Most sherpa mountain guides yesterday decided to leave Mount Everest in a walkout which will disrupt a climbing season already marked by grief over the loss of 13 lives in Everest’s deadliest disaster.
The move came after Nepal’s government agreed to some of the sherpas’ demands in the threatened boycott, such as setting up a relief fund for sherpas killed or injured in accidents, but the funding falls well short of what the sherpas wanted.
After a memorial service for the 13 sherpas killed in an avalanche last Friday at base camp, the guides discussed their options, said Dorje Sherpa, who attended. He said most were planning to pack up and leave as early as today. Three sherpas remain missing, presumed dead.
“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing,” he said. “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 we just can’t continue.”
Sherpa Pasang, general secretary of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association in Katmandu, said it would try to negotiate with the sherpas and the government as a total boycott would harm Nepal’s mountaineering future.
Last Friday, 13 sherpa guides hauling climbing gear were killed when a chunk of ice tore loose and started an avalanche.
Yesterday, officials in Nepal agreed to many of the guides’ most important demands, including paying the family of each sherpa who died 40,000 rupees (£240). But the sherpa community say 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.
Foreigners have long relied on sherpas for everything from carrying gear to cooking food to high-altitude guiding. Without them, reaching the summit would be almost impossible.
Nepal makes an estimated £21 million annually in Everest climbing fees alone. At least one expedition firm has already cancelled its 2014 attempt by a 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.
Nepal’s government also announced plans to build a memorial to the men killed in Friday’s avalanche. The news came a day after Buddhist monks cremated the remains of the guides killed last week.