Updated April 20, 2014 00:47:14
Climbers are reconsidering whether they will continue their treks after an avalanche on Mount Everest killed at least 13 people.
Sherpa climbers aided by helicopters have resumed the search for up to four guides who are still missing after an ice avalanche swept the lower slopes in one of the deadliest accidents on the world's highest mountain.
Some climbers declared a four-day halt to efforts to scale Mount Everest and others decided to abandon their mission up the 8,848-metre summit. Others said they would go ahead after talking to their Nepali guides.
"I sat and counted 13 helicopter lifts - 12 were dead bodies flying overhead suspended by a long line from a helicopter," Tim Rippel of Peak Freaks Expeditions wrote in a blog.
"Everyone is shaken here at Base Camp. Some climbers are packing up and calling it quits, they want nothing to do with this. Reality has set in."
The ice avalanche struck a perilous passage called the Khumbu Icefall, which is riddled with crevasses and piled with seracs - massive ice boulders or columns that can break free without warning.
Some climbers are packing up and calling it quits, they want nothing to do with this. Reality has set in
Although relatively low on the mountain, climbers say it is one of the most dangerous points on Mount Everest.
There are, however, no safer paths along the famous South Col route first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
Experienced Australian mountaineer Patrick Hollingworth says the terrain is very unpredictable and there would have been no escaping an ice fall.
"You really don't have any control over your environment, it's essentially glacier, it drops down in elevation of about 800 vertical metres and so it's just a tumbled ice field," he said.
"You have to weave your way up through that ice field with huge blocks of ice they call them ceracs, some of them are three, four, five storeys high and they have a tendency to topple over without any notice."
Mr Hollingworth climbed the world's highest mountain in 2010 and says he was devastated to hear one of his Nepalese friends was among the dead.
He says his friend had reached the summit of the world's highest mountain seven times.
"He was one of the best, a very, very competent high altitude mountaineer, a very caring humble man, a father of six and so it's pretty devastating," he said.
Sherpas killed were en route to Camp 1
The Sherpas caught in the ice slide were ferrying equipment from Base Camp to Camp 1 - one of four waypoints that lie beneath Everest's South Face en route to the final climb to the peak.
Around 100 climbers and guides had already moved beyond the Khumbu Icefall to prepare their attempts on the summit. They are safe, but a new path will have to be made to make it possible to continue the expeditions.
Now we are concentrating on the rescue. Once that is over we will hold a meeting and decide what to do next for the climbing.
Hiker Bhim Raj Paudel
Mr Rippel's Sherpas had lucky escapes - two had returned to base camp five minutes before the avalanche hit, while two were briefly trapped above the avalanche but managed to make their way down, he wrote.
The Himalayan Guides, a Nepali hiking group, said six of its Sherpas had gone ahead of climbers they were accompanying in order to fix ropes and crack snow and ice to carve out a route, when they were caught in the avalanche and died.
"Now we are concentrating on the rescue. Once that is over we will hold a meeting and decide what to do next for the climbing," Bhim Raj Paudel, a member of the group, told Reuters.
His group is providing local logistics for three expeditions on Mount Everest and four teams to Lhotse and Nuptse peaks in the same region.
Lakpa Sherpa of the Himalayan Rescue Association told Reuters from the tented base camp near the incident site that a ground search party would begin climbing in clear weather on Saturday morning (local time).
"We have two helicopters stand by in the area and will start looking for those who are still missing. Many of them have already been rescued," Nepali Army spokesman Brigadier General Jagdish Chandra Pokharel said.
Nepal announces payments to victims family
It was first major avalanche of this year's climbing season on Everest, which has been scaled by more than 4,000 climbers.
Some 250 climbers have died on the mountain, which is on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet and can be climbed from both sides.
Expedition leaders reported that there was anger among some guides after the government announced immediate payments of $400 to the victims' families to cover funeral costs. Insurance cover typically amounts to $5,000.
"I hope the Ministry of Tourism will take care of their families," Alan Arnette, a climber and motivational speaker, wrote in an updated blog post from Base Camp.
"I know the expedition companies will provide support. But in an event of such magnitude, a reaction of similar order is in order by the Nepal government."
A rising number of tourists has raised concerns about safety and environmental damage, although Nepal still plans next year to cut fees for those wishing to do the trek.
The government has issued permits to 334 foreign climbers this season, up from 328 for the whole of last year.
An equal number of guides also climb to help the foreign mountaineers.
"The atmosphere at Base Camp is now of shock and of grieving," Scottish filmmaker Ed Wardle told Britain's Channel 4 News on Friday night, adding that "many of the expeditions here will pack up and go home".
"For this number of people to die at the very beginning of the season is completely unacceptable," he said.
"We came here looking for adventure, to celebrate Everest, but for something like this to happen makes the whole thing seem pointless."
Topics: avalanche, disasters-and-accidents, nepal, asia
First posted April 19, 2014 17:13:11