KATMANDU, Nepal — Dozens of Sherpa guides packed up their tents and left Mount Everest’s base camp Wednesday, after the avalanche deaths of 16 of their colleagues exposed an undercurrent of resentment by Sherpas over their pay, treatment and benefits.

With the entire climbing season increasingly thrown into doubt, the government quickly announced that top tourism officials would fly to base camp Thursday to negotiate with the Sherpas and encourage them to return to work.

But while Nepal’s government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough for the Sherpas in the wake of last week’s disaster, the deadliest ever on the mountain, one top official blamed the walkout on “hooligans.”

“It was crowd behavior – some hooligans were creating problems, but things are getting back to normal,” said Sushil Ghimire, secretary of Nepal’s Tourism Ministry. He and other top officials were to fly by helicopter Thursday to base camp.

While it was unclear just how many of the 400 or so Sherpas on the mountain had joined the walkout, a number of expedition companies have already canceled their climbs, and the lucrative climbing season is in disarray. Most attempts to reach Everest’s summit are made in mid-May, when a brief window normally offers better weather.

Without the help of the Sherpas, who are key guides and also haul tons of gear up the mountain, it would be nearly impossible for climbers to scale the mountain. Many climbers will have to forfeit most or all of the money they have spent to go up Everest – at a cost of $75,000 or more.