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A fight at 23,000 feet? Climbers accuse Sherpas of Mount Everest attack

By Manesh Shrestha and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
April 30, 2013 -- Updated 1024 GMT (1824 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A group of foreign climbers say Sherpas attacked them, punching them and throwing rocks
  • An expedition official says the fight broke out because falling ice hit a Sherpa
  • Nepalese authorities say they are investigating
  • An expedition official says both sides have reconciled and agreed to continue their climb

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) -- Most people expect to fight frigid temperatures and fierce winds as they climb Mount Everest.

But a group of three climbers say they faced unexpected adversaries over the weekend while scaling the storied peak: Sherpa guides.

Nepalese authorities say they're investigating reports that a fight broke out on Saturday between the guides and the climbers, nearly 23,000 feet (7,000 meters) up the world's tallest mountain.

"If the Sherpas hit the foreign climbers, action will definitely be taken against them," said Dipendra Poudel, a mountaineering official in Kathmandu.

The fight started after three professional climbers from Italy, the United Kingdom and Switzerland told the Sherpas they wanted to climb on their own, according to Nima Nuru Sherpa of Cho-Oyu Trekking, the agency that is managing their climb.

2012: Climber 'traffic jam' on Everest?

"Our clients said the Sherpas manhandled them," he said.

A statement posted Sunday on the website of Italian climber Simone Moro gave a harrowing account, claiming that 100 Sherpas attacked him, Swiss climber Ueli Steck and British climber Jonathan Griffith.

This account said the fight broke out after Sherpas said the climbers knocked ice onto a Sherpa located below them.

"They became instantly aggressive," the statement said, "and not only punched and kicked the climbers, but threw many rocks as well."

After nearly an hour, the situation calmed down, the statement said.

"The climbers, who had been pushed away and told to hide, had regrouped and were told that if they weren't gone in one hour that they would all be killed," the statement said.

"The climbers packed the bare essentials and made a circuitous route back down to the base of Mount Everest in heavily crevassed terrain with no rope on, feeling that given the current situation this was the safest place to be."

Nepalese authorities said their investigation into the report was ongoing.

"The Sherpas got angry when hit by the ice and there was a fight," said Dambar Parajuli of the Expedition Operators' Association, a group representing expedition organizers.

In addition, he said, the climbers had been instructed not to go up while Sherpas were laying ropes, but they went ahead despite the warning.

On Monday, he said, both sides had a meeting, reconciled and agreed to go ahead with the climb.

In their statement on Sunday, the climbers said no Sherpa had come forward with any evidence of injury.

"The climbers believe that the lead Sherpa was tired and cold and felt that his pride had been damaged as the three climbers were moving unroped and much faster to the side of him," the statement said. "Whatever the reason may be, there is no reason to instigate vigilante rule and to try and kill three visiting climbers."

About 4,000 people have scaled Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first climbed the mountain in 1953.

According to mountaineering officials, 340 foreign climbers from about 30 expeditions have been given permission to climb Everest this year with about the same number of high-altitude Sherpas set to assist them.

The majority of climbers are on commercial expeditions and are aided by Sherpas to reach the summit.

Sherpas from different expeditions put down ropes to the summit and later, other climbers hold on to them to scale the mountain.

Turning Everest waste into art

Among climbing enthusiasts on social media, word spread quickly of the fight in one of the world's most hard-to-reach, but well known, locales.

In a Facebook post, Climb Magazine described what it called a "shocking scene" on the mountain, sparking debate among readers over whether the Sherpas or the climbers were responsible.

One post on Adventure Journal's website described the incident as "an inauspicious start to the spring climbing season on Mt. Everest."

In another post, a guide said mistakes were likely made on both sides, but that those responsible for the violence should be prosecuted.

"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," guide Adrian Ballinger wrote.

"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," Ballinger added.

Childhood dream leads climber up Everest, twice

Journalist Manesh Shrestha reported from Kathmandu, Nepal. CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN's Dorrine Mendoza contributed to this report.

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