Inquiry into death of Pakistani porter at K2 clears Norwegian climber

Probe launched after video showed Kristin Harila walking past dying porter

Aamir Latif  | 30.08.2023 - Update : 30.08.2023
Inquiry into death of Pakistani porter at K2 clears Norwegian climber

KARACHI, Pakistan

An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of a Pakistani porter, who fell from a narrow trail while attempting to ascend K-2 late last month, has cleared the Norwegian climber who was accused of walking past the dying porter.

"The inquiry has not fixed the responsibility of the porter's death on any individual, including the Norwegian climber and her teammates," said a member of the five-member inquiry committee that launched the probe earlier this month.

The probe stemmed from drone footage showing a Norwegian climber and her team walking past Mohammad Hassan, a high-altitude porter, who could be seen dangling upside down from a rope, and later died.

In the disturbing footage taken by two other climbers, Austrian Wilhelm Steindl and Philip Flaemig from Germany, whose ascent had been canceled that day owing to bad weather, Norwegian climber Kristin Harila and her Nepali guide Tenjin "Lama" Sherpa could be seen walking past injured Hassan, instead of stopping and helping him.

They were on their way to setting the world record that would see them becoming the world’s fastest climbers by scaling the 14 highest peaks in the world in 92 days.

The disturbing episode did not end there as the drone footage also shows them stepping over the body of fallen Hassan, who later died during Harila's ascent. All of the team members can be seen just walking over it.

Harila, 37, rejected the accusation, contending she and her team "did everything we could for him at the time."

‘Violation of mountaineering ethics’

Speaking to Anadolu on Wednesday on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to interact with media, the official said that the probe, however, has found violations of the international mountaineering declaration vis-a-vis the safety of the deceased porter.

The committee that carried out an "extensive" probe into the incident that grabbed international headlines, has submitted its report to the government of the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, home to five above 8,000-meter peaks, including K2. It will be made public within "a few days."

The investigation that focused on "mountaineering ethics" also recorded statements of Harila and her teammates.

Hassan was not part of Harila 's expedition.

The probe, according to the member, has found a "clear" violation of Article 3 of the 2016 Kathmandu Declaration of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), which deals with the safety of the employees hired for an expedition.

Although the inquiry has not fixed the responsibility for Hassan's death on the Norwegian climber and her teammates, the porter's life could have been saved if he had been rescued on time, he added.

"There was not the Norwegian climber alone who walked past the injured Hassan. There were many who did that. But this is also true that Hassan was badly injured," the official said.

Aside from compensation for Hassan's family, several recommendations have been made, including heavy fines, and cancellation of licenses of the companies who do not ensure the safety of their employees during an expedition.

Porters, also called Sherpas in the Himalayas, are highly skilled professionals who specialize in the logistics of mountain climbing.

The K2, the world's second-largest peak in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, was the last mountain they needed to climb to set the world record.

The 8,611-meter (28,251-foot) K2, also known as the "savage mountain" due to its treacherous terrain, had never been scaled in the winter until last year when a 10-member Nepali team performed the feat.

It is the last peak of the 8,000-meter (26,246-foot) club to have been climbed in winter, 41 years after Mt. Everest, which was scaled in 1980 during the winter.

Some 300 mountaineers have made it to the top before, but all of them took up the challenge in either the summer or spring.

Even in relatively better weather conditions, 86 climbers have lost their lives trying to scale the mountain, which towers over Shigar valley in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Foreign climbers have frequently been accused of exploiting the poor Sherpas of Pakistan and Nepal, who often go up ahead of the mountaineers but are not rewarded accordingly.

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