High tension: A meeting between a Nepalese government delegation and Sherpa mountain guides near Everest base camp. Photo: AP
Delhi: Climbers and their local guides continued to descend from Everest base camp on Friday as officials said a Sherpa boycott and fresh avalanches had ended hopes of any group reaching the summit this year from the more popular Nepal side.
More than 300 climbers had hoped to scale Everest, but the deaths of 16 Sherpas last week in the worst accident on the mountain left the local guides distraught and angry. The Sherpas were swept away by an ice avalanche as they fixed ropes up to camp two at above 19,000ft.
It will be the first time in 27 years that the Everest route will be closed to climbers, although dozens are attempting to reach the summit from the northern, Tibetan side.
Dipendra Paude, a spokesman for Nepal's tourism ministry, said the last time Everest was in effect closed was in 1987 because of bad weather.
Earlier this week, Sherpas threatened to boycott the rest of the season unless the Nepalese government agreed a new compensation package for those injured and higher life insurance payments for the families of those killed. Nepal's tourism minister flew to the base camp for talks with Sherpas on Wednesday but they failed to reach agreement.
They had demanded that payments to widows and families be doubled to £12,000 ($21,746). The demands had caused a rift with some of the Sherpas, who depend on the payments of up to £4100 ($7430) they can earn for leading a group to the summit - about 10 times the average wage in Nepal. Mr Paude said some of them had wanted to stay and climb but he could not confirm reports that they had been threatened by Sherpas supporting the boycott. Adrian Ballinger, an American mountaineer, had reported that younger Sherpas had been behaving aggressively and attempting to stop others continuing with their expeditions.
However, fresh avalanches reported near the Khumbu Ice Fall earlier yesterday brought the climbing season to a final halt. "I could see fresh avalanches falling at the same spot that was hit last week," said Ang Tshering Sherpa of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
Despite the willingness of some Sherpas to continue with the season, the unity and goodwill necessary was no longer there, said Mr Paude.
"There are 48 groups coming back. Everyone needs high morale and a high level of support to climb it, so no one will," he said. All climbers will now need to register their abandoned expeditions before discussions on a refund.
The government has received £1.8 million ($3.26 million) in fees from climbers this year. Mr Paude said he hoped they would accept an extension of their permits for up to five years in lieu of a refund.
Loben Sherpa, whose company had nine climbers at the base camp, said there was widespread confusion over how much Sherpas would be paid or if expedition members would be compensated. "Everyone is confused. It's hard to say if the Sherpas will lose their money. It's all beyond anything we could have imagined", he said.