Norwegian Climber Defends Walking Past Dying Sherpa in Pursuit of K2 Record

By: Carissa | Last updated: Nov 06, 2023

A Norwegian climber named Kristin Harila is known for being the fastest person to climb the highest peaks in the world.

But now, her name is been associated with accusations instead of accolades. Harila is under scrutiny for allegedly walking past a dying sherpa on her journey to set a new record. She denies letting the sherpa in her path perish without offering to help, but video footage told an entirely different story.

Harila and Team Climb Their Way to a New Record

Harila and her guide, Tenjen, were jointly given the title of the fastest people to climb all 14 of the world’s highest mountains.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

The peaks reach staggering heights—upwards of 26,000 feet, to be exact. On July 27, 2023, the pair of climbers reached the summit of the K2 in Pakistan. Summiting the Himalayan mountains was a challenging feat that required great strength and determination.

Accusations of Walking Past a Dying Man

It took the duo three months and one day to successfully complete their climbing quest. Their adventure was finished in half the time it took British climber Nirmal Purja to do the same in 2019. His record was six months and six days.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

But Harila and her guide didn’t have long to celebrate before they were accused of a dastardly act. The pair was suspected of climbing over a dying person to complete their mission, not giving the ailing man a second thought.

Video Footage Shows Harila Stepping Over the Ailing Man

Drone footage taken by other climbers clearly showed Harila and her team on a narrow path. While they were ascending the mountain, they visibly stepped over the body of an injured person from another team.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

The suffering sherpa eventually passed away while Harila was still climbing to the top of the mountain. Had Harila taken the time to help the fallen sherpa, she may not have completed her ascent in record time. However, her assistance could have saved his life.

Facing Criticism for the Careless Decision

Harila was condemned for celebrating her record-breaking climb, largely because another person died right before her eyes.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Harila’s Instagram account was slammed with comments calling out her selfish behavior. “The blood of sherpas is on your hands,” one person wrote. Another commenter took a shot at Harila’s tarnished legacy, saying, “Nobody will remember your sporting success, only your inhumanity.”

Feeling Compelled to Share Her Side of the Story

Due to the backlash, Harila decided she had to speak out and share her version of what happened that day.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

She said she was forced to come forward after “all of the misinformation and hatred that is now being spread.” Harila even claimed to have gotten death threats from her detractors. Though she herself did not stay to help the trapped man, she insisted that a member of her team remained with him in an attempt to help.

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Members of Her Team Stayed with the Man

As 27-year-old Mohammed Hassan inched closer to death, Harila said that her videographer and two other members of her team spent “1.5 hours in the bottleneck trying to pull him up.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons

She felt it was alright to continue on her climb after a distress call was sent out from another team. That, paired with the knowledge of her crew staying with the man, led Harila to believe that the sherpa was in good hands. She was confident he would survive, but she was mistaken.

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Cameraman Stays With Sherpa for Over an Hour

Harila’s cameraman, Gabriel, was one of the people who stuck by Hassan in his time of need, even sharing his oxygen and hot water with him as they waited for emergency responders to come to their aid.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Harila tried to brush off responsibility by stating that “other people were passing by” and had gone on without fault. Harila thought there was nothing else she could do for Hassan, so she did the only thing she knew how to do by carrying on with her journey.

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Harila Believed the Sherpa Was Going to Survive

“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,” Harila said.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

After an hour passed, Gabriel had to leave the dying man behind because he was short on oxygen. For his own safety and well-being, the cameraman had no choice but to abandon the man on the mountain.

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An Unfortunate “Heartbreaking” Tragedy

When Gabriel finally reached Harila on her ascent to the top of the mountain, she says by that point they “understood that he (Hassan) might not make it down.” Harila referred to the situation as “heartbreaking,” but she felt helpless at the same time.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As they made their way down, they heard news of Hassan’s death. She said her small team was not capable of carrying his body down the mountain and that it would have been a job for at least six people.

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Insisting Everyone Did Their Best to Help the Sherpa

Harila noted that the incident was “truly tragic” before offering her condolences to the fallen man’s family.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

She maintained that she and her team had done everything in their power to increase his chance of survival. “We had done our best, especially Gabriel,” she said. Harila suggested that Hassan was “not properly equipped for the climb,” and revealed that he was not outfitted for the kind of weather conditions one would experience while climbing a mountain in the Himalayas.

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Better Precautions Could Have Been Taken

Some people believed Harila’s account to be sincere, while others continued to scold her.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some even blasted the man’s operator for not properly preparing him for the journey that would ultimately result in his demise. The comment section was divided on who was most responsible for Hassan’s death, but everyone seemed to agree that more could have been done to avoid such a bleak outcome.

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Many Climbers Have Died Ascending K2

K2 is an extremely dangerous mountain to conquer. The mountain’s perilous conditions have already claimed the lives of 11 of the world’s most esteemed and experienced climbers in 2008.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

That tragedy is known as “the single deadliest event” in K2’s history. In addition, this past June, Scottish climber Rick Allen died on K2 in an avalanche. That same month, rescuers discovered the bodies of three more climbers. As of August 2022, 96 climbers have lost their lives while trying to climb K2.

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