The Everest story has been covered everywhere; I've never seen anything like it. In the following weeks I will eventually get round to putting some shots online and saying a few words about the whole thing, but for now myself and Ueli are back in Europe and happy to have left it all behind us. Due to constant demands for more interviews and information we've written a final Press Release of our thoughts and also of the fight itself. We've taken great care to make sure all the facts are correct and have not left anything out purposefully. Please believe that we are keen to get any Sherpa 'version' out there, and to represent the pure facts from all sides of this horrific story.
Arriving at Camp 1, Nuptse behind. © Jon Griffith
5 May 2013
In response to some of the allegations that have come out from EVERST BASE CAMP the climbing team of SIMONE MORRO (IT), UELI STECK (CH), and JONATHAN GRIFFITH (UK) would like to share their thoughts.
- We deny that we were told not to climb on that day. Just because it was agreed before hand that no-one climb due to the Sherpas fixing lines does not mean that everybody knew about this. In addition it sets a dangerous precedence in the future- can you really ban people from climbing if Sherpas are fixing ropes? Does this not destroy the freedom of the hills that we all seek here in the first place? A Russian team corroborates our story that we were asked not to use the fixed lines, which we did not. (http://www.explorersweb.com/everest_k2/news.php?id=21442)
- Allegations that Simone Moro shouted on the radio that he would fight the Sherpas at Camp 2 surprised both Ueli Steck and Jonathan Griffith when they heard about it. When this allegation came out both Ueli and Jonathan had split from Simone for a day on their travels back to Kahtmandu. It took the two climbers a while to corroborate with people at Camp 2, who had been on the radios, to make sure that this was not true. Indeed those who were listening to the climbing frequency on the day deny that Simone said anything of the sort (as does he). Furthermore the main report from GARRETT MADISON is full or factual errors that can be disproved from eyewitnesses. The fact that he was in BASE CAMP and not at CAMP 2 meant that he would not be able to receive the radio signal being sent from high up on the Lhotse Face. It is important that people do not represent 2nd or 3rd hand information as their own accounts of what happened on the day. This is a very sensitive subject and rumours have no place in the reporting of it.
- That we knocked down any ice is also denied by the team. We were climbing far to the side of the Sherpa team and on snow as the photos on the Lhotse face prove. In addition no Sherpa has come forward with any injuries.
- As further details of the conflict that occurred at Camp 2 we have decided to elaborate on the events from our own memories and experiences as well as speaking to those who were actually there. Anonymous eyewitness accounts that we have read need also be ignored- we were at the very top of Camp 2 and in a hidden camp and not at all visible from the rest of the camp. The only eye witnesses were those who were directly involved in our protection from the mob. We realise that some of them were guide leaders and therefore need to be careful as they still need to manage their Sherpa teams up the mountain this season- for that reason we thank them for their intervention and putting their own lives at risk and will not name them. We hope that their names and accounts will come forward in due course.
The following is written by Jonathan Griffith but is written in conjunction with Ueli Steck and Simone Moro and with the help of those who were present at the time.
When we arrived back at our tent in Camp 2 Melissa Arnot was waiting for us. She explained to us in a few short minutes that trouble was brewing in Camp 2 and that we should be very careful. A Western Team Leader then entered our tent and explained the situation further: the Sherpas had taken offence to Simone's swearing on the Lhotse Face; falling ice had injured a Sherpa; and Ueli Steck had 'grabbed' the Sherpa Leader. These three allegations have been dealt with in our previous report and above. At this point Melissa had stepped outside to let the lead guide speak but after only a couple of minutes she rushed back in to say an angry mob had left the main camp and were coming towards our tent. She burst in and told us to get out and run away. We felt that it was important to resolve the issue and misunderstandings that had let to such a huge over reaction. However instead of a handful of Sherpas (there were 17 on the fixing team that day) a mob of approximately 100 Sherpas crested the moraine above our tent. We were shocked to see such a mob right in front of us. Many had neckerchiefs pulled up around their faces and a few picked up some rocks instantly. This was a terrifying moment; we all realised that there was no room for discussion but that they wanted to fight. Marty SCHMIDT burst through the crowd of Sherpas towards the first Sherpa who had picked up a rock. Contrary to what some blame as 'the first punch' Marty did not punch the Sherpa but slammed the rock he had picked up out of his hands and shouted 'No, No'. Many people at Base Camp (i.e. who did not personally see this) have used Marty as the triggering point for the fight but we all agree that he did not throw any punches. In fact we would like to thank Marty for his actions and bravery.
Marty Schmidt then received a rock to the head and the lead Sherpa confronted Ueli Steck shouting 'why you touch me'. He received a blow to the face and it was only because Melissa Arnot stood as a physical barrier between the two that he was not further injured. It is important to realise that with so many angry Sherpas the best thing for us to do was to take any aggression and not to retaliate. The Western 'helpers' also quickly realised that the best thing possible was to hide us from view from the mob as this would calm them down.
