Three veteran mountaineers were almost killed on Mount Everest this weekend, but not by the thin air or crippling cold that tried to do them in—it was a mob angry of Sherpas. The three European men were involved in a brawl at 24,000 feet when a dispute over climbing procedure turned into a violent, near-death scuffle that raises new questions about the overcrowding of the summit. Local officials are investigating the matter and say it's the first time they ever heard of such an incident at the world's biggest mountain.
The whole thing apparently began when a group of Sherpa guides instructed the three climbers not to touch the ropes that the guides were placing on the way to the summit. Traditionally, it's the local Sherpas who lay the groundwork for other climbers, by setting out the path to top and securing climbing lines. Witnesses say the three Europeans—one Italian, one British, and one Swiss climber—ignored the request and started climbing above them on their own. One of them may have also knocked some ice loose, hitting one of the Sherpas.
The Europeans saw it differently, saying one of the Sherpas rappelled down on top of the Swiss climber, "who raised his hands above his head to protect himself. This prompted the lead climber to accuse Ueli Steck of 'touching him.'" The Sherpa then reportedly turned on the climber, swinging his ice axe in anger and threatening to hurt other climbers as well.