Sherpas struggle with climbing season in disarray

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 25, 2014 at 6:41 am •  Published: April 25, 2014
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KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — With Mount Everest's climbing season in disarray, the Sherpa guides who decided to abandon the mountain this year after a deadly avalanche said Friday that they would struggle to make ends meet.

Last week's avalanche was the deadliest ever recorded on Everest, killing 16 of the guides and exposing long-simmering resentment by Sherpas who say they face disproportionate risks ushering foreign tourists up the highest mountain in the world.

While the work on Everest is dangerous, it has also become the most sought-after source of income for many in Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community. A top high-altitude guide can earn $6,000 in a three-month climbing season — nearly 10 times Nepal's $700 average annual salary.

"I have children and a family to take care of. I got some money and don't know if I will get the rest or not," said Ang Sherpa, who was trekking back to his village Friday. "Mountain climbing was the main chunk of our income, but we have a small tea store on the side of the trail near Namche village, where we serve snacks for the trekkers."

Many of those who left the mountain said the risks and respect for those killed in the April 18 avalanche outweighed the money they would make.

"I got about half the pay for what I would have earned this season, but that's enough for now," said Dawa, who is among those who declared 2014 a "black year" on Everest and will be returning home.

"There is always going to be another season. The mountain is always there. There will always be mountaineering and mountaineers," said Dawa, who uses one name.

Most attempts to reach Everest's summit are made in mid-May, when a brief window normally offers better weather. Many Sherpas have other, less lucrative jobs during the off-season, including farming and running hotels and restaurants.

While the climbing season has not been officially canceled, guides and Sherpas said it appeared increasingly unlikely that any summit attempts would be made from the Nepal side of the mountain. Several expedition companies have canceled their climbs for the season, although Nepal's Tourism Ministry has announced that those teams can try again over the next five years, without having to pay the permit fees.