All you need to know about the Everest fist fight

For those of you who have been asking for an insightful analysis of the punch up on the Lhotse Face over the weekend, I’m not going to disappoint you. But first some background for those of you who may have missed it.

You touch my ropes and I'll knock you **** head off
You touch my ropes and I’ll knock you **** head off

Superstar climbers Ueli Steck and Simone Moro, and their cameraman Jon Griffith, were involved in an altercation with a team of Sherpas who were fixing ropes at 7400m near Camp 3 on Everest. When they returned to Camp 2, the climbers were confronted by an angry mob of Sherpas, and allegedly had to flee for their lives through the Khumbu Icefall back to Base Camp. Those are the bare bones, but you can read more about it in Simone Moro’s statement (translated from the Italian), Ueli Steck’s statement, the Guardian, the BBC, and many other places.

In fact, as usual people have been falling over themselves to report the story without waiting for the facts to emerge, and it’s been hard to tell truth from fiction.

“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,” commented Jon Griffith on Facebook, according to a report on the BMC website. The incident was due to a clash of civilisations and two types of climbing styles – commercial expeditions and purist – the Nepali Times reported. It was an uprising against the way Nepalis feel treated by westerners, the three climbers said in a joint statement, according to the Daily Mail, who also reported that they are continuing with their expedition.

“Total bollocks, we are leaving Nepal as soon as we can,” Jon Griffith apparently told the Telegraph.

The Sherpas reacted aggressively because the climbers were moving unroped and much faster, and this caused their pride to be wounded, the BBC reported the climbers as saying (presumably swapping their ice axes for a spade to dig a bigger pit for themselves). More amusingly the Nepali newswire that originally broke the story reported the climbers names as Simboli Moro and Wool Stick, and many mass media outlets such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express simply cut-and-pasted the story without bothering to do any basic fact checking. This had a surprisingly positive effect on their readers, as I tweeted at the time:

But is any of this true, or is it all just idle speculation? Well, the Footsteps on the Mountain team is not averse to joining the stampede for a quick story, so here is the insightful analysis I promised.

The Insightful Analysis

I can confirm the following three factors were involved in the altercation:

    • Wounded pride

 

  • Provocation

 

 

  • Too much testosterone

 

 

And there we have it. The brawl happened because of wounded pride, provocation and too much testosterone. In fact, the only standard ingredient missing was alcohol. I can also reveal the consequences of the fight were:

    • A westerners’ perspective (freely available on many blogs and websites)

 

  • A Sherpa perspective (completely unavailable, even if you happen to know a climbing Sherpa you can ask)

 

 

And one other thing:

    • Simboli Moro and Wool Stick are joke names, like Sillius Soddus and Biggus Dickus

 

I leave the final word with Stephen Venables, the first Briton to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen, who tweeted this accurate reconstruction of what probably happened up there:

And if you think this post has been unnecessarily frivolous, even by the standards of this blog, don’t worry, normal service will be resumed on Wednesday.

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28 thoughts on “All you need to know about the Everest fist fight

  • April 30, 2013 at 5:47 am
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    Hi Mark
    When are you coming out with a new travel diary? I have read all the ones available to US readers. What do you have planned for a future diary?
    Cheers,
    Your faithful US reader,
    Lisa Gibson

  • April 30, 2013 at 6:59 am
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    Thanks, faithful US reader Lisa, you’re too kind. 🙂

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the diaries. I’m currently working through my scribbled notes from Elbrus last year, and hope to publish the diary within the next few weeks.

  • April 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm
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    Great! I will be the first to order it!

  • May 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm
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    It sounds like a rather frightening experience for the climbers! I wouldn’t trust my safety to a group of people that were so easily offended and resorted to violence to resolve their problems. People should simply boycott Everest and spend their money elsewhere.

  • May 1, 2013 at 7:41 pm
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    To which the simple answer is don’t believe what you read in the media. I take it you have never been to Nepal, travelled with or know any Sherpas? Thousands do every year, and hundreds trust their lives to Sherpas on Himalayan mountains, including Everest, and don’t recognise the people who have been demonised in the media over the last few days.

    Without question the Sherpas are the most humble, helpful and cheerful people I have ever met, and you will find the overwhelming majority of people who have shared the mountains with them have this opinion.

