Colorado climbing guide Ricardo Peña is camped on Mount Everest waiting to find out whether the fallout from an avalanche that killed a group of Sherpas will end his dream of reaching the world's highest peak.
The guides were hauling climbing gear between camps Friday when a chunk of ice tore loose and triggered an avalanche. Thirteen bodies were recovered, and three Sherpas still missing are presumed dead.
Most Sherpa mountain guides have decided to leave Everest, a guide said, confirming a walkout certain to disrupt a climbing season that already was marked by grief over the lives lost in Everest's deadliest disaster.
"We are in limbo right now. We are waiting to see how many more Sherpas and other expeditions leave, ... and we are waiting for our Sherpas' decision," Peña, owner of Alpine Expeditions in Boulder, said in a dispatch to sponsors of his Everest climb that he sent to The Denver Post on Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Nepal's government appeared to have agreed to some of the Sherpas' demands in the threatened walkout, such as setting up a relief fund for Sherpas killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the funding falls well short of what the Sherpas wanted.
The Nepal National Mountain Guide Association in Katmandu planned to try to negotiate with the Sherpas and the government because a total boycott would harm Nepal's mountaineering in the long term, said Sherpa Pasang, the group's general secretary.
"It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing. While there are three of our friends buried in the snow, I can't imagine stepping over them. We want to honor the members we lost, and out of respect for them, we just can't continue," Pasang said.
Peña said he and his climbing party on Friday left base camp and were headed for a hanging glacier, called a serac, on Everest's west shoulder when they "heard the loud thunderlike sound of a serac collapse and an avalanche."
Minutes later, a Sherpa running down the trail told his group, "Many Sherpas up there," Peña wrote.
"I think my team members, like me, felt helpless, not being able to help at all as the tragedy was unfolding," he wrote.
Peña, who is certified as a wilderness first responder, helped treat some of the injured Sherpas, he said.
Later, he witnessed several helicopters bringing down bodies.
"It was a very, very sad sight to see the helicopters with a tow cable and the body at the end of the cable," Peña wrote.
At a base camp memorial service, Buddhist lama, or priests, read religious scripts, and Sherpas and foreign climbers burned incense butter lamps and prayed for the dead.
The victims' bodies were cremated Monday.
Denver Post staff writer Tom McGhee contributed to this report.