A top mountaineer has been forced to defend herself after accusations that her team climbed over a dying Sherpa as they headed to the summit of the K2 mountain to secure a new world record.
Images of climbers clambering past the injured Pakistani on a treacherous ridge on the same day that Norway’s Kristin Harila ascended have been condemned by fellow mountaineers.
They claimed a Western climber would not have been left to die and said the scenes would be unthinkable in the Alps, igniting a row about how local Sherpas are used in the Himalayas.
Harila, 37, climbed Pakistan’s K2 on July 27, securing her 14th highest peak in just over three months to become the world’s fastest climber to scale all peaks above 8,000 metres.
During her ascent, porter Mohammed Hassan fell off a sheer edge at the top of the area known as the bottleneck, some 8,200 metres high.
Ms Harila said her team did everything they could to save Mr Hassan, but conditions were too dangerous to move him.
However, two climbers who were also on K2 that day claimed fellow mountaineers were more interested in setting records than saving lives, in an apparent dig at Harila.
Wilhelm Steindl and Philip Flämig, an Austrian climbing duo, say drone footage they later recorded hours after Harila and her team had passed the ridge showed climbers walking over his body instead of trying to rescue him.
“It’s all there in the drone footage,” Mr Flämig told Austria’s Standard newspaper.
“He is being treated by one person while everyone else is pushing towards the summit. The fact is that there was no organised rescue operation although there were Sherpas and mountain guides on site who could have taken action.”
Among those who passed him was Ms Harila.
“Such a thing would be unthinkable in the Alps. He was treated like a second-class human being,” Mr Steindl added.
“If he had been a Westerner, he would have been rescued immediately. No one felt responsible for him,” he said.
“What happened there is a disgrace. A living human was left lying so that records could be set,” he said.
Ms Harila defended her actions on Thursday, saying that her team did everything they could to save Mr Hassan.
“It is simply not true to say that we did nothing to help him. We tried to lift him back up for an hour and a half and my cameraman stayed on for another hour to look after him. At no point was he left alone,” she told the Telegraph.
“Given the conditions, it is hard to see how he could have been saved. He fell on what is probably the most dangerous part of the mountain where the chances of carrying someone off were limited by the narrow trail and poor snow conditions,” she said.
She also denied that Mr Hassan would have been treated any differently if he were a Western climber.
“We did all we could for him,” she said.
Reports by several climbers have raised questions about the standard of equipment that Mr Hassan had been provided with before he set off up the mountain ahead of the western climbers, who often pay thousands of dollars for a guided ascent.
Ms Harila said when her team found Mr Hassan he was not wearing either gloves or a down jacket and didn’t appear to have been given oxygen.
“If he were my Sherpa I wouldn’t have sent him up in that condition,” she said.
According to Mr Steindl, who visited the porter’s family after descending the mountain, Mr Hassan took the perilous job of rope fixer in order to pay for his diabetic mother’s medical bills, even though he lacked the experience to perform the job.
“His family cannot afford medicine or food. Ms Harila and many of the climbers flew over us and the family in helicopters. What a symbolic image. The helicopter to fly out costs up to $12,000 per person,” he said.
Thaneswar Gurugai, the general manager of Seven Summits which organised Harila’s trek, told the Telegraph that Hassan was suffering from frostbite and hypothermia when he died.
“In normal cases [other porters] would save them unless it is quite impossible to do.”