KATHMANDU - A Japanese climber who was attempting the first summit of Mount Everest since a deadly quake-triggered avalanche destroyed part of base camp in April said Sunday he had turned back.
Thirty-three year-old Nobokazu Kuriki, who lost nine fingers to frostbite during a 2012 attempt to climb Everest, was the only mountaineer pursuing the summit this year after an avalanche set off by a massive quake killed 18 people at base camp.
The disaster saw hundreds of climbers abandon their bids to ascend the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak, marking a second spring season with virtually no one reaching the summit.
The deaths of 16 Nepali guides in an avalanche in 2014 sparked a shutdown that year.
It was Kuriki's fifth attempt to climb the world's highest mountain.
"I decide to descend," he posted on his official Facebook page in the early hours of Sunday.
"I tried hard taking all my energy, but it took too much time to move in deep deep snow. I realised if I kept going, I wouldn't be able to come back alive, so I decided to descend.
"Thank you so much for all your support. I appreciate you all from bottom of my heart."
Without the aid of bottled oxygen, a determined Kuriki had planned to tackle the final stretch alone overnight, ascending into the "death zone" - located above 8,000 metres, notorious for its difficult terrain and thin air.
The risks are higher than usual thanks to regular aftershocks increasing the chance of avalanches, while mountaineering experts say climbing in the autumn is more dangerous than spring due to high winds and lower temperatures.
Mountaineers usually begin their summit attempts late at night, which allows them to descend in daylight, lowering the risk of them falling to their deaths due to exhaustion.
Kuriki had originally planned to summit in mid-September before bad weather forced him to delay.
Mountaineering is a major revenue-earner for impoverished Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres.
The April 25 earthquake killed nearly 8,900 people in the Himalayan nation. Apart from the Everest avalanche it destroyed the popular Langtang trekking route, raising fears for the immediate future of the tourism industry.
Kuriki has previously said he wanted to help Nepal.
"Everest has seen tragedies in the last two years, and I want to help Nepal revive its tourism," he said.