When the World Suddenly Changes

Read an excerpt from "Ueli Steck: My Life in Climbing," the autobiography of the late, great alpinist. The book was published for the first time in English shortly after his death in a climbing accident.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
March 28, 2018

"The next thing I knew, a big rock hit my face."

I was dumbfounded and could not quite comprehend what was happening. I crouched down on my knees and put my hands over my head. Otherwise I did not even try to defend myself; if I had done so, they would all have attacked me. Another Sherpa, standing above me, was aiming at my head with a brick-sized rock when Melissa got between us. Attacking a woman would have been against the Sherpas’ mores.

I grabbed the opportunity and dashed back into the tent, but I came out again after a big rock was thrown into the tent and missed me by a whisker. When I saw Jon and Simone, who were standing a distance from the tent, I walked up to them and said: “I think the expedition is over.”

At that moment, the mob moved toward us again and assaulted Jon. Another Western mountain guide came to our aid and made the Sherpas back off. Jon and Simone made a break for the glacier, but I was stopped. I returned to the tent with Marty, who had a gash on his head.

“Give him to us! We will kill him!” About one hundred belligerent men had gathered in front of the tent, calling for me.

Greg Vernovage, an American mountain guide, and Melissa guarded the tent and tried to keep the Sherpas at bay. A lone Sherpa, Pang Nuru, was standing next to them. He had nothing to do with us but was obviously perturbed by the situation and knew that this was just not right.

I could hear a fierce discussion. The Sherpas ordered me to come out. I would be the first they would beat to death, and when they had finished with me they would go for the other two.

I felt powerless and could not see a way out. How could we possibly turn the situation into our favor? What would happen to us? It was over. I couldn’t do anything. My hands were tied.

I thought about how ridiculous the situation was. How many expeditions had I been on and come back from in one piece? How many critical situations had I survived? And now I was crouching in a tent on Mount Everest, just about to be lynched by a mob of Sherpas. This was impossible and the whole situation so absurd that I had no hope. The Sherpas were incalculable, but I would probably not survive. I started to imagine how my life would end by stoning.

By Ueli Steck, excerpted from Ueli Steck: My Life in Climbing.