From Everest, A Guide Weighs In On the Fight Fiasco


khumbu icefall mount everestEverest, in all its intensity and boredom, to me often feels like a stimulant-enhanced version of “normal” life at home. This heightened intensity of emotional and physical existence is not necessarily a good thing, but I am sure this is why many of us return year after year. It is an addictive way to exist.

The last 24 hours here on Everest has been an example of this intensity, in its best and worst forms. It all began yesterday at 2:30 a.m. I woke to a perfect night for climbing – cold, clear weather, a big enough moon to make a headlamp unnecessary, and my body feeling 100 percent rested. In these perfect conditions I had a quick Bialetti of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, and, after a pass around our chorten where juniper was burning for good luck, I headed for the icefall. My goal was as much fun as work. Sure, I was carrying a small load of equipment for Camp 2, and I wanted to see the icefall condition before guiding it. But mostly, I just wanted to climb at my pace, test my newly acl-free knee, and put to rest some of the demons from last year. On my last trip through the icefall in 2012, Dawa Sherpa, a friend and strong climbing partner, died of a brain hemorrhage. It was an intense and awful experience to be with him as he passed, helpless, and it all occurred in the middle of a very dangerous icefall.

Yesterday’s climb was cathartic. Passing through the icefall in under two hours to Camp 1, I remembered and honored Dawa, and felt the strength that this place, and all of the climbers here, gives me. I cranked. It felt amazing. While still a dangerous place, the icefall felt fun, and the risk felt acceptable for the joy moving like this gives.

MORE ON EVEREST FIGHT

In these perfect conditions I continued to Camp 2, managing the cold and dreaming of the sun and warmth that would soon hit. I passed countless friends, Sherpa and westerner, in both directions as I climbed, and this is where things began to change. While it was fantastic to see friends, everyone wanted to discuss only one thing – the fight that had occurred the previous day in Camp 2 and on the Lhotse Face. This incident, already being dramatically covered by the western and local media, transformed a perfect climbing day into a mess of politics. I have been a lead guide on Everest the past five years, and in two of the past three years was the only non-Sherpa chosen to rope-fix to the summit of Mt. Everest. From this position I feel lucky to have strong relationships with Sherpa, western guides, professional climbers, and clients. In this case that meant every side wanting to explain their case, and their reasoning for what occurred.

To me, the bottom line is that multiple mistakes were made by both sides. On Everest, the professional climbers (even when attempting new routes) also benefit from fixed ropes, trails broken, and rescue caches placed, primarily by the Sherpa. The professional climbers involved could have and should have chosen somewhere else to acclimatize on this day, instead of solo climbing above the rope fixing team. Everyone knew about the rope fixing effort, and other teams that would have liked to be climbing where the incident occurred respected the rope fixing effort and stayed off the Lhotse Face. Even if no rock or ice actually was knocked off by the professional climbers, and even if no rope-fixing Sherpa was injured, there was still a perception of disrespect for the effort. As part of past rope-fixing efforts on Everest, I can attest to the importance of not having other climbers pushing the team from below, or putting the team at risk from above.

adrian ballingerWith that said, the response from some (not all) of the Sherpa was inexplicable and inexcusable. Regardless of the disagreement, or the inappropriate language used by the western climbers, the threats and attempts at violence by the Sherpa involved were wrong. I was given numerous possible explanations for the severity of their anger, but none of them justify attempting bodily harm. This behavior would be wrong anywhere. Above 6000 meters on a mountain, where we all need to depend on each other to try to minimize accidents, injuries, and death, this behavior does nothing but undermine the bonds between teams and climbers that we depend on. It is my understanding that a small number of Sherpa led and incensed the rest of the “mob” that formed. It is my opinion that these Sherpa should be removed from the mountain for this season, and potentially prosecuted. The same goes for the westerners, if eyewitness reports stand true, that responded with violence. Their behavior stands in sharp contrast to the numerous westerners and sherpa that did not resort to violence and attempted to diffuse the situation, even at risk to themselves.

Everest is a mountain where people pour an incredible amount of passion and money into their efforts. This is true for professional and recreational climbers, and for Sherpa who earn most or all of their family’s annual income in these two months on the mountain. The constant pressure to break records, attempt new routes, and be the strongest, whether for personal pride, sponsors, future job offers, or media, can cloud the purity of our climbing here. And these pressures can lead to disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings. But none of these pressures should be allowed to lead to violence, or to breaking the essential bonds that tie climbers to each other, and that normally can be counted on to surpass all competition when someone needs help in the big mountains.

