A GROUP of Sherpas which attacked three European climbers high on Mount Everest was angry at the disrespect of "luxury adventurers" who demand tea in their tent on the world's highest peak, a British member of the group has claimed.
Jonathan Griffith, a British Alpine climber and photographer based in Chamonix, France, was one of three European mountaineers who were attacked on Saturday morning by up to 100 Sherpa guides who kicked and pelted them with rocks following a fight higher up over their right of way.
The Sherpas claimed the three solo Alpinists had ignored their request for them not to climb over their ropes until they had finished fixing the route for guided expedition groups.
According to the Europeans, one of the Sherpas abseiled aggressively down onto the head of the celebrated Swiss climber Ueli Steck and another threatened Italian member Simono Moro with an ice axe. They eventually all retreated down from 7200 metres to Camp Two where a large group of Sherpas attacked and said they would kill them.
Sherpa leaders and officials said they could not remember an expedition ever being attacked by Sherpas before as they waged a campaign to resolve the dispute and persuade the three climbers to resume their ascent.
But in a telephone interview, Jonathan Griffith, said he and his colleagues will leave the base camp imminently and that their motivation had been 'destroyed' by the attack and the hostility of the Sherpas towards western climbers.
He and his colleagues had been struck by the resentment over a 'lack of respect' from the increasing numbers of well-heeled but indifferent Westerners. In the last 20 years the deep respect shown to them for their incredible strength and dedication by committed mountaineers has given way to insensitivity from 'luxury adventurers' who pay more than 40,000 pounds to realise their ambition. The Nepalese government charged 337 climbers 2.2 million pounds last year for permits alone.
"The big commercial operator out here said they [the Sherpas] hate westerners and that's been the problem for the last few years. It's not necessarily that the westerners treat them badly. We don't have to treat them badly to disrespect them.
"Everest attracts money. There are luxurious base camps, even at camp two and people are paying an awful lot of money to be here and they are carrying up these huge luxury tents. They're angry at this financial gap on their mountain. These commercial trips are based on a lot of luxury and getting you up the mountain and a lot of these Western clients don't even know what the names of their Sherpas are. They carry up their sleeping bags and by the time they get there a cup of tea, sleeping bag and tent are already waiting," he said.
The mountain has become crowded with long queues of climbers waiting to make their ascent, and the numbers attempting the summit have increased as expedition companies make it easier with bottled oxygen and comfortable accommodation. The base camp now has a wifi internet connection so the expedition members can telephone their families on Skype. "Real climbers are happy there in a crap tent," he said.
He believes he and his two colleagues were in the wrong place at the wrong time and felt the backlash of the Sherpas' wider resentment. They had been cold and tired after a hard day fixing the route ropes, and they were young, he said. "They were tired and cold, all on the edge and pissed off... but whatever we did, even if we knocked a bit of ice off, it doesn't warrant trying to kill three people. It shook us and scared us," he explained.
He said he is no longer convinced Everest is worth the risk and unsure whether he will ever attempt it again. "Before I left for Everest I said the danger was too many people on the mountain and accepted that as the main danger, I didn't think the main danger would be a mob of Sherpas throwing rocks," he said.