We generally live by the climbers’ code of “what goes on the mountain, stays on the mountain” but since spending the last few days catching up on the sensationalised media coverage of the Camp 2 dispute, we feel that Himalayan Ascent should express a few words concerning the event from our perspective at Camp 2 and from discussions with the involved Sherpa climbers that day.
We already know that on April 27th, a team of Sherpas fixing the lines to Camp 3 had a heated exchange with 3 foreign climbers on the Lhotse face. The 3 climbers were not expected on the route that day by commercial expeditions and particularly were not expected by the fixing team. The team had already experienced one frustrating and failed day of route fixing and they were keen to get the job done. We watched the groups of climbers come together on the face, and after some time, the other 3 climbers separated and continued higher. We then heard the fixing team report into the radio their utter dissatisfaction regarding the exchange; the 3 climbers had not heeded to their requests to avoid their lines and they stated that the 3 climbers had verbally and physically abused them. Simone has since admitted that he did not speak respectfully to the Sherpas that day and that he did use extremely offensive words in Nepali. Understanding the seriousness of the matter, a lead western guide then attempted to radio Simone several times to request him to apologise to the fixing team, eventually Simone answered and we heard him reply along the lines of “I’ll talk to the f---ing Sherpas when I get down”. The Sherpas were shocked. Simone is a well-known respected climber in Nepal, and they were disappointed and angry at his arrogance and lack of respect of the job they were performing. The fixing team anchored their gear and dropped down to Camp 2.
At Camp 2 the fixing team discussed the event with western expedition leaders and with other Sherpas who had listened into the radio. When the 3 climbers arrived into Camp 2, the fixing team were ready to meet them. Everyone else at Camp 2 were also anticipating the “meeting”. The fixing team wanted an apology from the group for their hurtful words. Some western guides acted as a mediator between where the Sherpas were and the group’s camp. Simone was apparently reluctant to offer an immediate apology and eventually the fixing team became impatient, so they walked into the group’s camp to talk to Simone directly. To the many western bystanders watching, this may have seemed like the fixing team were going into the camp to fight. The fixing team threw rocks at the tent to get the group to come out. Some western guides ran to “protect” the group. One western guide tackled a Sherpa carrying a rock perhaps thinking he was going to throw it to hurt someone. Unfortunately, this first assault on the fixing team triggered them to respond aggressively. It was the regular start of what someone else has called a bar brawl at Camp 2.
Importantly, from our camp just 1 away from the group’s camp, we saw some 30 Sherpas and other bystanders just WATCHING witnessing the event. Reports claiming that 100-200 Sherpas attacked the 3 climbers are entirely FALSE. Only the fixing team were involved. The bystanders may have been perceived as being a part of the aggressive “mob”. We also did not witness other claims that rocks were used to hit others, and that Simone was stabbed by a penknife hitting his backpack waist strap (he wasn’t wearing a backpack). During the times that Simone did come out to make his apology on his knees, we did see the unfortunate slap and kick. Sure the fixing team were feeling quite incensed, but they weren’t fired up to kill anyone. Eventually the apology was accepted and the group disappeared to BC. The actual scuffle lasted 30 minutes. Later at BC both parties signed a shared statement of admitted error on their part and expressed an apology to each other.
This dispute was not really about a turf battle between 3 foreign alpine climbers and a fixing Sherpa team. It certainly wasn’t about Sherpas feeling jealous of western guides or threatened by western alpine climbers. As eluded by others, the fixing team were venting the frustration of all highly skilled and experienced Sherpa climbers who want to feel more respect from their fellow western colleagues. For years they have quietly suffered and endured arrogance displayed by some western guides and professional climbers. There are more summits of Everest by a Sherpa than by any other group. They know the mountains here like no other western climber, and commercial expeditions admit they cannot operate in Nepal without Sherpa support. After more than 60 years of climbing alongside their western colleagues, helping them to achieve first ascent glories on 8000m mountains, it’s a small request from humble mountain men. As a Nepali owned outfitter, we often hear our western outfitter friends acknowledge that the skilled Sherpa climbers deserve more. But what are they actually willing to give more of? More money? More benefits? More fame? Perhaps they should start with more respect.