As the Glacier Churns: Unfortunate Events on Everest

A Report from Chad Kellog

MSR Ambassador Chad Kellog is on Mount Everest, acclimatizing for his 2013 speed attempt from Base Camp to the summit. Earlier this week, Chad reported from Base Camp after a violent incident occurred between a group of European climbers and a group of Sherpas at Camp 2.

“I want to say that there were four or five men responsible for this unfortunate incident at Camp 2. Since I do not know their names I have used the name “Sherpas” to represent the mob of men who rallied against Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith. However, I do not want to misrepresent the Sherpa community that I have grown to love over the past 15 years of traveling to Nepal and sharing in adventures with the Sherpa people. This is the one exception to what I have found to be a very happy and caring people, full of generosity and kindness. I will work harder to reestablish connections with my Sherpa friends and work to repair whatever sense of connection has been lost between those who call Nepal home and those of us who have just come to experience the Himalayas.”

On the day prior to the incident, April 26, Kellogg and Rory Stark set fixed ropes up the face along the line of the 1953 first ascent, but were turned back by a huge crevasse.

“When we arrived to Camp 2 there was a lot of grumbling from the Sherpa crew that we had wasted a day. They had wanted to fix the lines to Camp 3 themselves without the “white eyes” or mikaru as the foreigners are known. We came to find out that the fixing of the lines is a matter of national pride for the Sherpas. We stopped in at IMG for a few cups of juice and to talk with the guides and staff. We explained what we had tried and the insurmountable obstacles that we had run into. They congratulated us on our effort and we resigned to take a rest day and let the 18 Sherpa crew fix the lines up to Camp 3. I observed that tensions amongst the Sherpas line-fixing crew were high.

The next morning dawned clear and a bit windy. I watched the fixing teams begin stringing two lines up the face. One was the “up” line and the other the “down” line for traffic. I lay inside the dome tent protecting my face from the harsh glare of the sun at 21,500 feet. We spent the morning laughing and hydrating. Two hours later I noticed a team out on the snow to the left of the fixing team. “Who is that?” I wondered. It turned out to be Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith, the cameraman. They were climbing up to establish Camp 3 without disturbing the fixing team.

I met with Ueli, Simone, Melissa Arnot and Jonathan to get the facts correct. Here is what they shared with me:

Just below Camp 3, they returned to the original line and crossed the fixed ropes carefully. Ueli made certain that Jon did not dislodge any ice and that none of the team touched the fixed lines. Apparently a confrontation began at that moment. The fixing team accused them of knocking ice down on the fixing team of Sherpas below. One Sherpa began to wave an ice ax at Simone and Simone cursed at the Sherpa offending him further. The fixing team abandoned the fixing effort for the day and all 18 of them descended to Camp 2.

Worried that they might be to blame for the ropes not reaching Camp 3 that day, Ueli decided to fix all of the cached rope up to Camp 3 another 250 meters above. Afterward, the team of three descended back to Camp 2.

Melissa told me that she came out of her tent and saw a large group of Sherpas, between 35 and 75 men, headed for the encampment of Simone, Jonathan and Ueli. She was closer than the mob so she ran to the tent and told them to make a run for the glacier and hide. Simone and Jonathan made it out to the glacier while Ueli stayed behind.

Ueli said that he was confronted by the mob and was immediately hit in the head by a fist followed by a rock to the head. Melissa pushed Ueli into the kitchen tent to protect him from the mob. The Sherpa men would not hit a woman so she was the buffer of protection from the very angry mob. Since it was too hard to figure out what was happening to Simone and Jonathan, Melissa sent a Sherpa from Simone’s camp to get he and Jonathan from the glacier. They were secretly ushered into the same kitchen tent as Ueli and buffered from the mob by Melissa and the head of Camp 2 for IMG. The men promised that if Simone came out on his knees and begged for forgiveness he would not be hurt. Simone tried to get out of the tent on his knees when he was beaten and forced back inside. A while later Melissa asked Simone to get back on his knees outside the tent and ask for forgiveness again. She had been assured by the instigators that he would not be hurt. So Simone got on his knees to ask for forgiveness and was kicked under the chin, someone tried to stab him with a pen knife, but fortunately the knife hit him in the padded belt of his backpack.

Simone retreated inside the tent again. Marty Schmidt recalled when I talked with him at Camp 2 that he saw a man getting ready to bring a large rock down on Simone’s head to kill him. Marty grabbed the rock and the man’s arm and shouted “no, no violence.” For his intervention he received a rock to the head himself. Marty was still wearing the bandage on his head when I spoke with him.

Eventually, the crowd of angry men dispersed. Swearing that if Simone, Jonathan and Ueli were still there in an hour they would come back and kill the three of them. Simone, Jonathan and Ueli left by the main glacier behind camp and hidden from view. They did not even have a rope to protect them from the crevasses that lurk there as an ever-present danger. Beat up but mobile, the trio made their way down from Camp 2 to 1 and through the ice-fall back to Base Camp.

It is hard to believe that this whole incident appeared to have started from ice supposedly being knocked down on some Sherpas below by three European climbers. Simone and Ueli were accused of climbing above Camp 1 without a permit. In fact, Jonathan had a permit for the regular route, Simone and Ueli had a permit for the West Ridge and a Lhotse permit so all were within their rights to go to Camp 3. Things get very volatile when so many people are upset.

I am not going to comment on why I think this happened. That would be just opinion and promote sensationalism instead of the facts. The fallout is as of yet still occurring. I am here to climb and that is what I still intend to do. I am sure things will still continue to evolve, and I hope it is for the better.”

The Sherpas and westerners involved in the violence convened in Everest Base Camp the day after the incident. The teams signed a Base Camp Peace Agreement committing all members to resolve climbing issues through the government representatives present on the mountain. Following the meeting, Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jonathan Griffith abandoned their expedition and returned home. A number of other Everest climbers have left the region, but it is hard to say how many are leaving because of the incident. Chad remains on Everest and is continuing his preparation for a speed ascent. On May 2nd he will climb to Camp 2 for another round of acclimatization. He plans to stay on the mountain for four nights, reaching a high point at the top of the Yellow Band at 25,300 feet. Chad is planning his speed ascent for the last week of May.