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Seattle Mountaineering Company Shaken By Deaths On Everest

Courtesy Alpine Ascents International

Last Friday’s avalanche on Mount Everest was especially devastating for one Seattle-based mountaineering company.

Of the 16 Sherpa guides killed, five of them were employees of Alpine Ascents International.

The company takes one expedition up Everest every spring. Twelve of its paying clients were on the mountain last week, preparing for their ascent.

The Sherpas were working to haul gear up the mountain in advance of the team. When the avalanche hit, they were crossing the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, an area at the head of the Khumbu Glacier that is crisscrossed by huge columns of unstable ice.

According to Gordon Janow, program director at Alpine Ascents, it’s been an emotional few days for the team, which has been working to rescue survivors, bring bodies down the mountain, and help the families of the victims.

On Monday, in consultation with the surviving Sherpas, the team made a decision that it would not continue with this season’s climb. “Climbing the mountain was not the right thing to do this year," Janow said. "And that’s where we stand now, people are pulling out and going home.”

Janow said it was not an easy decision to make. Climbers pay around $65,000 each to attempt to reach the summit, which can typically take months. “There’s disappointment. People are upset, people are grieving.”

At the same time he said, “everyone is recognizing this was a monumental day and a huge tragedy.”

The future of the climbing season is now in doubt, as reports from Nepal indicate many Sherpas are refusing to work until they receive more life insurance coverage and a government relief fund for those killed or injured on the mountain. 

Washington state is a center for high-altitude climbing. Three expeditions from the state were on the mountain this year.

Rainier Mountaineering and International Mountain Guides, both based near Mount Rainier, still have teams on Everest. Neither company would comment on the situation there.

A post from IMG’s blog on Wedndesday says that their 2014 Everest expedition has been canceled and their climbers will be heading down the valley with other climbers in the next few days.

The Icefall route is currently unsafe for climbing without repairs by the Icefall doctors, who will not be able to resume their work this season. We have explored every option and can find no way to safely continue the expedition.

Rainier Mountaineering’s blog says it’s difficult to say what will happen going forward. Guide Dave Hahn writes on Monday,

All are struggling to come to terms with how to proceed in a way that honors those lost and protects those left alive.

Year started with KUOW: 2005