The Nepali government yesterday held talks with grieving and angry sherpas on Mount Everest to try to end a deepening crisis on the world’s highest peak after an avalanche killed 16 of their colleagues.
As the talks got under way at Everest base camp over a sherpa threat to boycott the climbing season, three more mountaineering companies scrapped plans to scale the peak, citing safety concerns and fears of violence.
Senior tourism officials headed the delegation which flew to base camp to try to negotiate a deal with the sherpas. They are demanding more compensation and other benefits after the avalanche on Friday last week, the worst ever on the mountain.
“Our staff at base camp tell us the meeting between the guides and government officials has started. The discussions are on,” district police chief Badri Bikram Thapa said.
The government is under huge pressure to resolve the crisis amid mounting tensions on the 8,848m peak and as more companies quit this year’s season.
Leading US company International Mountain Guides (IMG) said the main route through the Khumbu Icefall, where the avalanche struck a team of guides carrying equipment for their clients, was too dangerous.
“The icefall route is currently unsafe for climbing without repairs by the icefall doctors [highly skilled guides who fix ropes and repair ladders up the mountain], who will not be able to resume their work this season,” IMG said in a statement.
Announcing it was also canceling its expedition, US firm RMI Expeditions said: “The risks outweigh the possibility of success.”
Peak Freaks, led by Canadian mountaineer Tim Rippel, said “the route in my professional opinion is NOT safe,” adding there was a real threat of further avalanches.
“In addition 300+ sherpas have put their names on an organized protest to not climb in respect of the recent deaths, why wouldn’t we listen to them?” Rippel said in a post online.
Describing a tense environment at base camp, he said sherpas keen to shut the climbing season were threatening violence against those who wanted to continue. Mountaineering companies and officials were also pressuring guides to stay on the mountain, he said.
“It’s gotten too messy ... now that we have an army, police and angry sherpas staging at base camp, it’s time to go home,” Rippel wrote.
Australian climber Gavin Turner said sherpas at base camp were divided over whether to close the season, with the group in favor of quitting threatening those holding out.
“A couple of factions have developed and there’s a group of young sherpas who have basically said that if any of the guides return to the icefall to restart work, their safety won’t be guaranteed,” Turner said.
Three other expeditions have already canceled their plans to scale the peak and the latest announcements throw the climbing season into further disarray.
Under fire over its handling of the disaster, the government is desperate to avoid a shutdown of the season that could lead to messy refund claims and a huge loss of revenue for the impoverished country.
Sherpas on Tuesday threatened to abandon the season after issuing demands to the government, including higher compensation for the dead and injured, increased insurance payments and a welfare fund.