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Most Sherpas to ‘leave Everest this season’

Kathmandu, April 22 (AP): Most Sherpas have decided to leave Mount Everest, a guide said, confirming a walkout certain to disrupt a climbing season that was already marked by grief over the lives lost last week in Everest’s deadliest disaster.

Earlier today, Nepal’s government appeared to have agreed to some of the Sherpas’ demands in the threatened boycott, such as setting up a relief fund for Sherpas who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the funding falls well short of what the Sherpas wanted.

The Nepal National Mountain Guide Association in Kathmandu would try to negotiate with the Sherpas and the government because a total boycott would harm Nepal’s mountaineering in the long term, the group’s general secretary, Sherpa Pasang, said.

After a memorial service at base camp today, the Sherpas in the camp discussed their options, said guide Dorje Sherpa, who attended. He said most of them were planning to pack and leave as early as tomorrow.

“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing. While there are three of our friends buried in the snow, I can’t imagine stepping over them. We want to honour the members we lost and out of respect for them we just can’t continue,” he said.

Last Friday, several Sherpas were hauling climbing gear between camps when a chunk of ice tore loose and triggered an avalanche. Thirteen bodies were recovered and three Sherpas still missing are presumed dead. At the base camp memorial service, lamas read religious scripts, and Sherpas and foreign climbers burned incense butter lamps and prayed for the dead. The victims’ bodies were cremated yesterday.

After the avalanche, the government quickly said it would pay the family of each Sherpa who died 40,000 rupees, or about $415. The Sherpas said they deserve far more — including more insurance money, more financial aid for the families of the victims and new regulations that would ensure climbers’ rights.

The Everest climbing season provides livelihoods for thousands of Sherpas and porters. Climbers have long relied on the guides for everything from carrying gear to cooking food to high-altitude guiding. Without them, reaching the summit would be almost impossible.

Most attempts to reach the summit are made in mid-May, when weather is most favourable. If the Sherpas boycott the season, many of the climbers would have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to go up Everest, which in some cases adds up to $90,000.

At least one expedition company has cancelled the 2014 attempt for its six-member team. “Our team members have empathy for the Sherpa community and we wish for everyone to be able to mourn their lost family and friends in peace,” the Adventure Consultants Everest Expedition 2014 Team said on its website.

The ministry of tourism said in its statement the government had agreed to the following:

A relief fund to help Sherpas injured in mountaineering accidents and the families of those killed, and to pay for rescue during accidents.

The government said it will stock the fund every year with 5 per cent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees — well below the 30 per cent the Sherpas are demanding. Nepal earns some $3.5 million annually in Everest climbing fees.

Nepal will increase the insurance payout for those killed on the mountain to 1.5 million rupees ($15,620), up from the current 1 million rupees. The offer falls short of the Sherpas’s demand for 2 million rupees ($20,800).

The government will build a memorial to the men killed in Friday’s avalanche.

 
 
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