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Sherpa Community Mourns Death and Asks Tough Questions

Pasang Kanchi Sherpa spoke to her brother every week after she moved to the United States seven years ago. He was back home, leading expeditions up Mount Everest to support his family.

“He needed money,” she explained. “Because in my country, everybody needs money.”

On Sunday, Pasang, 35, shuffled to the front of a monastery in New York, then bowed with her hands pressed together — a tribute to her brother, Then Dorji Sherpa, who was killed Friday in the deadliest avalanche ever on the world’s tallest mountain.

Prayer Vigils Held for Those Lost on Mt. Everest 2:08

At least 13 people were killed, all members of the Nepalese ethnic Sherpa community, many of whom make their living as climbing guides for foreigners. Three people were still missing Sunday night.

New York's Sherpa community gathers for a day-long prayer service for victims of the Mt. Everest avalanche tragedy.

At the monastery, or kyidug in Tibetan, Sherpa people from New York and New Jersey meet to continue the tradition and culture of their native Nepal. Inside its brick walls, they have come together to mourn Then. He was 33.

For eight hours there on Sunday, they prayed, chanted and delivered offerings at the altar, where Then’s photograph was adorned with white and gold scarves. The photo shows him wearing goggles, gloves, and the heavy, red jacket he used on expeditions.

Then Dorji Sherpa, 33, died in Friday's Mt. Everest avalanche tragedy. Pasang Kanchi Sherpa

He gave the camera a thumbs-up and a broad smile.

One by one, community members stood to bring their offerings: food, candles, and brightly covered scarves.

Since Pasang learned of her brother’s death, she has not eaten or slept. Caring friends have offered her hugs, and tried to push plastic cups of orange juice into her hands. She could barely accept their comforts.

Another member of the community in New York, Jigme Dorji Sherpa, 29, left Nepal to be educated there.

“If I didn’t come to the United States, and if I wasn’t educated, I would be climbing. And maybe I would be one of those guys,” said Jigme, referring to Then.

Jigme, an accountant, said that the recent deaths have given the Sherpa community a reason to rethink their climbs up Everest.

He asked: “Is this the right profession that we should be choosing? Should our children still be climbing and helping clients to go to the top of Everest?”

The United Sherpa Association purchased this Elmhurst, Queens building in 2013 as a central gathering place for the New York-area Sherpa community.

Some at the New York monastery, in the borough of Queens, said that they wished the Nepalese government would call for an early end to the climbing season.

“Sherpa should begin to explore different professions. We’re losing too many young people in the mountains, and it’s not sustainable. At this rate, there’ll be no one left in the village except old people,” said Jigme.

The community in Queens has established a nonprofit, the U.S. Nepal Climbers Association, to help the families of climbers who have lost loved ones on expeditions.

They are raising money for Pasang and families like hers. Anyone who wants to help can email usnca.info@gmail.com.