By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Four Sherpa climbers ended a rare expedition to climb Mount Everest in winter and within just five days because of heavy snow, officials said on Thursday.
The team led by 34-year-old Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, an eight time Everest veteran, left Kathmandu for the mountain on Monday and aimed to reach the summit within five days instead of the more usual several weeks.
They had almost got to their third camp at 7,100 metres (23,293 feet) when they decided to abandon the expedition, Thaneshwar Guragai, a manager of the Seven Summit Treks agency, said.
"They decided to return from just below camp-3 because 34 hours of continuous fresh and soft snowfall in blue ice made the surface slippery and dangerous," Guragai told Reuters, citing a message from the expedition leader.
Tourism Department official Mira Acharya said the expedition had ended.
Temperatures in the death zone of Mount Everest, so called because of thin air above the South Col, can drop to -40 degrees Celsius and the accompanying winds make winter climbing more challenging and risky than the popular spring season, according to hiking officials.
Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain at 8,850 metres (29,035 feet), has not been climbed in the Decemer-February winter season from the Nepali side since 1993 when six Japanese reached its top along the Southeast Ridge route.
Only 12 people – nine Japanese, two Polish and one Nepali – have scaled Everest from the Nepali side during the winter season, according to Nepali government data.
One Italian climber scaled the mountain in 1996 from the Chinese side, according to hiking officials.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alexandra Hudson)