Spring 2013 | Couple of Unfortunate Incidents from Makalu and Everest

Last week, when first summits of the season were reported on Makalu, the details about expedition and summiteers were less known. Later on Don Bowie, Canadian/American climber who has just started his Makalu quest, shared some details about "Success and Tragedy" on Makalu. It was reported that a Chinese climber Xiang Yang-Liu died during descent.

Bowie writes that, "four people claim reaching the summit of Makalu: Azim Gheichisaz of Iran, Mr. Chun Feng-Yang of China, Mr. Xiang Yang-Liu of China, and Lapka Dendi Sherpa of Nepal. I personally viewed Azim’s photos and can testify that he, Mr. Chun Feng-Yang, and Dendi Sherpa made the true summit- with Azim making the entire ascent without bottled O2." and "I regret to report that Mr. Xiang Yang-Liu died in a fall on the descent from the summit. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family."

Makalu - route to the top; Source

Death of a climber fighting the big mountains and extreme conditions is always saddening and appears even more tragic when he has already achieved the summit. May the departed soul of Mr Liu rest in peace.

Another disturbing incident happened on Mount Everest, past weekend. A fight between Sherpa team fixing ropes on Lhotse Face and No2Limits Expedition members (Simone Moro, Ueli Steck and Jonathan Griffith), followed by the latter being attacked by a crowd of Sherpas threatening the lives of elite climbers is catching a lot of media attention. The official press release from Simone Moro team can be read here. Resources closer to Sherpas also suggest a similar account with slight change in details.

On Lhotse Face, earlier this season.
Simone Moro and Ueli Steck, joined by videographer Jon Griffith, are attempting a different route on Everest this spring, without oxygen and support. As part of acclimatization process, they had previously spent nights in C2 and climbed to West Shoulder (7500m). On current trip, they were heading up Lhotse Face on traditional South Col route. Most of climbers and guided expeditions take this route to Everest summit. A group of Sherpas do the labor of rope fixing and higher camps establishment for them. Skilled climbers like Simone and Ueli are not always dependent on fixed ropes. On current occasion too, they were climbing freely.

On 27th April, when Simone, Ueli and Jon started climbing Lhotse face to reach their tent slightly below traditional C3, Sherpas were busy in fixing the route. The western trio remained at a distance for rope fixing team and tried to step over rope at 7200m, to reach their tent on opposite side. Things took a bad shape at this point, as harsh words and even fists were shared between two teams. Stance of two teams slightly varies on what exactly triggered the fight. Incident is still under investigation.

After the fight on Lhotse face, all Sherpas halted the rope fixing and immediately descended to C2. But when Simone and team returned to C2, it’s reported that around 100 Sherpas attacked them with knives and stones. Simone and Jon remained unhurt, but Ueli Steck received some injuries on his face. The crowd was calmed after the intervention of other climbers at C2. Simone and his fellows “were told that if they weren't gone in one hour that they would all be killed.” [wrote Simone's team.]

Simone, Ueli and Jon descended to BC via a different route through western cwm and ice fall avoiding any interaction with Sherpas. Crossing western cwm and icefall without fixed route is a tough and dangerous. Even with fixed ropes and ladders most of climbers rate it as one of the toughest sections on South Col route. It’s said that Ueli Steck was moved to a hospital in Kathmandu and is doing well. He’d probably leave the expedition and fly back to home, soon. [Edit: Latest reports suggest Ueli is back to BC.] Whereas Simone Moro is still at BC and would plan further depending upon security situation. The official version of incident might appear only once investigations are complete.

Simone Moro and Ueli Steck; Source

The incident is making 'interesting' headings in mainstream media, which is quite unfortunate. Sources in mountaineering are tagging it as clash of cultures (the commercial expeditions and professional climbers with 'pure' approach). Rifts between climbers with different climbing approaches are understandable but incidents like this, endangering other's lives are unacceptable. Let's hope situation eases up and climbers proceed with their desired climbs. Following the incident most of the teams avoided moving up or down, yesterday.

Edit: Ueli Steck has released the press statement, with a more thought-provoking ending. He writes:-
"The three climbers feel that they don't believe that their actions were the reasons behind such a mass attack. They believe that the reaction was from a far more deep rooted and long term problem, which is the way that Nepalese feel treated by Westerners on the mountain and this was an uprising against that. The three climbers are completely independent and not part of any commercial expedition."

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