KATHMANDU: In one of the most distressing tragedies ever en route Mount Everest, 12 Nepalese Sherpa guides were killed and four missing after an avalanche swept down on them on Friday. Officials said the Sherpas had gone up to fix ropes and were carrying tents and food ahead of the main climbing season starting later this month when they came under the heavy snowslide.
The death toll is expected to rise as several bodies are yet to be retrieved from under the snow because of inclement weather.
The avalanche hit an area called Popcorn Field below Camp 2 at an elevation of around 6,400m on the 8,848m-tall peak. The area has boulders of ice on the way leading to the treacherous Khumbu icefall. A news agency quoted an injured survivor as telling his relatives that the path up the mountain was unstable just before the avalanche.
The survivor was among four injured who were airlifted to a hospital in Kathmandu. Climbers with less serious injuries were treated at the base camp. Rescuers plucked survivors from under mounds of snow and ice and were looking for four more missing guides when deteriorating weather conditions forced them to pull back.
“The search for the missing will continue on Saturday morning,” said mountaineering official Dipendra Poudel. He said the toll was feared to rise as eyewitnesses said they could see more bodies but which could not be retrieved given the hostile terrain and bad weather.
Eight climbers had died in the last major disaster on way to the Everest on May 11, 1996, when a team of adventurists had run into a snowstorm. US mountaineer Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book “Into Thin Air” had immortalized that tragedy and is the subject of an under production Hollywood film.
Hundreds of climbers, guides and support crews are currently at the Everest base camp preparing to climb up to the summit when weather conditions improve early next month. They have been setting up camps at higher altitudes, and guides have been fixing routes and ropes on the slopes above.
The Sherpas are one of the main ethnic groups in Nepal’s mountainous region, and many make their living as guides to the Everest and other Himalayan peaks. Some foreign climbers were part of the group going up the mountain to get acclimatized, but they were not among the fatalities.
Dipendra Poudel said 334 foreign climbers have been permitted to climb the peak in the spring season that lasts till end of May. Around 400 Sherpa guides would accompany them.
More than 4,000 climbers have summited Everest since 1953, when New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first conquered it. Over 300 people have died on the mountain since the first summit.