2020欧洲杯体育投注网Ueli Steck’s closest brush with death, or at least the time he thought it likeliest that he was about to die, came not when he plummeted seven hundred feet down the south face of Annapurna, or spidered up the Eiger’s fearsome North Face alone and without ropes in under three hours, or slipped on wet granite while free-climbing the Golden Gate route of El Capitan with his wife, on their honeymoon, but, rather, while he was hugging his knees in a tent on Mt. Everest, hiding from a crowd of Sherpas who were angry that his climbing partner had called one of them a “motherfucker,” in Nepali. They were threatening to kill him. He had no escape. He had planned everything so scrupulously. The intended route up the mountain was sublime, the conditions perfect. He had spent years honing his body and his mind while tending to his projects and the opportunities that arose out of them. As a climber, he knew that the mountains can foil the best-laid plans, that in an instant a routine ascent can turn into a catalogue of horrors. But it would be ridiculous to die like this. The expedition had hardly begun.
Steck had made his first trip to Everest in May, 2011, at the age of thirty-four. He’d built a reputation as one of the world’s premier alpinists—“the Swiss Machine,” some called him, to his dismay—by ascending, in record time, alone and without ropes, Europe’s notorious north faces and then by taking on bold Himalayan routes, with style and speed. Everest hardly fit the pattern. In recent years, accomplished mountaineers in search of elegant, difficult, and original climbs had tended to steer clear of its crowds, expense, and relative drudgery. Still, Everest is Everest. Steck felt the pull.
That spring, five hundred feet from the summit, he turned back, concerned that frostbite might claim his toes. He was also uncharacteristically spent, after climbing two other eight-thousand-metre peaks in previous weeks. (The goal of three in one trip was new.) But an idea had taken hold: a route that, if accomplished from beginning to end, would represent a milestone of modern mountaineering, a glorious plume. He began scheming and training for it. He returned a year later, to attain the summit via the standard route—a step toward the goal. He reached the top in the company of the lead group of Sherpas, the local people, many of whom work as porters and guides for the commercial expeditions on Everest. This was on the first day that the weather cleared for a summit push. The next day, the crowds went up—hundreds of aspirants, most of them clients of commercial companies, and their Sherpas—and, amid the traffic jam approaching the summit, four climbers died, of exposure and cerebral edema.
This year, Steck arrived in Nepal at the beginning of April. He intended to spend as long as six weeks prior to his summit push acclimatizing to Everest’s high altitude, going on forays up the mountain from base camp, which is 17,600 feet above sea level. (The summit is 29,028 feet.) He’d kept his plans secret. He has long disdained revealing the details of expeditions in advance. He doesn’t indulge in what he calls “tasty talking”—boasting of feats he has not yet accomplished. Also, a climber must generally be discreet about a bold route, to prevent other climbers from going there first. He was not displeased when climbing blogs reported, incorrectly, that he was going up the South Face. He had something else in mind.
His partners were Simone Moro, a forty-five-year-old Italian who’d been climbing in the Himalayas for more than twenty years (he’d summited Everest four times), and Jonathan Griffith, an English climber and photographer who lives in Chamonix. By the end of the month, they were established at Camp 2, at 21,300 feet, beyond the top of the Khumbu Icefall, a tumbling portion of the Khumbu Glacier mined with crevasses and seracs.
At 8 A.M. on April 27th, they set out for Camp 3 (24,000 feet), where they planned to spend a night, to acclimatize. To get there, they had to scale the Lhotse Face, a towering slope of sheer ice and wind-battered snow. The Lhotse Face is the main ramp up to a saddle called the South Col and then on to the standard Southeast Ridge route, the one that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ascended sixty years ago and which is now tramped by hundreds of amateur climbers a year. Every season, the commercial operators put in fixed ropes along the route up the face and the ridge—a kind of bannister to the top, which any client can clip on to and pull himself along using a clamping device called a jumar. Last week, an eighty-year-old Japanese man reached the summit.
April 27th was the day that a team of Sherpas were installing the fixed rope. It is an essential and difficult job, involving heavy gear and extreme working conditions on an ice cliff riddled with crevasses. The day before, the Sherpas, with help from three Western guides, had nearly completed the job but came to an untraversable crevasse, which had forced them to take the whole rope system down and return in frustration the next day to start over along a different path.
Earlier in the month, there had been a meeting at base camp among the expedition leaders at which it was agreed that while the Sherpas were fixing the Lhotse Face no one else would climb there. Steck and Moro, a small professional team and not part of the commercial-trip ecosystem, had not been at the meeting.
Later that morning, Steck, Moro, and Griffith reached the base of the face. A few Sherpas and an American guide asked them not to climb. “The Sherpas asked nicely,” Dawa Steven Sherpa, an expedition leader who had two Sherpas on the fixing team, told me. “Sherpas are really afraid of the Lhotse Face. They really get nervous.” But the Westerners felt that they could continue without interfering with the fixing crew. They climbed a hundred and fifty feet to the left of the fixed ropes. They themselves had no ropes. They were climbing “alpine style”—that is, without any fixed protection, porters, or supplemental oxygen. Each had crampons over his boots and an ice axe in one hand. Unencumbered, they moved fast. Two Sherpas, annoyed, used their ice axes to knock chunks of ice down at them, until a Western guide, hearing of this over the radio, told them to stop. After an hour, Steck and the others reached the level of Camp 3, where they would have to traverse the face to get to their tent, which meant they needed to cross over the fixed line. They chose a spot where four Sherpas were at the belay, below the lead fixer, and moved slowly past them, taking care, Steck says, not to touch the ropes with their crampons or to kick chunks of ice onto the Sherpas working below. After Steck crossed the line, the leader of the fixing crew, Mingma Tenzing Sherpa, who was working fifty or so feet up the face, began yelling at Steck and banging on the ice with his axe. Mingma, a young man from the village of Phortse, then rappelled down toward Steck. Anticipating a collision, Steck raised his arms to cushion the blow and prevent himself from being knocked off the face. According to Steck, Mingma rappelled into him, then began yelling at him for having touched him. He accused Steck and his team of kicking ice chunks loose and injuring a member of his crew. Steck argued then, as he would later, that they hadn’t dislodged any ice, and that they’d been climbing well out of the way. He offered to help the crew finish fixing the ropes. This seemed to anger Mingma even more. It was then that Simone Moro came along and, seeing Mingma swinging his ice axe, began yelling at him, calling him machikne, which translates as “motherfucker.” The insult is graver in Nepali. Mingma instructed his crew to stop working. The Sherpas descended the face, leaving behind their equipment and an unfinished job. Steck and Moro, in a possibly misguided attempt at good will, stayed behind and finished fixing the lines themselves. The three Europeans then decided not to spend the night at Camp 3, but to head back down to Camp 2 and try to resolve the dispute.