A record-breaking Norwegian climber has hit out at what she calls “misinformation and hatred” surrounding claims she and her team climbed over a dying porter on K2 to summit the deadly peak.
Last month, Kristin Harila and Nepalese Tenjin Sherpa – known as Lama – smashed the record for the fastest summit of all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter (26,000-feet) mountains. They completed the feat in three months and one day after climbing Pakistan’s K2, the last peak on their quest and considered to be more technically challenging than Mount Everest.
But their achievement has now been overshadowed by shocking claims that dozens of climbers walked past a Pakistani porter who fell off a sheer edge, was hanging upside down in ropes and later died.
Austrian climber Wilhelm Steindl was on the mountain that day, according to an interview he did with the Austrian newspaper The Standard on Tuesday. But he decided to turn back when conditions became too dangerous, he said.
Steindl and Flämig said they later spoke with witnesses to confirm what had happened and ascertain the victim’s identity.
“Through the accounts of three different eyewitnesses, I can report that this man was still alive while about 50 people were walking past him,” Flämig told The Standard. “This is also visible in the drone footage. He is being treated by one person while everyone else is striving towards the summit.
“The fact is that there was no organized rescue operation, although there were Sherpas, but also mountain guides on site who could have taken action. No one can claim that they could have made the diagnosis there that the person can no longer be helped.”
Though the men did not identify those who passed Hassan, Flämig told The Standard that in addition to Harila, two other climbers were aiming for a record.
Steindl added: “What happened there is a disgrace. A living human being is left lying there so that records can be achieved.”
The Standard also cited a quote Harila gave to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung in which she said a Pakistani porter had fallen “in front of” her group, and “after our descent, we learned that he had died.”
“We tried to save him for many hours,” she said, adding that it was a “very narrow” trail and the conditions this year were exceptionally bad. The incident had happened many hours before the video was filmed and in the middle of the night, she also said.
According to Harila, she and Lama were eventually forced to leave the scene to check on the rest of her team amid reports of an avalanche.
However, her cameraman Gabriel stayed behind and continued to provide the mountain porter with oxygen and warm water – trying to warm him up enough so that he could walk. Gabriel was eventually forced to leave the scene when his oxygen supplies started running low, Harila said.
Harila has also responded to the allegations at length on her website.
‘[We] did everything we could’
Reacting angrily to what she called the “insensitive” sharing of videos and photographs of the tragedy without consent, she relayed her account of what happened in the early hours of that day.
She gave a detailed account on Thursday of how she and her team spent 90 minutes trying to help Hassan, along with one of his friends, on the route.
“This was no one’s fault, you cannot comment when you do not understand the situation, and sending death threats is never okay,” she wrote, without elaborating on who sent death threats. “Lama, myself and especially Gabriel [her cameraman on the mountain], did everything we could for him at the time.”
Harila goes into lengthy detail about the efforts she said she and her team made to pull Hassan up after he fell about 5 meters (16.4 feet).
She said that when they came across Hassan, “he was not wearing a down suit, and his stomach was exposed to snow, wind and low temperature, making it extremely dangerous.”
They attempted to move him closer to the path, she said. However, “an avalanche went off around the corner” and some of the team had to split off to help other climbers.
“When we got in contact with the fixing team we realised they were okay. Lama continued to the front and I stayed behind and asked the Sherpas if they were turning around. They said yes, and as we understood it that meant there was more help going to Hassan. We decided to continue forward as too many people in the bottleneck would make it more dangerous for a rescue. Considering the amount of people that stayed behind and that had turned around, I believed Hassan would be getting all the help he could, and that he would be able to get down. We did not fully understand the gravity of everything that happened until later,” Harila added.
She said: “Back in Base Camp, we heard that people thought no one had helped him but we had. We had done our best, especially Gabriel. It is truly tragic what happened, and I feel very strongly for the family. If anything, I hope we can learn something from this tragedy. Everyone that goes up a summit needs proper training, proper equipment and proper guidance.”
Following the accident, Steindl set up an online fundraising page for the victim’s family, including his three young sons. It has since raised more than 100,000 euros ($110,000).