Three European climbers were attacked by a "mob" of 100 sherpas 6,500 meters up the world’s tallest mountain. Ueli Steck of Switzerland, Simone Moro of Italy, and British photographer Jonathan Griffith escaped with minor injuries to Kathmandu, where Griffith, 29, explained the incident in a phone interview.
Q: How did the trouble start?
A: There was an argument with sherpas who heading up the mountain fixing ropes to the ice. We passed them without ropes – I was with two of the best climbers in the world – and I think they were tired and tempers flared. A shouting match started from their side, we didn’t do much to aggravate them.
Q: And then at camp, a large group attacked you. Did you feel in serious danger?
A: They were very serious. We were sure we would die, and they told us we would die. They arrived and started throwing rocks at us. One tried to stab Simone with a knife but it only made a hole in his hip belt. I was set upon by six people who kicked and punched me, Simone was made to kneel in front of the mob. What saved our lives was five Western climbers who made a physical buffer between us and the mob, and we managed to melt away.
Q: Why do you think they were so angry?
A: Sherpas are normally very humble and not aggressive. I think it’s to do with the commercialization of Everest – in the original ascents there was huge respect for sherpas but that has now diminished. The rich clients have so much luxury and don’t even know their sherpas' names and I suppose it’s inevitable there would be a flare-up. There’s an issue with how they are treated - it’s their mountain.
Q: How do you proceed now – will you press charges?
A: We’re going home. It was very traumatic for everyone and we’re not in a mental state for mountaineering. If we bring it to court, nothing will happen – we will let the community deal with them and hopefully a better understanding will emerge from this.
[NOTE: An apology from the Sherpa Association has been accepted.]