What happened on K2, 27/07/2023

Kristin Harila K2 What Happened Really

 On July 27th, 2023, a tragic accident happened on K2. Mohammed Hassan, beloved husband and father of 3 young boys, passed away. Kristin Harila, Tenjen Lama Sherpa, Gabriel Tarso and many other did everything they could to save the man.

There has been a lot of false information spread regarding this tragic event. In this article, we give you the details of the event and links to trustworthy sources where you can read more.

Kristin’s Statement of what happened on K2 on July 27th 2023

Muhammed Hassan passed away on K2, he was only 27 years old, and he is leaving behind his wife, 3 young boys and his mum. The reason why I have not yet commented on this earlier is for the respect of his family. I wanted to ask if it was ok to write about this as what I am sharing today is not just my story, but also the story of Gabriel, my cameraman on K2, who was also working for hours to try to save Muhammad.

I feel angry at how many people have been blaming others for this tragic accident. This was no one’s fault, you cannot comment when you do not understand the situation, and sending death threats is never okay. Lama, myself, Gabriel, and many others, did everything we could for him at the time. This happened at the most dangerous part of one of the deadliest mountains in the world, above 8000 meters.

I am also extremely disappointed in all of those who have been sharing photos and videos of Hassan’s dead body without consent. It is extremely insensitive, and shows no respect for those close to Hassan, and for Hassan himself. He was a person who was important to so many people and he should not just be remembered as a person who passed on K2. 

These were the 6 members of our team:

  • Tenjen Lama Sherpa (my sherpa and my bhai)
  • Gabriel Tarso – my cameraman
  • Ming Temba Sherpa – Gabriel’s Sherpa
  • Nima Rinji Sherpa – Teen climber
  • Makhpa Sherpa – Nima’s sherpa
  • Myself

Ming Temba Sherpa and Makhpa Sherpa was part of the fixing team that day. For info, the fixing team is a team comprised of sherpas from several guiding companies. Their job is to open the track and fix the rope that all climbers and sherpas are attached to while ascending and descending the mountain. Ming Temba, Makhpa and the rest of the fixing team started breaking the route and fixing ropes hours before the climbers and sherpas had planned to start. 

Gabriel, Nima, Lama and me started our summit push from camp 3 at around 8pm on the 26th of July. We had good pace from the start. Before we reached the Bottleneck, we could see the headlights of the fixing team ahead where Ming Temba and Makhpa were. The bottleneck is a dangerous place to be, the steepness is around 50-60 degrees. You are walking on an extremely narrow path overhung by seracs. On top of that, slab avalanches are extremely common and the snow-path you are walking on ,collapses frequently. We all need to walk extremely close to the serac and go through this passage as fast as we can. Every minute you stay there increases the risk of accidents, not only for yourself, but for everyone above and below you.

When we reached this place, the fixing team had left the bottleneck and we could not see them anymore as they were around the “corner” of the serac (iceblock). We saw 6 people in front of us. Mohammed Hassan was number 2, and there were 4 people between Hassan and Lama, who was number 7. I was number 8 and Gabriel number 9 and Nima number 10 in line. Behind us were a lot of other sherpas and climbers trying to summit K2 that day.

At around 2:15 the accident happened. I did not see exactly what took place, but suddenly we see a person that had fallen and was hanging in the rope between 2 ice anchors. We did not know if it was a man or a woman, if it was a sherpa or a climber. We only knew it was a human being in need. The person was attached to the same rope as all of us. This happened during nighttime, but with our headlights we saw him hanging upside down, almost 5 meters down from the main path. We could hear he was in agony. We did not know if he slipped and fell, or if a bit of snow collapsed under him.

We saw that he was not able to turn himself around to climb up by himself. He must have fallen almost the full 5 meters and his harness was all the way down around his knees.  He did not have any oxygen mask. His legs were twisted in an awkward position. He was not wearing a down suit, and his stomach was exposed to snow, wind and low temperature, making it extremely dangerous. With Lama and Gabriel, we first tried to get the attention of number 1, Hassan’s buddy who was further away up the mountain. However, it seemed he couldn’t get back to him.

The sherpa who was nr 3 in line tried to fix an ice anchor to climb out to Hassan, however he him self slipped and ended up hanging by his arms on the rope, but managed to get back up again. We understood that the 4 people in front of us, would not be able to help Hassan, so we clipped ourselves around them in order to get closer to Hassan.

First, Lama climbed over to Hassan to help him while Hassan’s buddy came back down to the top ice anchor to help, but to no avail, it was impossible for one man to turn Hassan around. Lama climbed back to us and we tried another strategy.

