Jeff Brown, climbing team heading home from Everest
TAMPA (FOX 13) -
One week after an avalanche rumbled down Mt. Everest, killing 13 Sherpa guides, a Tampa attorney says his climb to the summit is over -- but the reason is political. Jeff Brown says Sherpa loyal to regional communists are threatening death and violence to climbers and their Sherpa guides and damaging equipment used by climbing teams. The Maoist Sherpa, Brown says, "are from outside the area, violent, and they have been cutting (power) lines and wires" which are critical to the safety of climbers. Brown calls them "terrorists", and he says, they are winning.
Brown, of Tampa's Brown & Doherty law firm, is one of Tampa's best known defense attorneys. He is familiar to many FOX 13 viewers for weekly segments, in which he analyzes high profile legal cases. Outside the courtroom, he is an adventurist, having traveled through some of most remote parts of the world, and conquering some of the world's best known mountains. Reaching the summit of Mt. Everest has been his dream for years -- in fact, this is his second attempt. His 2012 climb was stopped short of the summit after dangerous weather conditions closed the mountain. This time, he says "the mountain is actually in great shape". It's "ready to be climbed….. but we aren't going. It's over", he says, in a blog entry he posted Friday. This time, the threat is violence. "Who would have thought that terrorism would have taken over at Everest Base Camp?", he asks. Brown's team is the last one remaining on the mountain. They began descending from Everest Base Camp on Friday. The situation, he says is "emotionally devastating".
For the Sherpa guides, it's financially devastating as well. The political fight over power and influence on the mountain may scare away tourists for years. This year alone, Sherpa tell Brown they'll lose 30 percent of their income. Brown says the Maoist Sherpa want the western tour guides banned from the mountain. "Their threats of violence are real", he says, and "they may get their wish, but the death rate on the mountain will triple because, though they refuse to believe it, they don't have the experience of the western guides and operators", which in some cases go back 30 years says Brown.
That experience paid off, to some degree, on Friday, April 18, when an avalanche rumbled down the slope and buried a group of sherpa who were repairing a crossing over a large crevice. The crossing -- two aluminum ladders duct taped together to form a bridge over a deep crevice -- had collapsed into a V-shape. As Sherpa worked to repair the crossing, more Sherpa were arriving to cross it. Impassable, a bottleneck began to form. Dozens of Sherpa were sitting ducks when the avalanche struck, burying them. Brown watched as helicopters carried victims and survivors back to base camp. "The only reason the rescue was so efficient", he says, "was because the western operators and guides (who helped with the rescues) had hundreds of combined years of experience"
Brown spent weeks, if not months, training and preparing for the trip. He traveled around the world through cities, then villages, then camp sites along mountain trails. He made it to Everest, but not to the top. His trip is remarkable for many reasons -- but not for the one he hoped and dreamed of. He was there when the single deadliest disaster ever on Mt. Everest struck; he witnessed it's tragic results with his own eyes; and he was there, when -- for the first time ever, political chaos and the threat of violence closed the mountain. "The Maoist now know terrorism works", he writes. "I could go on with more examples of violence but I won't. It's too upsetting. First Tibet was taken over, and now so is Nepal. A Sherpa way of life is ending. And for some reason I am in the epicenter of it. "