Climber, accused of walking past dying Sherpa, clears controversy

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A  Norwegian climber who recently became the fastest person to summit the world’s 14 highest peaks has addressed controversy after critics accused her of walking past a dying Sherpa to set her record.

In a lengthy post on her website, Kristin Harila, 37, said she and her team “did everything we could for him at the time.”

Harila and her Nepali guide Tenjin “Lama” Sherpa became the fastest people to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-metre (26,000-feet) mountains on July 27 after reaching the top of K2 in Pakistan’s Himalayas.

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They completed the feat in three months and one day, surpassing Nepal-born British adventurer Nirmal Purja’s 2019 record of six months and six days.

But controversy emerged on social media after drone footage shared by other climbers showed Harila’s team and others on a narrow, harrowing passage, stepping over the body of a fallen sherpa from another team, who later died during Harila’s ascent.

She was also criticized for celebrating her world record at base camp that evening.

“Nobody will remember your sporting success, only your inhumanity,” wrote one critic on Instagram.

“The blood of sherpas is on your hands,” said another.

Harila said she felt the need to give her side of the story due to “all of the misinformation and hatred that is now being spread”, including “death threats.”

She said she, her cameraman and two others spent “1.5 hours in the bottleneck trying to pull him up,” referring to 27-year-old Mohammed Hassan.

She then continued her ascent following a distress call from the fixing team ahead, leaving others behind with Hassan.

Her cameraman, identified only as Gabriel, was among those who stayed with Hassan, sharing his oxygen and hot water with him “while other people were passing by.”

“Considering the amount of people that stayed behind and had turned around, I believed Hassan would be getting all the help he could, and that he would be able to get down.”

Gabriel left after another hour when he needed “to get more oxygen for his own safety,” she wrote.

When he caught up with Harila, “we understood that he (Hassan) might not make it down.”

“It was heartbreaking.”

On their descent, they discovered that Hassan had died.

Her team of four “was in no shape to carry his body down” safely, she wrote, noting it would have required at least six people.

His death was “truly tragic… and I feel very strongly for the family”, she said, but “we had done our best, especially Gabriel.”

She wrote that Hassan was “not properly equipped for the climb,” wearing neither a down suit nor gloves.

Numerous Instagram users defended Harila’s actions and noted the dangers involved, while others questioned why his operator had not equipped him better, with one cynically remarking that “local life is cheap.”

A GoFundMe launched on behalf of Hassan’s family had raised nearly 100,000 euros as of Friday morning.

Speaking to the AP on Wednesday, Harila’s sherpa, Tenjen, expressed his bitterness over sherpas not getting enough recognition from the government for their hard work as mountain guides. Many sherpas are emigrating to seek better lives for their families.

“It is not possible to just continue climbing mountains as you grow older so what else is there than to think of migrating abroad,” he said. “That can all be stopped if they were given land, houses to live and other opportunities here.”

K2, the world’s second-highest mountain peak, is treacherous — 11 of the world’s best climbers died trying to scale K2 in 2008 in what has become known as the single deadliest event in the mountain’s history.

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