Sunday, May 4, 2008

Olympic Torch Special! The Flag Guy

NPR: "..In Nepal, authorities forced an American mountaineer with a "Free Tibet" banner in his bags off Mount Everest. Chinese climbers carrying the Olympic torch plan to ascend their side of the world's tallest peak in the early days of May…"

Ahh, NPR. They sort of got the whole story right.. why can't the media try 100% accuracy before they go on the air with a story? As usual, our team wasn't just involved, it was knee deep in the thick of it. But, only in that the kid (we affectionately nicknamed him Reinhold Messner since he looked above and beyond shaggy and thereby could not be added in with The Fuzzies) who got nailed with the flag showed it to us (along w/ many others) at Camp I.. thereby getting himself ejected from the mountain.

The reason he was ejected from the mountain (and from Nepal) is because it wasn't just a Free Tibet flag.. he had it specially embroidered in Thamel District before flying to Lukla and used the words "Free Tibet, Fuck China". That, in a nutshell, is the reason he was not only ejected from the Everest Region, but also from the entire country. Having dozens of conversations about this over the course of our time on the mountain, our guess is that if (if) his flag had just said Free Tibet, he would have been ok and he would have been allowed to continue his climb by the Nepal Government. But, he was a complete dumb ass about it, and in a year when the Chinese microscope was so visibly pointed on the Nepal side of Everest, he ended up deported for 2 years.

On the flip side, the whole Free Tibet movement is so bloody political and a giant, massive mechanism that continues to churn propaganda. Think I'm being naive? Just go ask Willie, who watched his name get dragged through the mud on Explorerweb and Rock & Ice- even after paying for a 30 minute satellite call to be interviewed by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Have I told you lately how much I hate the media? Manipulative bastards. Tell us how you really feel, Doug. On, Reinhold made a premature return to the US with Free Tibet "hero" status. In our eyes, he is no hero. At EBC, damage control abounds, the Nepal Army leads continue to discuss the future of climbing on Everest this past season with team leads on a regular basis, and even the Chinese Ambassador begins to make regular appearances at Base Camp. As a direct result of that guy & his flag, the Chinese insist that NO climbers be allowed through the Icefall during certain days, all of our equipment is searched enroute to Camp II, and everything becomes delayed. Nepal complies thanks to $180 million in soft loans and a fear that Reinhold wasn't the only cat with a flag, and they are right.

Thanks, buddy. You totally hooked up everyone.

Here is the press release I ginned up for Mountain Madness to put on their website as a response to reporters, etc. We pulled together this press release based on what we saw and experienced as it happened, and this is a compilation of the entire team and not just one individual:

“On 19 April, the Mountain Madness team was moving up through the Icefall when they came across William Brant Holland, on his first trip up and carrying a heavy load. When he saw Willie, he mentioned that he knew Willie from Aconcagua and small talk ensued.

Upon arrival at Camp I, the Mountain Madness team (westerners and Sherpas) sat down for lunch outside our tents with two famous Italian climbers. While eating, William arrived and asked Willie if he could store equipment in the back of Willie's tent vestibule, which he quickly agreed to, giving William some pointers on how to successfully execute a climb on Mt Everest (William appeared to be climbing unsupported).

While unpacking on the fringe of our group, at one point William said "Hey, check this out" and with that pulled out a black flag embroidered in Thamel with the wording "Free Tibet Fuck China". Five of us witnessed the flag, and when Willie saw it he jumped up quickly and in unison we all asked William why he brought such a flag along in the first place. His response was that he wanted to fly it from the summit. After discussing the ramifications of having such a flag and how it's presence could result in the Nepali Government shutting down climbing altogether, we explained that him openly flying one of these flags went counter to everything we had been instructed about, was directly opposite to boundaries of the permit, and that his having this flag put all of us- as in every climber and Sherpa who had paid thousands of dollars to be here at risk. The risk being that the Nepal Government could potentially shut down climbing on the Nepal side for the season.

After this conversation, he passed over the flag to one of our Sherpas who was about to head back to Base Camp, and was planning on disposing the flag in a way that would not be noticed. Unfortunately though, because William had publicly displayed the flag at Camp I, other climbers and Sherpas must have noticed it because word on the flag had made it to Base Camp before our Sherpas had. The flag was passed on to William’s team Sirdar, who then decided that it needed to be turned over to authorities.

We learned later that his entire team (William included) was fully debriefed on climbing permit rules and regulations- including Free Tibet paraphernalia- before arriving at Base Camp, and that his willingness in covertly bringing the flag with him put his entire team in direct risk of being ejected from the climb. It was this reason that compelled his Sirdar to turn over the flag to Nepal Army authorities and identify him as the flag owner.

As a potential collateral damage, Sherpas livelihood on Everest depends on work year after year. Even the Sherpas who were involved in this event were deeply upset given the precarious position that this flag put them in- the potential to lose half a season's worth of work across all teams attempting to climb, and those directly involved who could have been banned from the mountain indefinitely. These Sherpas rely on work to support their families, and while the "Free Tibet" movement is something of a romantic cause for some westerners, the potential financial damage that Williams' flag put directly in the face of these Sherpas has them taking quite strong positions on what they feel about him and his actions.”

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