Lama put down an additional ice anchor. He attached a rope to this anchor and to me. While I was securing Lama, he climbed up to the top anchor, and met up with Hassan’s friend there. Gabriel clipped around me and proceeded to climb over to Hassan, gave him his oxygen mask and tried warming him up. When Lama made it to the top anchor he clipped himself onto the old ice anchor securing me. Then, I climbed up to Lama and secured myself while letting down the extra rope to Gabriel. Gabriel attached this new rope to Hassan, and with pulling and pushing, we managed to turn Hassan around, positioning him head up.

As we were trying to move Hassan up closer to the path, an avalanche went off around the corner where the fixing team was. We got message that they had problems. At this stage, we decided to split up. Gabriel stayed with Hassan and his friend in the bottleneck. Worried for the safety of the fixing team, Lama and myself went forward to see how we could help them. Lama, Gabriel, the friend and me spent 1,5 hours in the bottleneck trying to pull him up before the avalanche and distress call came from the fixing team. During that time, as it was still dark, we saw the ever increasing number of headlights grow behind us, meaning that the queue of people below, was getting bigger and bigger.

When we got in contact with the fixing team we learned that luckily, they were okay. Lama continued to the front and I stayed behind. We decided to continue forward as too many people in the bottleneck would make it more dangerous for everyone.

Back in the bottle neck, Gabriel had managed to make a pulling system with 3 anchors and a rope, and Hassan’s friend was helping Gabriel to pull Hassan up, little by little. As they did, people were passing them, trying to get away from the dangerous bottleneck that lies at 8200m. Everyone was exhausted, especially Gabriel who had been pulling and helping Hassan for so long. Luckily, Halung Dorchi Sherpa from 8K came to help with the last meters, to pull Muhammad up to a little snow shelf in the bottleneck. Gabriel gave, again, his oxygen to Muhammad. He also gave him hot water and tried to warm his body as best as he could. We don’t know why, but Muhammad was not wearing gloves, so Gabriel also tried to warm his hands.

For an hour more, Gabriel stayed and tried to help. All he could do was to stay with him and talk to him. At some point, Gabriel had almost no oxygen left and realised that if he himself wanted to come home that day, he needed to fetch more oxygen. He had to go up in order to get one as Makhpa Sherpa, who was a part of the front fixing team, had an extra bottle for him further up the mountain. In total, I think Gabriel spent almost 2,5h with Hassan in the bottleneck while people were passing by. I don’t think people understood the gravity of what was happening with Hassan as they were climbing, and that is why we see they are stepping over him to reach safety on the other side.

Gabriel stayed with him as long as he could before he had to leave to get more oxygen for his own safety. This was very very traumatic, for everyone involved and I can only imagine the physical and mental strength it took for Gabriel to do something so heroic and kind.

Ming Temba, Makhpa, Lama, Nima and myself were still climbing up and we didn’t know what had happened behind us, but we saw people catching up.Very soon after we reached the summit, Gabriel joined us. I asked him if they got Hassan up and he had said yes. I asked if he was alive, and Gabriel said that he was, but that he was in a very bad shape. It was only when we came back down that we saw that Hassan had passed away and we had no possible way of getting his body down. It was heart-breaking. You need 4-6 people to carry a person down, especially in dangerous areas. However, the bottleneck is so narrow that you can only fit one person in front and one behind the person being helped. In this case, it was impossible to safely carry Hassan down, without risking more lives.

Back in Base Camp, we heard that people thought no one had helped him but we had. Everyone had done their best. It is truly tragic what happened, and I feel very strongly for the family. If anything, I hope we can learn something from this tragedy. Everyone that goes up a summit needs proper training, proper equipment and proper guidance. From what I understood, Hassan was not properly equipped to take on an 8000m summit. What happened is in no way his fault, but it shows the importance of taking all of the possible precautions so that we can help ourselves and others.

And please, please, please. Be kind. Not just to those who went up to K2 that day and who have all lived through something very difficult. But most importantly, to Hassan’s memory and those close to him. Be respectful.

Thank you for reading this story ❤️

– Kristin

Timeline of the K2 Accident on July 27th, 2023

Whilst 27th July 2023 saw Kristin and Lama set a new world record in summiting all of the world’s 14 highest peaks in just 3 months and 1 day, the final summit had been particularly challenging with added complications around the accident involving a porter named Muhammed Hassan who had fallen and was found hanging upside down between two ice anchors in the Bottleneck, the most treacherous stretch on K2, a mountain known to be the deadliest one of the 14 above 8000m peaks. It was dark at the time of his fall. Kristin and her team could hear Mr Hassan away to the left of the path before seeing him suspended about 5m below his original path.