    Pretty much all the reports you will have read in the mass media over the past few days will have originated from the initial accounts of Simone Moro, Ueli Steck and Jon Griffith. On top of this, most have been coloured by other agendas. For example, the media always takes great delight in trashing Everest climbers, and have swooped on the opportunity to blame it on rich westerners treating their Sherpas like servants. In the mountaineering community you will never find a shortage of people only too eager to spark a debate about “climbing purity” and guided vs. non-guided climbing, and because the dispute was between elite mountaineers climbing independently, and Sherpas fixing ropes for commercial teams, it has provided them with a great opportunity to fan the flames.

    Thankfully the Sherpa perspective is beginning to emerge in more objective accounts, and there are some western guides willing to speak out on behalf of Sherpas.

    I suggest you read some of these accounts before passing judgement:
    http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2013/04/29/everest-2013-a-time-for-patience/
    http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2013/04/30/everest-2013-the-sherpas-viewpoint/

  • May 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm
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    Mark,

    I’ve read the two articles you posted, and my opinion remains unchanged. As you say, I’ve never been to Nepal or traveled with Sherpas , nor would I ever care to after this incident.

    Maybe the majority of the Sherpas are humble, helpful, and cheery people, but this mob of close to 100 Sherpas doesn’t seem to fit that profile. Throwing rocks, trying to stab people, and making death threats sounds rather arrogant,hostile, and bad-tempered to me. I certainly wouldn’t entrust my life to their care.

    I believe over the years they’ve let all the positive PR about them go to their heads. Now they DEMAND respect, THINK all the records should be theirs, and have declared the mountain to be THEIR exclusive property. Personally, I’d let them have it. Eventually they’ll return to their former Neolithic existence. It’s always a good policy not to bite the hand that feeds you and puts cash in your pockets. Just my opinion.

  • May 1, 2013 at 9:58 pm
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    Chuck,

    I thought about deleting your comment, and if you post any more like this, I will. Your last paragraph is clearly racist, and hate messages have no place on this blog.

    I feel sorry for you if you form judgements so quickly about people you know nothing about, and rise to anger this easily simply by reading a few emotive news reports which are written to produce just such a reaction. It can’t be easy going through life like that.

    If Simone Moro really did say over open frequency radio that if the Sherpas had a problem he could come down to Camp 2 for a f—ing fight, then I’m not surprised he found what he was looking for. The combination of wounded pride, provocation and excessive testosterone is likely to lead to violence in any society. It certainly would here in the UK. That doesn’t make it right, it’s just a fact of life, and it is not necessary to read wider issues into this story or make extravagant generalisations.

    Please exercise a little moderation before posting here again.

    Regards,
    Mark.

  • May 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm
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    I’m not sure that I would express myself as strongly as Chuck, but I do think that the pieces you link to are remarkably tenuous – journalistically almost as weak as the Daily Mail article you mock, although they do spell the names correctly. One seems to be a fantasy piece by Alan Arnette in which he imagines what might have happened, adding “balance” in the form of details which reflect badly on the Europeans, but don’t appear to have any basis in evidence or other sources. The other purports to give “The Sherpa Viewpoint” by making excuses for violent behaviour (while patronizing the sherpas wildly – apparently they need to be “educated” out of throwing rocks by their sirdars). It’s just an exercise in spin written by an American guide whose business depends on playing down incidents like this, and stopping anyone from interfering with the all-important “fixing” of the mountain – apparently that was Moro, Steck and Griffith’s real crime (oh, and the swearing, which as you observe, is hardly unheard of in the mountains).

    Think carefully about what you’re defending here, Mark, it looks disturbingly like the indefensible.

  • May 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm
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    I’m defending Sherpas, Jim, not violence, and plainly they need it.

  • May 1, 2013 at 11:01 pm
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    Mark,

    You’re way off base calling me a racist. You don’t know me well enough to make that type of judgement. I stated nothing that wasn’t factual. Nepal has never been known as the cultural or technological Mecca of the World as far as I’m aware. And yes, threatening to kill your employers is never a good idea no matter where you happen to live.

