* Nepal raises insurance cover for sherpas on Everest
* Dangerous profession also relatively well paid
* Conflicting reports of walkout by Everest guides
By Gopal Sharma and John Chalmers
KATHMANDU, April 22 Nepal's government agreed on
Tuesday to compensation demands for Mount Everest sherpas, after
the single deadliest avalanche on the world's highest mountain
killed at least 13 guides.
Expedition leaders said tension was running high at Everest
base camp after last Friday's incident, which has rekindled
debate on the disproportionate risks that sherpas take helping
foreign mountaineers reach the 8,850-metre summit.
Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering
Association, told Reuters that although some sherpas had
proposed suspending work for the rest of this climbing season,
they had now agreed to resume expeditions on Saturday.
However, an American climber at base camp said the sherpas
had voted to head down and were packing up.
"The ice doctors who set the routes say the current route is
too dangerous and there are no alternative routes," said Ed
Marzec in an email passed on by a colleague, Daniel Beer, who is
overseeing communications for him.
"In addition, the famous Lama Geshe told his people that
they should not go to the summit because more will die," Marzec
added, referring to the revered Buddhist guru who gives his
blessing to Everest climbers.
Several expeditions have already been called off, including
a Discovery Channel climb to launch a stunt man from the summit
in a wing suit.
The government said the minimum insurance cover for sherpas
on Everest would be raised by 50 percent to about $15,000 and it
would establish a relief fund for the welfare of bereaved
families and also pay for the education of their children.
"We will also take steps to prevent such incidents in the
future," Tourism Minister Bhim Acharya told Reuters.
In addition to the 13 sherpas killed on the Khumbu Icefall,
one of the most dangerous parts of the climb to Everest, three
are missing and at least three more are being treated for
serious injuries in the capital Kathmandu.
The men were trying to fix ropes and crack snow and ice to
carve out a route for foreign climbers through the icefall,
located not far above Everest Base Camp, when they were caught
in the avalanche.
The government initially announced an immediate payment of
$400 to the victims' families to cover funeral costs.
After a meeting at base camp on Sunday, sherpas with 31
expeditions demanded $10,000 in compensation for the families of
victims and a doubling of insurance cover for climbs, and they
agreed to launch protests if their demands were not met.
Until now there has been no provision for government
compensation for sherpas hired by international expeditions to
carry gear, and in the past these groups have provided financial
assistance on their own in the case of accidents.
Five of 40 sherpas in an expedition organised by hiking
group Alpine Ascents were killed in the avalanche.
"It's horrible," said Vern Tejas, a 61-year-old senior guide
for the Seattle-based firm who has summited Everest 10 times.
"Some of these guys I have been working with for 10-15 years."
He said sherpas expose themselves to far more risk than
their clients, moving many times up and down the fragile icefall
ferrying loads and fixing lines.
Guiding foreign climbers is the main livelihood for sherpas,
helping them make up to $7,000 - and some even more - each year
in a country with an average annual income of just over $700.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)