Climbers quit expedition after Everest brawl

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A trio of European mountaineers involved in a high-altitude brawl with Nepalese guides on Mount Everest have cancelled their trip and and are to return from the Himalayas, the climbers said Tuesday.

Famed climbers Ueli Steck of Switzerland and Simone Moro of Italy, accompanied by British alpine photographer Jonathan Griffith, claimed they were attacked by an "out-of-control mob" on Saturday.

An American eyewitness told AFP the Europeans had ignored a request from Nepalese guides to wait during their ascent, and dislodged ice that hit the Sherpas below, sparking a "terrifying" clash at 6,500 metres.

"The climb is finished for us all. There was never a question of us continuing," Mr Griffith told AFP in an email from base camp on Tuesday.

An official at Cho-Oyu Trekking, the company that organised the Europeans' expedition, said the men will likely travel by helicopter to Kathmandu on Wednesday.

Mr Moro, who is a trained high-altitude helicopter pilot as well, also wrote to AFP to say he would not be climbing anymore this season. "I'll just fly helicopters doing rescues," he said.

A mediation meeting on Monday saw the men and Nepalese climbers apologise to each other and "commit not to go into conflict or use violence" in a signed document that has been seen by AFP.

A statement by Nepal's tourism ministry, conscious of the damage to its image of the widely reported bust-up, claimed on Tuesday that all the issues had been resolved and the expedition would continue as planned.

Mr Moro had been attempting to scale the 8,848-metre mountain for the fifth time by a new "undisclosed" route without supplementary oxygen.

In a statement released on Monday, the Italian said it was "highly unlikely" that any ice had fallen and hit the Nepalese Sherpas as a result of his team's manoeuvres.

Punches flew in the thin mountain air and a gang of furious Nepalese pelted stones at the Europeans' tents in the Camp Two stopping point, according to the eyewitness and trekking sources who spoke to AFP.

Mr Moro said in a statement on Monday that the Nepalese told his party that "by night one of them would be dead and the other two they would see to later".

Ms Liz Hawley, an American journalist and renowned Everest historian, told AFP that violent incidents on Everest of this kind were "very, very rare".

Some commentators have blamed the brawl on competition between Western mountaineers and Nepalese Sherpas over pride - suggesting the Sherpas might feel independent climbers threaten their expedition business.

Others have suggested that the Sherpa team might have been provoked by the brazen European climbers as they overtook them on the slope.

While the details of Saturday's drama remain murky, the increased crowding on the peak, including 150 people reaching the summit in a single weekend last year, has caused widespread concern for the safety of expeditions.

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