Pakistani K2 porter death inquiry will hear claims of negligence

Muhammad Hassan’s body is lying in the Bottleneck at an altitude of more than 7,900 metres

Mohammed Hassan, the Pakistani porter died on the K2 Bottleneck. @Alpine_Pakistan / Twitter
Powered by automated translation

A Pakistani inquiry will look into the circumstances of the death of Muhammad Hassan, 25, a mountain porter who accompanied an international team in their attempt to climb K2, the world's second-highest peak.

Reports said that during the push to the summit on July 27, Mr Hassan fell from a narrow path known as the Bottleneck on the 8,600-metre mountain.

Until his attempt to scale the mountain, Mr Hassan had limited his climbing to the K2 base camp but decided to go to the summit to earn more money to treat his mother, who is in poor health.

“Hassan had told me he wanted to earn enough before winter to be able to shift the family to an area with moderate weather,” Mr Hassan’s brother Muhammad Hussain told The National.

“Our mother suffers from asthma and has trouble breathing. This area’s weather is too harsh for her.”

Tourism authorities in Pakistan's Gilgit Baltistan, who are responsible for climbing permits, said on Friday they had opened an inquiry into the incident.

Mr Hassan was an employee of Lela Peak Expedition. Seven Summit Club, a company offering services to mountaineers, had assigned him to assist the rope fixers during the summit push.

A dispute broke out in the climbing community after a video emerged that appeared to show a train of climbers stepping past Mr Hassan to reach the top.

Drone footage posted on social media showed the team of Norwegian mountaineer Kristin Harila, who was heading to the summit in a world record attempt to become the fastest climber to climb all peaks above 8,000 metres, leaving behind the injured Mr Hassan in a condition that purportedly led to his death.

Mr Hassan was not part of Ms Harila's team.

She told the BBC that she and her team tried everything to help Mr Hassan, denying accusations that he was left to die.

He is survived by three sons.

“It is a tragedy that the team, which Hassan was part of, could not even bring his body with them when they descended from K2,” Mr Hussain said.

“If someone from an affluent family were to face such a tragedy, a helicopter would have been used to rescue the body. In this country, no one cares about the poor.”

K2, on the Chinese-Pakistani border in the Karakoram range, has a deadly reputation, with climbers most often dying on the descent, where the slightest mistake can trigger an avalanche.

Only a few hundred climbers have reached the summit.

In contrast, the summit of Mount Everest has been reached more than 9,000 times.

Last village

Iskolai is the last village from the mountaineers begin their journey to K2's summit.

Accompanying the mountaineers are porters, each of whom carries up to 25kg of luggage to base camp.

High-altitude porters take over at base camp and accompany the mountaineers to the summit.

While the Iskolai-to-base camp porters earn 1,500 rupees ($5) for each trip, the charges increase up to 5,000 rupees for the high-altitude porters.

“Some high-altitude porters go ahead of their team to fix ropes during the climb, this is why their job is very difficult,” said Hamza Murad, who serves as assistant commissioner of the district.

Mr Murad told The National it was not possible to recover Mr Hassan’s body from the Bottleneck, where it is lying at an altitude of more than 7,900 metres, because of the harsh conditions.

“Even a helicopter cannot go there to rescue it,” he said.

Mr Hussain also used to work as a porter but was advised not to climb the mountains because his feet were affected with a disease.

“Hassan was the lone breadwinner for our family,” he said.

Neighbour Ahmed Chotsar said Mr Hassan was a hardworking porter.

“Several porters work only for a few months of the year, but Hassan used to work in these extremely cold area all round the year,” he said.

Ayaz Shigri, who serves as president of the Baltistan Tour Operators Association, told The National that a big problem for local mountaineers was the lack of proper training.

While the government had announced plans to set up a mountaineering school in the area several years ago, they were not put into action, he said.

Also, he said the local mountaineers and high-altitude porters often use second-hand equipment and many do not have equipment of the calibre used by the foreign climbers.

Mr Hassan was “not properly equipped for the climb”, wearing neither a down suit nor gloves, Ms Harila wrote on Instagram.

The Bottleneck area is considered the riskiest point on the final K2 ascent.

Pakistani mountaineer Ali Sadpara died on K2 along with a fellow climber in February 2021.

Updated: August 13, 2023, 4:01 PM