Dozens of Sherpa guides packed up and abandoned Mount Everest’s base camp Wednesday in honor of 16 of their colleagues killed in the deadliest avalanche recorded on the mountain, an incident that has exposed some resentment over their compensation and treatment.
Although it was not clear how many of some 400 Sherpas had joined the walkout, the Associated Press reported, the Nepalese government announced that its top tourism officials would fly out to the base camp Thursday to negotiate with the guides and encourage them to work.
The boycott puts the profitable climbing season on the line as expedition companies have started to cancel climbs, which would be nearly impossible without the guides to create miles of lines of fixed ropes, carve paths in the ice and snow, and carry nearly all the equipment.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, which lost three guides in the avalanche, said in a statement late Tuesday that “after much discussion and consideration of all aspects, the tough decision has been made to cancel the 2014 expedition this season.” U.S.-based Alpine Ascents International and the Discovery Channel have also altered their plans for the season, the Economic Times reported.
Many climbers will have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to ascend Everest — a cost of $75,000 or more, the AP reported.
“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow,” Dorje Sherpa, an Everest guide told the AP. Thirteen bodies were recovered, and three were still missing and presumed dead. “I can’t imagine stepping over them.”
The Sherpas were considering a strike earlier this week. After a meeting, they issued a “seven-day ultimatum” to the government, calling on it to “address their demands.” The government said it would compensate the families of each Sherpa who died with 40,000 rupees (about $415) but the Sherpas said they deserve more, including more insurance money and new regulations to protect the climbers’ rights.
Nepal’s government agreed to some of the terms, such as setting up a relief fund, but did not meet all the funding 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 percent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees — well below the 30 percent the Sherpas are demanding. Nepal earns about $3.5 million annually in Everest climbing fees.
The insurance payout for those killed in the avalanche, which now stands at $10,400, will also be increased to $15,620, or 2 million rupees, the Ministry of Tourism said — far less than the Sherpas’ demand for $20,800.
The Nepal National Mountain Guide Association will also try to negotiate with the Sherpas and the government because a total boycott would harm Nepal’s mountaineering industry in the long term, said the group’s general secretary, Sherpa Pasang.