Nepalese police have launched an investigation into a brawl between three foreign climbers and local sherpa guides on the world's highest peak, the Mount Everest.

Speaking to the AFP news agency on Monday, an unamed US-based mountaineer described a "terrifying" scene of European climbers fighting with their Nepalese guides after they failed to follow proper instructions when rigging rope.

"The Sherpas told the team not to climb above them while they were fixing the ropes but they did it anyway. Then some ice fell and hit the Sherpas, which made them angry," the eyewitness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Ueli Steck, a Swiss national who holds climbing records, and Simone Moro of Italy, who has climbed the Everest four times, were approaching the 7,470-metre Camp Three on Saturday when the bust-up occurred.

The Europeans, accompanied by a photographer recording their attempt to climb the 8,848-metre mountain by a new "undisclosed" route without supplementary oxygen, ignored the request and carried on, the eyewitness said.

Later in the day, a group of angry Nepalese stormed up towards the climbers' tents and pelted them with stones until the men came outside, after which a loud argument ensued and punches were allegedly thrown.

"After a while the mob left, and the climbers packed up and walked past us down - as far as we knew they were leaving the mountain," the eyewitness added.

'Nearly got killed'

"It was terrifying to watch -- they nearly got killed."

Police near the world's highest mountain are investigating the incident, local officials told the AFP.

"We were told our clients disagreed with the instructions of the Sherpa guides and went ahead over some icy terrain," said Anish Gupta of Cho-Oyu Trekking, the Kathmandu-based company that organised the Europeans' expedition.

"We understand that at some point the foreign climbers kicked some ice back and it hit one of the Sherpa guides, causing the fight to start," Gupta told the AFP.

According to the climbing company, the men have since descended from the upper stretches of the mountain.

Raj Kumar, a police constable in Lukla, told the AFP that Steck spent the night at a hospital near the airport in the town but was "totally normal" and did not show any sign of injuries.

On Monday morning Steck flew in a helicopter back to Everest's base camp to rejoin Moro, who had remained on the mountain.

The pair are reportedly mulling whether to try again to reach the summit.

More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest, which straddles Nepal and China, since it was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Every year hundreds more set out in April to attempt the climb.

Source: AFP