    I happen to believe the situation happened exactly as the climbers have said. Why in the World would they lie and risk losing their sponsors like that? From what I’ve read, they have all shown great respect for the Sherpa community in the past. Is it so hard for you to believe that you could have a few rogue Sherpas operating on the Mountain?

    Delete my posts if you like, I don’t like being insulted simply because I have a different opinion.

  • May 1, 2013 at 11:12 pm
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    A case of “my Sherpa, right or wrong”, perhaps?

  • May 2, 2013 at 7:01 am
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    Chuck,

    Where I’m from suggesting that a race of people would be living in the stone age but for their western employers is racist.

    I am sorry if you felt insulted by this, but I stand by it.

    Mark.

  • May 2, 2013 at 11:29 am
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    Mark,

    Perhaps using the term Neolithic was a bit over the top, and agrarian or pre-industrial would have been more accurate. But there’s no denying that prior to the 1950’s, Nepal had no schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, electric power, industry, or civil services to speak of.

    To refute the direct correlation between the influx of Western tourists and the improvement of their standard of living is to ignore the obvious.

    Regardless of what took place on the mountain ( alleged foul language, falling ice, etc.), mob violence and threats of death are not acceptable behaviors in any culture or society.

  • May 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm
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    Thank you, Chuck, a much more measured comment. I still don’t concur with your earlier comments, but this time you have found something we can agree on.

  • May 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm
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    Mark,

    No problem, and thank you for at least giving my comments the benefit of a doubt. Given what I know of human nature, Griffith, Moro, and Steck probably have some degree of accountability in the incident, but not to the extent implied. Metaphorically speaking, I believe they just happened to be the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

  • May 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm
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    It really is hard to believe some people are quick to judge particularly folk like Chuck who is not part of the climbing fraternity.. As usual Mark your answers have been carefully thought through before printing.Still, it’s all very sad and disturbing. Just takes the gloss from a very enjoyable Everest season so far. Cheers Kate

  • May 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm
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    Kate,

    Do you mean quick to judge like yourself? A person doesn’t have to be part of your elite “climbing fraternity” to express an opinion, do they? If so, perhaps you’re taking yourself a bit too seriously. If mob violence and death threats make for the end of an enjoyable season, I shudder to think what constitutes a “bad” season.

    I’ve read several accounts of the incident, and I feel confident that I’m not being overly judgmental. Did you happen to be there when incident took place?, if not, then you probably don’t know anymore about it than I do.

    I’d suggest you read a couple firsthand accounts of the attack before you pronounce judgement on my lack of knowledge. Melissa Arnot clearly doesn’t want to takes sides, but it’s obvious which way the wind is blowing without any direct accusation being voiced by her.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130502-mount-everest-fight-simone-moro-interview-sherpas/

    http://www.melissaarnot.com/going-forward/

  • May 5, 2013 at 10:15 pm
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    It’s not necessary to be an elite climber to comment here – I’m no elite climber myself – but unless you have some first hand experience of a subject it’s wise to think twice before expressing such forthright views as yours on an emotive issue like this.

    I’m not a doctor, and if I made controversial remarks on a medical ethics blog then I would expect some reaction. As you say, you have never been to Nepal or met a Sherpa, and yet you have made some fairly cutting assertions about Sherpa character. You should therefore expect some criticism.

    You’ve made your point and we know where you stand. Now it’s time to take a chill pill and let others have their say.

    FYI, Kate is an avid reader of mountaineering blogs and a regular commenter here. It’s unlikely you will have read more about this story than she has.

  • May 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm
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    Mark,

    No problem. You and Kate can continue your one-sided conversation without any further interruptions from me. I’m through here. I do find it amusing however, that you refer to me as being judgmental, when it’s actuality you that keeps passing judgement on other people that you don’t know. It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black..

    If you don’t like any opposing viewpoints, that’s cool, it’s your board. Simply be intellectually honest about it, and stop pretending like your open-minded. Delete away..

    Ciao

  • May 6, 2013 at 9:21 am
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    Thank goodness for that.

    That was a marvellous exit; it reminded me of this. I wonder if he managed to find the way out. 🙂

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  • May 7, 2013 at 3:12 am
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    Vote with your feet.

    I would take my X thousand dollars and take the next prop jet home. Trust my life to the angry mob’s handiwork? No. Good luck, y’all.

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