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'Terrifying' brawl between climbers on Everest

Sherpas had advised Europeans not to climb a new “undisclosed” route, but eyewitness says climbers ignored request.

Image: Eye Ubiquitous/Press Association Images

A MOUNTAINEER ON Everest described today the “terrifying” scene of two famous European climbers fighting with Nepalese guides in a high-altitude brawl that has sparked a police investigation.

Ueli Steck, a Swiss national who holds climbing records, and Simone Moro of Italy, who has climbed the world’s highest peak four times, were approaching the 7,470-metre Camp Three on Saturday when the bust-up occurred.

The American eyewitness, speaking to AFP by telephone and on condition of anonymity, said Steck, Moro and British photographer Jonathan Griffith were asked to wait on the mountain while a group of Nepalese rigged up some ropes.

The witness said the Europeans, who were trying to climb the 8,848-metre  mountain by a new “undisclosed” route without supplementary oxygen, ignored the request and carried on.

“The Sherpas told the team not to climb above them while they were fixing the ropes but they did it anyway. Then some ice fell and hit the Sherpas, which made them angry,” said the eyewitness.

Later in the day, a furious group of Nepalese stormed up towards the climbers’ tents and pelted them with stones until the men came outside, after which a loud argument ensued and punches were allegedly thrown. The eyewitness said:

It was terrifying to watch – they nearly got killed.

However Moro, in a statement on his website describing events, said it was “highly unlikely” that any ice had fallen as a result of his group. He claimed that he had been attacked by an “out-of-control mob”.

“They became instantly aggressive and not only punched and kicked the climbers, but threw many rocks as well,” said the statement.

Mediation meeting between climbers and local Sherpas

The statement added that Moro’s group had caused no interference for the Sherpas who were fixing the ropes, which they do each year so that hundreds of other summit hopefuls can access the mountain.

Police near the world’s highest mountain are investigating the incident and mediation meetings between the climbers and the local Sherpas took place today, local officials told AFP.

“We were told our clients disagreed with the instructions of the Sherpa guides and went ahead over some icy terrain,” said Anish Gupta of Cho-Oyu Trekking, the Kathmandu-based company that organised the Europeans’ expedition.

“We understand that at some point the foreign climbers kicked some ice back and it hit one of the Sherpa guides, causing the fight to start,” Gupta told AFP.

According to the climbing company, the men have since descended from the upper stretches of the mountain.

Raj Kumar, a police constable in Lukla, told AFP that Steck had spent the night at a hospital near the airport in the town but did not show any sign of injuries.

On Monday morning Steck flew in a helicopter back to Everest’s base camp to rejoin Moro, who had remained on the mountain. The pair are reportedly mulling whether to try again to reach the summit.

More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest, which straddles Nepal and China, since it was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Every year hundreds more set out in April to attempt the climb.

Chinese climber missing

Nepal’s tourism ministry announced today that a Chinese climber has gone missing after climbing the world’s fifth-highest mountain, the 8,481-metre Makalu.

Xiangyang Liu, 46, had not been seen since last Tuesday when he was returning to base camp with a fellow Chinese climber and their Sherpa guides after scaling Makalu.

Mingma Sherpa, the owner of the Seven Summits company that organised the expedition, said Xiangyang tumbled down a steep, snow-covered incline from 8,300 metres on the north side of the mountain.

“He and the expedition leader Chunfeng Yang were returning after the successful summit. Four Sherpas searched for him on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We tried to find him by sending a helicopter but it could not land due to the bad weather,” Sherpa told AFP. “A week has passed now and the chances of his survival are very slim,” he said.

Early this month, an elite Nepalese mountaineer responsible for setting up climbing routes on Mount Everest plunged to his death, the first loss of the summit season.

- © AFP, 2013

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