very brave people; we felt for sure that we were going to get stoned to death. The reasons behind the attack are complicated and deep-rooted, and to do with the relationship between Westerners and Nepalis on the mountain over many years. They are not because of our direct actions. I would like to think that anyone who has climbed with us knows that we are more than capable and would never interfere with the Sherpas’ work.”
The expedition issued a press release on Sunday describing the incident from their point of view. Read it here. It’s unlikely that the Sherpa side of this story will ever be fully told, but the immediate cause of the incident, according to Western guides on the mountain, was frustration with the climbers’ choice to ascend the Lhotse Face on a day when the Sherpas would be working on the route, especially considering they had already benefited from the Nepalis’ labor in the dangerous Khumbu Icefall.