KATMANDU, Nepal - Most Sherpa mountain guides 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 Tuesday, 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 Katmandu 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 on Tuesday, 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 Wednesday.
"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 honor the members we lost and out of respect for them we just can't continue," he said.
Last Friday, several Sherpa guides 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, Buddhist lama, or priests, read religious scripts, and Sherpas and foreign climbers burned incense butter lamps and prayed for the dead. The victims' bodies were cremated on Monday.
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 Nepali guides and porters. Climbers 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.
Most attempts to reach the summit are made in mid-May, when weather is most favorable. 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 canceled 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 on the mountain.
- The government said it will stock the fund every year with 5 percent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees - well below the 30 percent 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 or $15,620, up from the current 1 million rupees. The offer falls short of the Sherpas' demand for 2 million rupees or $20,800.
- The government will build a memorial to the men killed in Friday's avalanche.
- The government also will pay additional money to help rehabilitate the injured.
Since the avalanche, expedition teams have declared a week of mourning. About 400 foreign climbers from 39 expedition teams were on the mountain with an equal number of Sherpa guides, along with many more support staff such as cooks, cleaners and porters in the base camp.
More than 4,000 climbers have reached the top of the world's highest mountain since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds of people have died trying.