About half of expedition teams at Everest base camp are descending amid uncertainty over this year’s climbing season, after 16 guides were killed in an avalanche.
A row over local guides’ share of revenue from foreign climbers erupted after last week’s deadly accident, prompting some to threaten a boycott.
Sherpas also want better rescue and treatment facilities for guides.
If others descend, some fear it could effectively end plans to climb the world’s highest mountain this year.
Madhusudan Burlakoti, a tourism ministry official, hoped that some teams might still climb. Sherpas have been in talks over these issues with the Nepalese government.
More than 300 foreigners were preparing to climb Everest this year, but the tense aftermath of the avalanche that killed 13 Sherpas and left 3 missing presumed dead dashed hopes and left many climbers disturbed and shocked.
About 50 expedition teams had been at the base camp, with 31 intended for Everest.
Some of the teams have chosen to go on trekking expeditions instead, while others are still waiting and watching.
The Nepalese government has assured teams that their climbing permits will remain valid for the next five years.
Last Friday’s avalanche was the single deadliest accident in modern mountaineering on the world’s highest peak.
It struck an area just above Everest base camp at 5,800m (19,000ft).
Sherpas can earn up to $8,000 in the three-month Everest climbing season – more than 10 times the average wage in Nepal, which remains one of Asia’s poorest nations.
However, it does not look so good when the government is earning millions of dollars each year in fees for climbing permits. Some guiding companies charge up to $60,000 per person.
The guides who lost their lives had climbed up the slope early in the morning to fix ropes for climbers and prepare the route.
The avalanche struck a passage called the Khumbu Icefall, which is riddled with crevasses and ice boulders that can break free without warning.
Although relatively low on the mountain, it is one of its most dangerous points – but there are no safer paths along the famous South Col route first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
Sherpas often make 20-25 round trips to carry kit and supplies to advanced camps, exposing themselves to greater risk.
Everest has been scaled by more than 3,000 climbers since 1953.
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