Everest climbing season in disarray after deaths

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Friday, April 25, 2014


KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal's attempts to salvage the Mount Everest climbing season took another hit Friday as more Sherpa mountain guides packed and left the base camp for their village homes a week after the deadliest disaster on the world's highest mountain.

Their departures come as major expedition companies canceled their climbs and other Sherpas quit the mountain after an avalanche killed 16 of their fellow guides last week.

It also snowed Thursday night, and by Friday morning a layer of snow covered the tents and rocky surface of the base camp. There was also a small avalanche Thursday near the spot where the big one swept through a week ago, but no one was in the area.

Bishnu Gurung, who is at the base camp, said he saw several yaks come to the camp early Friday and were being loaded with tents, equipment, supplies from the expedition teams. Some Sherpa guides also left with their backpacks.

While the season has not been officially canceled, guides and Sherpas said it appeared increasingly unlikely that any summit attempts would be made this season from the Nepal side of the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain.

"Many of us think this year is not good for climbing and nobody should be going up the mountain at all," Tenzing, a 23-year-old Sherpa who goes by one name, said in a telephone interview from base camp. He described 2014 as a "black year" for Everest.

"It was bad beginning to the climbing season and it should not get worse," he said.

The April 18 avalanche has laid bare deep resentments over Sherpas' pay, treatment and the disproportionate risks they take to help tourists ascend Everest. Dozens of Sherpas have packed up their gear and left the mountain, saying they want to honor the dead and pressure the government to protect their rights.

Adrian Ballinger, founder and head guide of Alpenglow Expeditions, said he and most other guide operations on the mountain decided to pull out late Wednesday.

"We all made the decision that it wasn't worth going against our Sherpas' hearts," he said, adding that he canceled out of respect for the Sherpas on his team.

A government delegation met with Sherpas at base camp Thursday in an attempt to persuade them to keep working. Although both sides said the meeting calmed tensions somewhat, there was no sign that it would salvage the season.

At least six expedition companies have canceled their climbs for 2014.

After Thursday's meeting, Tourism Minister Bhim Acharya, who led the government delegation, said the Sherpas assured him that "there will be no trouble."

"The ones who want to leave will leave and those who want to continue climbing would not be stopped or threatened," he said.

Still, the practical outcome of the meeting remained unclear. The Sherpas have no single leader who makes decisions.

For some Sherpas who believe the mountain has near-mystical powers, the deaths, and the fact that three of the bodies still have not been found, mean the climbs should be canceled.

"The signs say we should not continue," said Tenji Sherpa, a 30-year-old guide, speaking from base camp.

Most attempts to reach Everest's summit are made in mid-May, during a brief window of better weather. Without the help of the Sherpas, the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance, it would be nearly impossible for climbers to scale Everest. Many climbers will have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to go up the mountain — $75,000 or more.

There were still ways to get up Everest, however. Chinese mountaineering officials said summit attempts were going ahead from their side of the mountain.

Nepal's government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough for the Sherpas in the wake of last week's disaster.

Immediately after the avalanche, the government said it would pay the families of each Sherpa who died 40,000 rupees, or about $415. But the Sherpas said they deserved far more — including more insurance money, more financial aid for the victims' families and new regulations to ensure climbers' rights.

Nepal's government appeared to agree Tuesday to some of the Sherpas' demands, such as setting up a relief fund for those who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the proposed funding fell far short of the demands. (AP)

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