NEW DELHI â A year after a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest ended the climbing season, another avalanche, this one caused by a powerful earthquake near the Nepalese capital, rumbled down a treacherous icefall on Saturday and slammed into part of the mountaineering base camp, killing at least 10 climbers and injuring an untold number of others, Nepalese officials said.
Alex Gavan, a hiker at the base camp, described on Twitter a âhuge earthquake then huge avalancheâ that sent him ârunning for life from my tent.â
Nima Namgyal Sherpa, a tour guide also at the base camp, described the avalanche Saturday as âhuge,â and said it had caused many injuries.
âMany camps have been destroyed by the shake and wind from the avalanche,â Mr. Sherpa, the base camp manager for Asian Trekking, wrote in a post on Facebook. âAll the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives.â
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Tempting death has always been part of the treacherous Everest experience, but these past two years have been particularly deadly. Last year, some 30 men were crossing a notorious area known by some locals as the Golden Gate because of the shape of its ice formations when a huge chunk of ice cascaded down the mountainâs south side around 6:30 a.m. and engulfed them, killing 16.
In that accident, no foreign climbers were killed in part because of the early hour. The climbers were Sherpas, members of an ethnic group known for their climbing acumen, who are paid by foreign climbers to do the dangerous tasks of fixing ropes, carrying supplies and setting up camps for their clients.
But Saturdayâs quake struck just before noon local time, making almost anyone in the area potentially vulnerable.
Arjun Vajpai, a professional mountaineer, was on Makalu, a mountain in the Himalayas southeast of Everest, near the Nepal-China border, when the earthquake struck.
âWeâve had a lot of disturbance here due to the earthquake,â he said in a video he posted to Facebook from his campsite.
In the video, he points to a mountain visible behind him and says there have been a few avalanches in the area and rockfall. Most climbers on his team were O.K., he said, but he had not yet heard from climbers who moved to other camps.
Ang Sherpa, an experienced climbing guide, said in an interview Saturday that some 800 people were already in residence at the Everest base camp, which is always a somewhat chaotic collection of tents, equipment and exhausted climbers and their attendants. A helicopter rescue operation to base camp was planned for Sunday morning, he said, when a full tally of the dead and injured should become available.
Last yearâs avalanche and the outrage among the Sherpas over their pay and safety conditions forced the cancellation of the climbing season, a key part of Nepalâs tourism industry. Whether this yearâs avalanche would result in a similar shutdown was unclear Saturday.
Tourism accounts for much of Nepalâs economy, with Everest one of the countryâs biggest draws. And though money generated by people who climb the celebrated peak contributed only a relatively small part of the countryâs overall economy, it represents one of the few ways men can earn a living in Nepal.
Foreign climbers pay professional tour companies and Western guides as much as $ 100,000 to climb, with assistance, the 29,000-foot (8,848 meters) peak. Sherpas are hired at about $ 125 per climb per legal load (set at 20 pounds) to ease paying climbersâ path up the mountain.
The tour agencies pay several thousand dollars per climber to the Nepalese government for a climbing license, and those fees have brought the government $ 3 million to $ 4 million annually in recent years. There is also the money to the local economy for hotel rooms, dining, cellphone rentals, as well as the hiring of local help to carry trekkersâ supplies up the mountain to camp.
Mr. Ang Sherpa said he was certain that climbing would soon resume, but with the Katmandu airport shuttered after the earthquake and the entire country paralyzed, such a prediction seemed premature at best.
Climbers, some of them with little or no mountaineering experience, pay as much as $ 100,000 apiece to attempt Everestâs summit. With good weather, dozens can sometimes reach the summit in a single day. But limited oxygen and sudden changes in weather that can plunge climbers into blinding snowstorms and brutally cold conditions have claimed hundreds over the years, with the bodies of some of the dead remaining frozen in place for years.