Here on Everest, we need to remember these bonds. We need to talk to each other, and to rebuild what has been broken. And, at the end of the day we need to remember that it is perfect climbing days, like mine through the icefall only 24 hours ago, that we are all here to experience. We are all here for the same base reasons – fun and challenge. The pursuit is selfish, but climbers are so often incredibly selfless, and this balance makes our climbing worthwhile and valuable in our community and beyond. I look forward to the upcoming days climbing on Everest, and to a summit push that will come all too soon. And I look forward to these efforts with my friends, teammates, and coworkers from all the various teams and countries that make up this season’s Everest community.

Here’s to the best of Everest. I hope we all remember it, and live it, over the next month of effort.

Adrian Ballinger, above, is the founder and lead guide of Alpenglow Expeditions Photo of Khumbu Icefall by Adrian Ballinger.

{ 19 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Aloke Surin

    Ever since the commercialization of big mountain climbing, and mountain climbing itself becoming an elite, well paid (for some) professional pursuit, all the human shortcomings which the older generation of climbers did not have to deal with in such magnificent surroundings are now part of the circus. When climbing becomes primarily an extension of the ego, one must expect the negative corollaries as well!

  • rak

    Ok…so you fix the handrails for the tourists along with the other trade associationists and say all the necessary PC things and then bravely attribute partial blame to everybody. However, unless multiple accounts are incorrect, the climbers were not “pushing” the rope fixers … they were soloing a parrallel line at a respectful distance. In addition they stepped accross the lead line below the lead climber and did not “put him at risk from above”. This sort of thing happens all the time in the climbing world without mass mob violence directed at 3 individuals.

  • Paulo Roxo

    “The constant pressure to break records, attempt new routes, and be the strongest, whether for personal pride, sponsors, future job offers, or media, can cloud the purity of our climbing here”
    Adrian, what purity are you talking about? The purity, of the business you are into? The purity of the garbage you are promoting on the mountains? The purity of the fixed ropes? The bottled oxigen? The crowds? And ultimately, the violence? So, people like Ueli, that are going by their own, by completely fair means are “clouding” the purity? C´mon! I have a question Adrian: what´s the meaning of Alpinism for you? I have a feeling you no longer know the answer.

  • Roberto Aboey

    Multiple mistakes were made by each side, are you insane? You are rationalizing stoning of human beings and the attempted murder of two of the top athletes on the planet. You are a fraud trying to kiss the savage sherpas butts so you can make more money over there this season. Your article here is pathologically dishonest and disgustingly supportive of the obvious undeniable act of barbaric savage stoning of people to death. You say.. “even if no rock was knocked off”, as in even if the sherpa was a complete liar and that insane mob tried to kill amazing people like Ueli based on absolute complete lies, it’s all equally everyone’s fault.. That line right there shows what a complete piece of garbage you are and the true character of Alpenglow Expeditions. Alpenglow Expeditions is a despicable organization that is rationalizing pure true savagery for their own monetary self gain.

    • antonio

      WOW!! Roberto you are the type of person that the Nepali deal with? and your attitude is the type of attitude that the Nepali have to deal with? No wonder that this situation was going to come to a boiling point. I have been to Nepal several times and have been on several treks and have always noticed that many of the “clients,” mostly white pretentious people, never take the time to salute their porters or guides or ever take the time to know anything about them. They are treated quite poorly. Now imagine dealing with people, egos like you, and worst, over for decades!! Now wonder that this occurred. The whites want all the glory. Yet they would NEVER reach the height that they have reached with out the Sherpas. sure there would be a handful of people that would reach the top on their own and they deserve the credit. However, I doubt that 90 percent of all attempt would be successful. Savages!!! what millennium are YOU in? What cave did you come out of? Do you use this “savages” to help you? It is sad that these poor climber had to experience this. They were the unfortunate souls that had to pay the price for people who treat other poorly. a perfect example would be you!!!I love Nepal and I love the people. They are very simple individuals. I do not think what they did was right, but I am not surprised that it occurred. for decades the fat rich cats that do not know anything about climbing have reach the top and when they do not they have a fit and defy the guidance of the Sherpas many times over. I do not think this the climbers were in the wrong I just think that they pay the price for idiot like you Roberto! get with the times pendejo!!

