Sherpas consider boycott after disaster

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KATMANDU, Nepal -- Buddhist monks on Monday cremated the remains of Sherpa guides who were buried in the deadliest avalanche to hit Mount Everest, a disaster that has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community.

Nepal's government late Monday said it would consider the Sherpa's demands for more insurance money, more financial aid for the families of victims, formation of a relief fund and regulations to ensure climbers' rights. A committee formed with guides, rescuers and others will make its recommendations today, said mountaineering department chief Maddhu Sudan Burlakoti.

A total Sherpa boycott could critically disrupt the Everest climbing season, which is key to the livelihood of thousands of Nepali guides and porters. Everest climbers have long relied on Sherpas for everything from hauling gear to cooking food to high-altitude guiding.

At least 13 Sherpas were killed when a block of ice tore loose from the mountain and triggered a cascade that ripped through teams of guides hauling gear. Three Sherpas missing after Friday's avalanche are presumed dead.

"Right now, I can't even think of going back to the mountain," said Tashi Dorje, whose cousin was killed. "We have not just lost our family members, but it is a loss for the whole mountaineering community and the country."

On Monday, hundreds of people lined the streets of Nepal's capital, Katmandu, as the bodies of six victims were driven in open trucks decorated with Buddhist flags. During the cremation ceremony, dozens of nuns chanted for the victims' souls to be released, as the bodies were covered in pine branches. A daughter of one climber fainted and was taken to a hospital.

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

The avalanche came just as climbing was to begin in earnest this season, with mountaineers set to begin moving above base camp and slowly acclimatizing to the altitude on the world's highest mountain. Most attempts to reach the 29,035-foot summit of the world's highest peak occur in mid-May, when weather is at its most favorable.

Since the avalanche, Sherpas have expressed anger that there has not been a bigger response from Nepal's government, which profits from permit fees charged to climbing expeditions.

Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said about 400 foreign climbers from 39 expedition teams are on the mountain with an equal number of Sherpa guides, along with many more support staff, such as cooks, cleaners and porters in the base camp.

The Tourism Ministry, which handles the mountaineering affairs, said it has not been told of any expedition cancellations.

Katmandu-based Alpine Everest Guides hoped to hire new Sherpas to continue its expedition after six of its guides died or went missing in the avalanche, agency representative Ishwor Poudel said. Those plans would be difficult if a mass boycott occurred.

Some Sherpas had already left the mountain by Monday, either joining the boycott or mourning their friends and colleagues.

The government has announced emergency aid of $415 for families of deceased climbers, but Sherpas are demanding better treatment.



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