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Sherpas abandon Everest climbing season after deadly avalanche

Most Nepalese Sherpa guides on Mount Everest are planning to leave the mountain after a meeting at which they voted to abandon this year’s climbing season after an avalanche killed at least 13 of their comrades.

Four days after a devastating avalanche, Nepalese Sherpa guides on Tuesday decided to abandon this year's climbing season to honor their dead colleagues.

"We had a long meeting this afternoon and we decided to stop our climbing this year to honor our fallen brothers. All Sherpas are united in this," local guide Tulsi Gurung told the AFP news agency.

"Some guides have already left and others will take about a week to pack up everything and go," Gurung added.

Thirteen Sherpa guides were killed and another three remain missing and presumed dead after an avalanche swept through the Khumbu Icefall area of the mountain at an altitude of 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) last Friday.

The accident underscored the huge risks faced by Sherpas who maintain and prepare the icy slopes for climbers and trek the routes carrying equipment for their clients. In a season, Sherpas can earn from $3,000 to $6,000 (2,171 – 4,342 euros), which is about 10 times the average annual pay in Nepal.

On Tuesday, Nepal's Tourism Ministry announced an agreement to establish a relief fund for guides killed or injured while climbing the mountain, one of the key concessions demanded by the Sherpas following last week's disaster. Funding is thought to be well below that requested by the guides.

Minimum insurance cover for Sherpas on the mountain, the government said, would be raised by 50-percent to around $15,000. It also said a relief fund would be established for the welfare of deceased guide's families and the education of their children.

"We will also take steps to prevent such incidents in the future," Tourism Minister Bhim Acharya told the Reuters news agency following the announcement.

The boycott is likely to face criticism from frustrated mountaineers who pay a fee of $25,000 to climb the world's highest peak, plus a $4,000 deposit to ensure they return to base camp with their rubbish.

Expedition cancellations are also likely to have an impact on the impoverished Himalayan country's economy which counts on tourism as a key revenue-earner.

Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit in 1953. Since then, nearly 4,000 people have climbed Everest. More than 300 people have died on the mountain.

The avalanche was the worst accident to hit Mount Everest since May 1996, when eight climbers were killed in one day due to a snow storm near the summit. The tragedy was immortalized in Jon Krakauer's best-selling book "Into Thin Air."

jlw,hc/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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