  • Shawn Seattle

    Wow Roberto, your characterization of Sherpa as savages reminds me of British colonists calling people in their colonies savage. It is also reminiscent of the early settlers who massacred native Americans and African slaves which labeling them as savage. Just like the colonists built their empires on the backs of their savage slaves, climbers like you have built their successes on the backs of these Sherpa and I bet the same savage Sherpa have saved several climbers like you. What Sherpa, in his right mind, would bite the hand that feeds his family. I’m sure you all are a bunch of highly civilized and peace loving angels. The simple fact is that fatigue and cold combined with adrenalin rush, can push anyone to the edge.
    Wake up dude! This is not you grandpas culture any longer.

  • EH

    In an effort to avoid anymore wildly ignorant and unbelievably disrespectful posts about Adrian and/or the entre Sherpa culture, maybe read the rest of the story: http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2013/04/30/everest-2013-the-sherpas-viewpoint/
    The report provides further details that may shed some light on how tempers may have spiraled out of control as well as states that a “careless western climber who had not been involved up on the Lhotse Face” initiated the physical altercation at Camp 2 not the “barbaric” acts of the “savage” Sherpa as Roberto so tastefully and intelligently put it. Looks like the situation is being dealt with and said parties are apologizing and dealing peacefully like reasonable human beings. Far less can be said about some of the comments above and elsewhere. Talk about garbage……

    • Doug

      Interesting how this blog you refer to has been sanitized over the last several days, removing many of the posted links and comments regarding the situation. It definitely promotes the second / third hand, downplayed version of events.

  • Dan

    I read a couple of comments by some guys here like rak and roberto. Wow! where does these specimens come from? These guys egos must have been so thoroughly damaged. They must have had some strong porters and sherpas make them look like weak pink thing, so all this frustrations coming out. You guys are wanna be climbing heroes who could never become, that is why you are talking so much about what is correct in the mountain. You are rejecting the other side of the story. Only weak people are racists. Your confidence must have been absolutely destroyed and made you look like sissy in front of these strong guys. Great heroes like Hillary, Messner, Habler and plenty of other great climbers have always admired how wonderful, kind, gentle and hard working Sherpas are.
    I don’t support violence and think it was a tragedy that happened in Everest, but your comments are derogatory and hate instigating!

    • rak

      Guys like you will go to any length to justify violence as long as it’s directed against the “right” target. Typically the give away line is something like : “I don’t support violence BUT……….”

  • PauPau

    It seems that the first violence was the act of crossing a set of ropes and triggering ice falls down upon working teams. All for the sake of exploring a new route. Just because the ice falls were not aimed, doesn’t excuse the thoughtlessness and disrespect and risky action. .

    Those climbers are flying home in airliners cruising at altitudes below that of Everest climbers, but they are not allowed to open the windows of the plane, even if they want to set out on their own mission.

    What a great metaphor for the coexistence of all humans at all altitudes. .

  • Jeff

    What icefall, PauPau? The western climbers assert there was on icefall onto the Sherpa, and that they crossed at the same height as the lead Sherpa. The Sherpa who had did sustain an injury told his Sirdar that it was from a slip while jumaring, and that he hit his face on the rock in front of him. You might want to read Moro’s account, too, which isn’t influenced by an economic interest such as that of Mr. Ballinger. Moro certainly has an interest in telling the story from his perspective, but keep in mind that he has – and continues to – invested and donated a tremendous amount of his own time and treasure to support the education and welfare of the Nepalese and Sherpa. His account includes the reconciliation that occurred (perhaps most driven by him) before he and his colleagues left the area.

    If the Sherpa aren’t honestly held honestly accountable, it’s because of their value to the terrible commercial venue that Everest has become. Mr. Ballinger and his fellow guides are more responsible than anyone for the degradation of the environment there, and now for the worsening relationships between the Sherpa (including the fact that they compete so aggressively amongst themselves) and the western elite who pay to be dragged up the mountain. Be sure to thank Mr. Ballinger and his peers for bringing the worst elements of capitalism to Everest and the native people of region, so that they, too, can now enjoy the ego- and money-centered motivations for climbing on Everest.

  • Jill

    Seemingly, if Steck-Griffith-Moro had notified the rope-fixing teams that they would be climbing that day at a respectful distance and gotten their agreement ahead of time, the whole fracas could have been avoided. Plain old communication.

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