Most Sherpa mountain guides have decided to leave Mount Everest, a guide told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The walkout comes after at least 13 Sherpas died in an avalanche Friday – 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 fell well short of what the Sherpas wanted.
The Nepal National Mountain Guide Association in Kathmandu will 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 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….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 who are still missing are presumed dead.
At the base camp memorial service, Buddhist priests read religious scripts, and Sherpas and foreign climbers burned incense lamps and prayed for the dead. The victims' bodies were cremated 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 largely foreign climber clientele would have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to climb up Everest, which in some cases can cost up to $90,000.
At least one expedition company has outright canceled the 2014 attempt for its six-member team so far.
"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.
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.