Nick Cienski has decided to bring his team off the mountain
Credit: Courtesy

Expedition leader Nick Cienski has decided not to continue his attempt to summit Mount Everest out of respect for those who lost their lives in Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal and subsequent avalanches on the world’s tallest mountain.

“We feel it would be wrong for us to continue climbing these mountains,” Cienski told PEOPLE in a statement. “We have made the decision to rededicate our efforts in Kathmandu and provide help alongside our existing partner organizations such as Tiny Hands International, Shared Hope, and Catholic Relief Services.”

Cienski, 48, who is an executive for Under Armor and the CEO for the nonprofit organization Mission 14, had initially wanted to continue the expedition despite the tragedy in order to complete the 6 Summits Challenge – a project to bring awareness to human trafficking by reaching the top of six of the earth’s highest mountains in a year.

“We are still committed to the 6 Summits Challenge and raising global awareness for human trafficking by setting a world climbing record, as we were before the earthquake in Nepal. In the coming days and weeks, we will work closely with Russell Brice and our sponsor corporations to put a plan together that still makes this a possibility,” Cienski said.

Saturday’s avalanche barely missed Cienski and his wife as they huddled in their tent, but it left 18 dead and many more injured. The pair worked to help the injured, and had to wrap up the dead in nylon tarps, rope and any material they could find.

“Carrying them, we brought them back to this one spot by a helipad and I remember thinking, ‘Here are all these people in these discarded scraps of fabric tied together like packages,’ ” he told PEOPLE on Tuesday. “It was a pretty difficult end of the day.”