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Cancellations on Everest amid talks to save climbing season

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KATHMANDU: Another major mountaineering company has abandoned its Everest expedition after a deadly avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides, as the government strove Wednesday to save the climbing season, a vital earner for the country.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants lost three people in last Friday’s avalanche which struck a party of sherpas preparing routes for commercial climbers up the world’s highest peak. The company 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”. US-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-metre peak.
Hundreds of others at base camp who have paid tens of thousands of dollars face bitter disappointment after sherpas announced Tuesday they would abandon the season to honour their fallen colleagues. 
That decision, which would wreck the season and lead to messy compensation claims, featured in crisis talks under way in Kathmandu between tourism officials, representatives of the sherpas and expedition leaders on Wednesday.
British mountaineer Phil Crampton, owner of climbing company Altitude Junkies, told AFP that “we asked for immediate action to make expeditions possible this year”.
He added: “A high-level delegation of the government will head to base camp tomorrow to present a document to the sherpas and address their concerns.” 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, an agreement to raise insurance payments and a welfare fund. The government has offered to set up a relief fund for injured guides using up to five percent of fees paid by climbers, while increasing life insurance payments by 50 percent. 
The amounts fall short of demands by the sherpas who 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 Everest 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, with tensions running high.
New Zealand mountaineer Russell Brice, owner of top expedition company Himex, told AFP he hoped the government delegation’s visit on 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 said from base camp.
“They can continue their negotiations once the climbing season ends.” In an online post, South African climber Saray Khumalo said: “There seems to be a mob that is pushing for the closure of the season.” 
“Sherpas are unhappy and are demanding that the ice doctors (highly-skilled guides who fix ropes and prepare the route up the mountain) remove the ladders” used by climbers.
“We are waiting it out for now,” she said on her expedition’s Facebook page. 
Tashi Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, which lost three guides in the avalanche, told AFP “some teams have left the camp, but most of us are waiting to see what the government will say”. Relations between local guides and Western mountaineers hit a low last year when a brawl broke out between three European climbers and a group of sherpas.
The New Zealand firm that pulled out of Everest on Wednesday was also a victim of what was previously the worst disaster on the mountain in 1996, which was immortalised in the best-selling book “Into Thin Air”.
Adventure Consultants lost four people in that tragedy, which saw a storm envelop climbers at high altitude, killing eight in total.
More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on the peak since the first ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. 

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