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Hundreds of climbers and Sherpas who were attempting to climb Mount Everest from the north side when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the region are packing their gear and heading out after expedition leaders said Chinese authorities closed all climbing in Tibet for the spring.
Meanwhile, some climbers in Nepal have announced plans to try to return to the mountain, a move that was criticized by others in the climbing community.
In Tibet, climbing guide Adrian Ballinger with California-based Alpenglow Expeditions said in email Wednesday that they were working to leave the country soon.
“We are focusing our efforts on how we can help in Nepal, how we can get our members home, and how we can get our Sherpa team back to the Khumbu,” said Ballinger, who was leading a team of 10 climbers and 12 Sherpas.
No one climbing on the north side was injured following Saturday’s deadly quake, but Ballinger said the China Tibet Mountaineering Association called the 25 teams made up of about 300 climbers on the mountain back to base camp to discuss whether to allow them to continue.
On Wednesday, Chinese officials held their final meeting and announced their decision to end the climbing season. Ballinger said two reasons were cited: Safety concerns over possible additional earthquakes and solidarity with Nepal and the Sherpas.
“China believes Sherpas should be able to go home and begin rebuilding,” he said.
Though there were no injuries on Everest’s north side, Ballinger said the quake was very powerful.
“We were eating lunch during the first. It started slowly and then became violent, triggering big rock falls and icefalls of the surrounding peaks. Intellectually we felt safe in the middle of a big broad valley away from the mountains that were avalanching. But emotionally it was still scary,” he said. “And of course our thoughts immediately went to the South Side where the camps and route are far more exposed to avalanches.”
Nineteen people were killed in the base camp on the Nepal side of the mountain when a quake-triggered avalanche swept through.
In Nepal, some climbers have received permission to try again for the summit.
Russell Brice, leading a team for the London-based Himalayan Experience Limited, posted a blog Wednesday saying they are considering a return to Everest.
“Our Himex team will stay at Everest BC for the next few days and we will then decide if we will continue or not,” he said.
Brice said he met with the Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Minister of the Ministry of Tourism on Wednesday and received permission to fly loads to Camp 1 after helicopters were free from rescue operations.
Messages sent to the Himex team were not immediately returned.
Decisions to try to climb Everest this season drew criticism from U.S. climbers.
Longtime mountain guide Peter Athans of Washington state, who has summited Everest seven times, called the idea disrespectful.
He said two climbers last year helicoptered gear and a support team into camp 2.
“Ethically, it’s neither climbing the route and neither is it very respectful to the suffering of the Nepalese who need heli support immediately,” Athans said. “The climbers would be diverting this critical resource at a dire moment in the crisis.”
Athans also criticized the use of helicopters to evacuate climbers after the avalanche hit, saying they had enough supplies to say in Camp 1 for a period of time and the helicopters could have been used to help earthquake victims instead.
“It does appear there was a priority to move Western people out of harm’s way without helping the Nepali people,” he said.
Ballinger also said the resources should be used on earthquake victims.
“My thought is expedition teams on the ground in Nepal — guides, doctors, Sherpas — could be using their skills and strength for far better purposes,” he said.