KATHMANDU: Nepal’s government strove Wednesday to save the Everest climbing season from an unprecedented walkout by Sherpa guides as another major mountaineering company abandoned its expedition following a deadly avalanche last week.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants lost three people in Friday’s avalanche, which struck a party of Sherpas preparing routes for commercial climbers up the world’s highest peak and killed 16.
The company said in a statement 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, which intended to broadcast the first winged jumpsuit flight off the summit, have also scrapped their plans on the 8,848-meter peak.
Guides and Western mountaineers told AFP that the Sherpas had held a meeting in the afternoon after an emotional remembrance ceremony at which they had agreed not to climb the peak this season to honor their colleagues.
Nepalese mountaineering officials, eager to avoid a shutdown that could lead to messy compensation claims and a huge loss of revenue, denied any such move Wednesday.
A government delegation is set to fly to Everest base camp Thursday to negotiate with the Sherpas following talks with leading expedition organizers in Kathmandu.
The situation at base camp, described as tense by climbers there amid fears this year’s season could be wrecked, remains fluid and unpredictable with accounts filtering out from climbers and guides.
Before Tuesday’s call to abandon the season, the guides had issued a string of demands to the government, including higher compensation for the dead and injured, a rise in insurance payments and a welfare fund.
The government has offered to set up a relief fund for injured guides using up to 5 percent of fees paid by climbers, while increasing life insurance payments by 50 percent.
The Sherpas want 30 percent of climbers’ fees to be earmarked for the fund and life insurance payments, set at $10,000, to be doubled.
The government, expected to earn at least $3 million this year from climbing fees alone, has issued permits to 734 people, including 400 guides, for 32 expeditions this season.
Hundreds of anxious climbers remain at base camp, uncertain whether to leave or stay following the Sherpas’ announcement.
New Zealand mountaineer Russell Brice, owner of top expedition company Himex, said he hoped the government delegation’s visit Thursday would persuade Sherpas to start climbing again.
“I hope the visit will calm tempers and the Sherpas will understand the reasons for continuing the season,” Brice told AFP in Kathmandu. “They can continue their negotiations once the climbing season ends.”