Nepali rescuers evacuate an injured survivor after the April 18, 2014, avalanche on Mount Everest. (AFP)
Kathmandu, April 23 (AP): Sherpas packed up their tents and left Mount Everest’s base camp today in an unprecedented walkout to honour 16 of their colleagues who were killed last week in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on the mountain, climbers said.
The boycott throws Nepal’s lucrative climbing season into disarray. Most attempts to reach Everest’s summit are made in mid-May, when weather is most favourable, but expedition companies already have started cancelling their climbs for the season following Friday’s tragedy. Thirteen bodies were recovered after the avalanche and three Sherpas still missing are presumed dead.
Without Sherpa help, it would be nearly impossible for climbers to scale the mountain anyway. Many climbers will have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to go up Everest — at a cost of $75,000 or more.
“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow,” said Dorje Sherpa, an experienced Everest guide from the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance.
“I can’t imagine stepping over them,” he said of the three Sherpa guides who remain buried in ice and snow.
American climber Ed Marzec, 67, said by phone from the base camp that Sherpas were loading their equipment onto a helicopter that had landed at the camp.
“There are a lot of Sherpas leaving this morning, and in the next two days there will be a huge number that will follow,” Marzec, 67, of San Diego, said by phone from the base camp. Marzec said he had already decided to abandon his climb. But he said some smaller companies were hoping to go ahead with their climbs, and it was not clear whether allthe approximately 400 Sherpas on the mountain would join the boycott.
Tusli Gurung, a guide who was at the base camp today, estimated that nearly half the Sherpas had already left.
Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International announced it was calling off its expedition. “We have all agreed the best thing is to not continue this season’s climb, so that all can mourn the loss of family, friends and comrades in this unprecedented tragedy,” the company said on its website.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants also said it was cancelling its expedition this season.
Friday’s avalanche was triggered when a massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall — a treacherous area where overhanging immensities of ice as large as 10-story buildings hang over the main route up the mountain.
The disaster has reignited debate over the disproportionate risks the Sherpas take on Everest. Special teams of Sherpas, known as Ice Doctors, fix ropes through what they hope to be the safest paths, and use aluminum ladders to bridge crevasses. But the Khumbu shifts so much that they need to go out every morning — as they were doing when disaster struck on Friday — to repair sections that have broken overnight and move the climbing route if needed.
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 yesterday to some of the demands, such as setting up a relief fund for Sherpas who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the funding falls far short of the demands.
The government’s offers include a relief fund to help Sherpas injured in mountaineering accidents and the families of those killed, and to pay for rescue during accidents on the mountain.
The government said it would stock the fund annually with 5 per cent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees — well below the 30 per cent the Sherpas are demanding.
Nepal earns about $3.5 million annually in Everest climbing fees.