May 4, 2015 / 8:57 AM / 5 years ago

Everest not officially closed to climbers, Nepal says

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Mount Everest remains open to climbers, a senior official at Nepal’s tourism department said on Monday, despite avalanches after last month’s devastating earthquake destroyed much of the established route to the summit of the world’s highest peak.

Nepal’s worst earthquake in decades has killed more than 7,200 people, including at least 18 climbers on Everest who were hit by a massive avalanche that wiped out part of the base camp.

But Nepal, which makes millions of dollars from climbers, has hesitated over whether or not to officially close the mountain, and on Monday was still leaving the decision to individual climbers on whether to press ahead.

Climbers pay $11,000 each to climb Everest, and 357 were registered for this climbing season.

“The government will not officially announce the closure because we have given the permit to climbers,” Tulsi Prasad Gautam of Nepal’s tourism department told Reuters.

“The route is still damaged and the climbers at base camp don’t think the route will be fixed anytime soon. It’s up to the climbers and the organisers who are at base camp to take a decision: we are not asking them to do one thing or another.”

Gautam, who last Thursday said a team would be able to repair the route through the treacherous Khumbu icefalls within a week, said on Monday that small tremors were still being felt on Everest.

Some members of the climbing community said they suspected the Nepali government was trying to get out of refunding climbers for their permit fees by not closing the mountain.

“They are waiting for climbers to slowly, slowly reach their own conclusion that it is pointless to climb,” said Alex Gavan, a Romanian climber who was ascending Lhotse, which shares part of the Everest route.

“They don’t want to take responsibility for the decision,” he said.

The team known as the Icefall Doctors, which sets the route through the Khumbu icefalls each year, said it was too dangerous to rebuild this season.

“It is not possible to open the route this year,” said Ang Dorjee Sherpa of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, the body that operates the team.

“The icefall itself is not stable, and the route that was previously opened has been completely damaged,” he said.

Last year, after 16 sherpas were killed in an avalanche, other sherpas refused to climb out of respect for their colleagues and caused an expedition boycott. But the mountain was not closed and permits continued to be extended.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma and Clara Ferreira Marques; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Gareth Jones

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