Scores of Nepalese guides and foreign climbers on Mount Everest have packed up, loading supplies onto yaks and booking helicopters, with the climbing season increasingly in doubt after an avalanche killed 16 people last week.
Expeditions prepared to leave shortly after crisis talks ended with the Nepal government at Everest base camp in the wake of last Friday’s worst ever accident on the world’s highest peak.
Officials promised several hundred of the sherpa guides and foreign mountaineers during the talks on Thursday that their climbing permits would be extended for five years.
Both sherpas and foreign mountaineers normally have to buy annual permits to scale Everest, with those for a foreign climber costing at least $11,000.
Satisfied with the extension, sherpas said they would now honour their dead colleagues by leaving the mountain, while some climbers said it was too unsafe to scale the 8,848 metre high peak this season.
“I see most expeditions packing up now. They are arranging for yaks to carry their supplies,” local police official Kumar Timilsina told AFP from base camp.
Guide Nima Tenzing Sherpa also said “most teams are discussing cancellations… several clients have left today in helicopters”.
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.
The tourism minister insisted the mountain was still open for business, while also reassuring sherpas and climbers about permit extensions, an official said.
The talks came hours after three more major mountaineering companies announced they had abandoned plans to climb this year.