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Mount Everest climbing season up in air after avalanche deaths

By Manesh Shrestha, CNN
updated 8:11 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Alpine Ascents International abandons this year's expedition
  • NEW: The Seattle-based company lost five sherpas in the avalanche
  • Organizers decide not to put "pressure" on expeditions
  • There are now 13 people confirmed dead and three missing

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) -- Just days away from the beginning of the busiest climbing season of the year at Mount Everest, expeditions are unsure whether climbs on the world's highest peak will go ahead.

On Friday, 13 people were killed in an avalanche. Three days later, three people are still missing and feared dead after the single deadliest accident on Mount Everest.

Alpine Ascents International has decided to abandon its expedition on that peak in the wake of the accident. The Seattle-based company lost five sherpas in the avalanche.

"Making the decision was hard. We felt this was right for us. Not everyone is going to be happy with our decision," said Gordon Janow, a founding member of Alpine Ascents. "I'm not looking to profit from this season."

Ang Tshering Sherpa of Asian Trekking, which has about two dozen foreign climbers at Everest Base Camp, said his company is still weighing what to do.

"There is a lot of sadness at the moment, and it could be up to a week before a decision is made," he said.

A meeting of Nepali expedition organizers Sunday decided to leave it to the discretion of the individual expeditions whether to abandon the climbs or to go ahead. The meeting also decided not to put any "pressure" on expeditions to make a decision.

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The journey to the summit of Mount Everest is a challenge that an increasing number have taken on since the summit was first reached in in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Until the late 1970s, only a handful of climbers per year reached the top of the world's tallest mountain, but by 2012 that number rose to more than 500. The journey to the summit of Mount Everest is a challenge that an increasing number have taken on since the summit was first reached in in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Until the late 1970s, only a handful of climbers per year reached the top of the world's tallest mountain, but by 2012 that number rose to more than 500.
Exploring Mount Everest
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Photos: Exploring Mount Everest Photos: Exploring Mount Everest

"We cannot force the expeditions to make any decision," said Madhu Sudan Burlakoti, chief of the Tourism Industry Division of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation.

The avalanche took place just above base camp in the Khumbu Ice Fall.

Climbers and guides had been setting the ropes for the route, acclimating and preparing the camps along the route when the avalanche hit.

The path on the glacier has been destroyed by the avalanche and a new path will have to be made, Sherpa said.

The operators have decided to let the "icefall doctors" decide whether to carve another path on Khumbu Ice Fall -- and have promised to not penalize them if they refuse.

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A question of finance

Ultimately, the guides may decide to forge ahead.

For many, the guides are the only breadwinners of the family.

Ngima Sherpa, 26, for example, supported his three younger siblings and mother from the money he made taking foreign nationals around the mountain.

He was among the 13 dead whose bodies were taken around Kathmandu in a funeral procession Monday.

Sherpas make up to US$6,000 per season. They also usually get a summit bonus if their clients reach the top of the 8,848-meter (29,000-feet) mountain.

Paid in full

About 334 foreign climbers have been given permission to climb Everest over the next couple of months, with an estimated 400 guides helping them.

On Sunday, the sherpas decided they want to be paid in full even if the climbs are abandoned. Foreign climbers spend between $40,000 and $90,000 each in their attempt to scale the mountain.

It will be up to the climbers whether they want to pay the sherpas for abandoned climbs, said Dambar Parajuli, president of the Expedition Organizers Association.

"We cannot compel the foreigners, but they also have their own humanity," he said.

So far, the government has paid Rs. 40,000 ($662) to the families of each of the 13 dead for funeral expenses. The expedition operators want Rs. 1 million each from the government.

The government makes about $3 million from royalties on Everest each spring season.

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CNN's Dave Alsup contributed to this report.

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