I (Jonathan Griffith) had distanced myself from the mob by about 30 meters at this point. As I had not been in direct contact with the angry Sherpas on the face I was largely ignored (unlike Ueli Steck). After Ueli received a blow to the face he was bundled in to the Mess Tent for a few seconds before a large rock was thrown in through the 'roof'- he saw me and came over towards me. He said 'Jon, I think this expedition is over'. I remember thinking that if we got out alive we would be lucky. The mob were really angry and there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves. Simone Moro had also come over to us by then. 6 or so of the mob had broken away from the main group and come towards us shouting. As I happened to be in front of Ueli and Simone (not heroically, just simply because I was) I was kicked and beaten by them. A Western guide quickly came over and dispersed them. At this point he shoved me in one direction and Simone in another telling us to get out of here, so we slowly moved away from the area. Instead of Ueli doing the same he put him in the Mess Tent (where a bleeding Marty Schmidt was also waiting). Whilst Simone and myself (Jonathan Griffith) were able to get away from the scene of the action Ueli was suddenly thrust right in the middle of it. Sitting in the Mess Tent there as no way out. Both Melissa Arnot, a lead Western Guide, and PANG NURU SHERPA stood outside and refused to let any of the mob in. For (maybe?) 20 minutes the mob were outside the tent demanding for Ueli to come out, saying that at least one of us would be killed there and then and the rest they would see to later. Ueli owes his life to Melissa and the lead guide for not standing down in the face of such danger to themselves.
With us out of sight (but nevertheless threatening to kill Ueli there and then in the Mess Tent if only they could get to him), the mob quietened down a bit. They demanded that Simone come and apologise as he was the expedition leader, as well as the source of the swearing on the Lhotse Face. Whilst Simone and us had distanced ourselves from the main fight we were very close by and everyone knew where we were. Someone came to get Simone who was about 50m away from me and I remember thinking that that was 'it' and they were collecting us one by one to stone us. But you feel helpless. We were at the 'wrong' end of Camp 2 and it was snowing. It was freezing cold and there was quite literally nowhere to run to. Watching Simone being lead away and my mind raced to find an exit point or anything, but there was none so I resigned myself to making one last run if need be. Fit as we might be you can't outrun a Sherpa at such altitudes.
Simone was punched as he came back and bundled in to the Mess Tent with Ueli very briefly where Melissa told him to get on his knees and apologise- just do anything necessary. Simone exited the tent and got on his knees and apologised. Whilst the Sherpas had promised no more violence if he came to them, they instantly kicked and punched him whilst the was on his knees. One even pulled out a penknife and tried to stab him but thankfully it caught his hip belt. The Westerners once again grabbed Simone and bundled him in to the Mess Tent to save him. Ueli and Simone sat in the tent while the Sherpas then accused them of not having the correct permit (as if this would warrant the beatings). It took time for the Sherpas to contact Base Camp and verify that we did indeed have the correct permits for Lhtose and Everest. After this (I am not sure how long this is) the mob slowly started to disperse with no more violence, but told Ueli and Simone that if we were not gone in an hour we would all be killed.
As the last few disappeared from our camp we regrouped and packed the bare essentials. We had to leave camp but the thought of doing so was even scarier than the initial fight. We would have to walk through the whole of Camp 2 to get out thus exposing ourselves from all sides to attack and stone throwing. We put on down jackets and helmets to protect ourselves. It was a really scary thought and it felt like suicide to start our walk out of there. On the one hand we could stay and live for another hour, on the other we could take our chances that we would survive walking through Camp 2. Both options were as bad as each other.
So instead we headed towards Nuptse and the horrible glacier beneath it. We moved and crawled at times aware that we were being watched all the time. The glacier is horribly crevassed and dangerous yet we moved together unroped feeling incredibly safe- such was the nature of the previous hour. We knew that the Sherpas would not dare follow us on such dangerous terrain. Upon reaching the track between Camp 2 an Camp 1 we hurried to the first ladder knowing that if anyone started chasing us we would cut every line and ladder on the way back to Base Camp.
As a side note I would also like to say how much this has affected Ueli. I have known and climbed with him for many years. He is also a man not averse to risk and danger, but this episode has destroyed a part in him that will take a long time to repair. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be trapped in that Mess Tent for so long with people threatening to kill him. The feeling of helplessness and being trapped was the overriding one that I remember from the whole episode and one that I had never felt before; yet Ueli was in a far far worse position than me and even I find it really hard to understand how horrific it must have been in that tent. He is reticent and has a chronic migraine. Occasionally I see that bright spark in his eye when we talk about future plans but I know this will haunt him for the rest of his life. We hope one day to return to Everest and complete the climb; it was an amazing project and I can only hope that time will heal.
Back in Base Camp and we spent a lot of time in meetings and discussions with many of the big Expedition Leaders and the Base Camp Community (i.e. Sherpa leaders). The underlying reasons for the altercation have been discussed at length in the media and we are glad that we have not be made in to scape goats for a much bigger problem. A few days later we attended a public 'ceremony' where Simone apologised for swearing at the lead Sherpa but that was all. We do not feel that we were in the wrong by climbing independently on the same day as the team were fixing. We also communicated that we would not be continuing our expedition but would be heading home once we felt that any loose ends and been cleared up. We signed a written document that summarised the meeting but were not allowed to go in to detail about what we apologised for as this would lead to legal action. We have decided to avoid legal action and the resulting jail sentence, and let the Base Camp Community find the best option and 'disciplinary action'. Simply throwing the ring leaders in jail will solve nothing and we realise that the best remedy is to let the community speak amongst themselves and listen to the Sherpas about what needs to change to resort the old client-Sherpa trust and respect. 60 years on from the first ascent and there is a very different relationship between client and Sherpa than between the original duo of Tenzing and Hillary.
It is easy to point the finger at the commercialisation of Everest and blame the big guiding companies. But really the problem is not the companies themselves but us as a whole. The commercialisation of Everest is a fact of life- but it is not the fault of the companies themselves that their clients don't respect the Sherpas. We can all learn their names and take time to talk to them- the finger of blame lies on every one of us that have been on that mountain and treated the Sherpas as 'sherpas' and not an equals.