KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Sherpa guides were leaving Mount Everest's base camp on Wednesday as part of a walkout following the mountain's deadliest disaster, as some expedition companies announced that they were canceling their climbs this season.
American climber Ed Marzec said he saw several Sherpas leaving the base camp and many others packing up their tents. Some were loading their equipment onto a helicopter that had landed at the camp.
"There are a lot of Sherpas leaving this morning, and in the next two days there will be a huge number that will follow," Marzec, 67, from San Diego, said by phone from the base camp. He said he had already decided to abandon his climb.
Tusli Gurung, a guide who was at the base camp on Wednesday, estimated that nearly half the Sherpas had already left.
The walkout is certain to disrupt a climbing season that was already marked by grief following Friday's disaster. Sherpa guides were hauling climbing gear between camps when a chunk of ice tore loose and triggered an avalanche. Thirteen bodies were recovered and three Sherpas still missing are presumed dead.
"It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow," said Dorje Sherpa, an experienced Everest guide from the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance.
"I can't imagine stepping over them," he said of the three Sherpa guides who remain buried in ice and snow.
Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International announced it was calling off its expedition. "We have all agreed the best thing is to not continue this season's climb, so that all can mourn the loss of family, friends and comrades in this unprecedented tragedy," the company said on its website.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants also said it was canceling its expedition this season.
Marzec said some smaller companies were hoping to go ahead with their climbs.
The avalanche was triggered when a massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall — a treacherous area where overhanging immensities of ice as large as 10-story buildings hang over the main route up the mountain.
Special teams of Sherpas, known as Icefall Doctors, fix ropes through what they hope to be the safest paths, and use aluminum ladders to bridge crevasses. But the Khumbu shifts so much that they need to go out every morning — as they were doing when disaster struck Friday — to repair sections that have broken overnight and move the climbing route if needed.