American Climber Melissa Arnot Ended Sherpa Brawl on Mt. Everest

Three foreign climbers credit Melissa Arnot with helping them retreat to safety.

ByABC News
April 30, 2013, 12:09 PM

April 30, 2013— -- The elite climbers who faced off against angry Sherpas atop the world's tallest mountain are crediting American climber Melissa Arnot with helping them retreat to safety.

Simone Moro of Italy, Ueli Steck of Switzerland, and Jonathan Griffith of Great Britain, were descending Mount Everest when they were confronted by nearly 100 guides. The Sherpas accused the trio of knocking ice onto a fellow guide below and injuring him.

The altercation turned violent when the Sherpas began punching and kicking the climbers, and throwing rocks at them, according to a statement on Moro's website.

Climbers Abandon Mount Everest Expedition After Brawling With Sherpas

The trio of climbers said Arnot, who has worked on the mountain for the past six years and is the women's world-record holder for Mt. Everest summits, helped to calm the angry guides, many of whom she had a relationship with.

"I felt like it was much less likely that they would hit me actually or hit me with a rock just being a woman," she told ABC News.

Arnot said she positioned herself between the three foreign climbers and the Sherpas, "holding the hands of another Sherpa," in hopes of calming the tensions.

"The Sherpas were upset with the foreign climbers for trying to continue to climb" while the Sherpas were working to fix safety ropes, Arnot said. "Instead of conversation, the idea of violence was resorted to, and I think that is where the tragedy of this whole event comes down to."

"I wasn't trying to be heroic," she said. "But I do think my presence prevented some violence."

Arnot said the negotiations between the three climbers and the Sherpas lasted nearly 45 minutes, as she aided in "talking them off the edge of all this anger."

"I think the foreign climbers made the mistakes and the Sherpas made some mistakes in communications, but at the end of the day violence is completely unacceptable in any scenario, especially when you are very high on a mountain," Arnot said.

Moro said after the altercation, the trio was told "if they weren't gone in one hour that they would all be killed," the statement on his website said.

Following the brawl, the three foreign climbers abandoned their expedition and left the mountain, rattled by their brush with danger at 24,500 feet, but grateful to Arnot and the other western guides who helped them to descend safely.

Before leaving, the two parties drew up and signed a makeshift contract agreeing to never again resort to violence on the mountain.

The Nepalese authorities, the Ministry of Tourism, and the head of the Sherpa Association are investigating the attack, Moro's website said.

"It would certainly be terrifying but I think that at this point, the one thing we haven't heard was the point of view from any of the Sherpas who were there," Outdoor Magazine's senior editor Grayson Schaffer told "Good Morning America." "And I think that until we do we should probably withhold judgment."

ABC News' Alyssa Newcomb contributed reporting.