Kristin and her team identified that Mr Hassan was unable to climb up by himself due to his orientation and with his harness around his knees. Having evaluated the situation, Kristin and her team decided to attempt to rescue Mr Hassan. The first step was to turn him around, which they managed to do after about 45 minutes. Kristin and Lama were then notified on the radio that the fixing team (comprising of 2 people from their team + sherpas from other teams) were in trouble up ahead. Having seen an avalanche go off ahead of them, they were concerned for the safety of the fixing team. Being first in line behind to help the fixing team, Kristin and Lama made the decision to leave Kristin’s cameraman Gabriel Tarso and others with Mr Hassan as they pressed ahead to help the fixing team. They only did this after they were assured that Mr Hassan was receiving assistance within the confines of K2’s Bottleneck.

Undoubtedly Kristin and her team were the primary individuals involved in helping Mr Hassan that day. Gabriel, Kristin’s cameraman, stayed with Mr Hassan for over 2 hours and sacrificed his own oxygen to try and save Mr Hassan. The video footage shared widely in the media, does not show Kristin or any members of her team climbing over Mr Hassan, these were other climbers who were most likely deeply fearful for their own lives and aware of the risks of staying in this dangerous area for a sustained period of time. Tragically, K2 is known as the one of the deadliest mountains. According to SnowBrains, 13% of those trying to summit it sadly never make it safely back home, a risk that is known to climbers when they attempt K2.

Before sharing the time breakdown, Kristin’s team would like to clarify the following information:

  • Muhammed Hassan was not part of Kristin’s team. He was climbing for another expedition team. Kristin’s team does not know if he was prepared enough to be above 8000m. According to ExplorersWeb, he worked for Lela Peaks Expeditions and was asked to assist the fixing team by Alex Abramov’s Seven Summit Club.
  • Kristin and Lama were climbing with Seven Summit Treks, a Nepalese company.
  • It is not safe for anyone to stay in the Bottleneck for long as slab avalanches are common and the path of snow below is prone to collapse at any time.
  • At the time of Kristin and Lama’s summit, they knew that Mr Hassan was receiving help and that he was still alive.
  • It would take at 4-6 people to carry a person down from this height on K2, the Bottleneck only allows for people to line up in a single file against the mountain wall. The only way to rescue a person to safety along the Bottleneck is if the person is able to move by himself. Kristin also recommends watching the movie “The summit” for those who wonder about what it is like in the bottleneck.
  • Because of the long queue it was safer to move forward past the Bottleneck than it is to move back down the mountain.
  • Helicopters have difficulties flying in extremely thin air and normally don’t fly above 7500m.
  • When doing a summit push, everyone brings with him/her as little as possible and just enough for your own team.
  • For the respect of the families and according to Norwegian laws, we do not share pictures or videos of accidents, dying or dead people, here.

Here is the time breakdown of the information we know so far:

02:00: Kristin, Lama, Gabriel (Kristin’s cameraman) and Nima caught up at the bottleneck to a group of 6 people . Mr Hassan was number 2 in line.

Approx. 02:15: Mr Hassan fell 5m down from the path and was hanging upside down, held by a harness which was now around his knees and his body was twisted. Kristin’s team is unsure if he fell or if the snow and ice gave way under him. It seemed like a friend of Mr Hassan (number 1 in line and quite far ahead of the rest of the group) tried to reach Mr Hassan (person number 2 in line) but could not get to him. Understanding that the current rope had been compromised, person number 3 in line started preparing the rescue by adding in an ice screw that could support the rope for all of the people depending on it. Snow collapsed under person number 3 and at one point he was just hanging by the rope that was attached to Mr Hassan. Person number 3 managed to save himself and secure the ice screw.

Approx. 02:25: Kristin, Lama and Gabriel decided to assist person number 3 by clipping past the people between them and Mr Hassan. They unclipped themselves from the rope close to the mountain’s wall and stepped around the others.

Lama climbed down to Hassan to help him at the same time Mohammad’s friend came down to the ice anchor above them to help, but to no avail, it was impossible for one man to turn him around. Then, Lama attached himself to Kristin, using Kristin as a human anchor, who in turn was attached to the additional ice screw that had been put up and the fixed rope as well. Lama climbed up to the space above Mr Hassan, while Gabriel climbed to Mr Hassan’s side, giving him his oxygen mask.

When Lama made it to the top anchor, he clipped himself onto the fixed rope securing Kristin, then she climbed over to Lama and secured herself while letting down the extra rope to Gabriel making it possible for him to turn Hassan around and gave him more oxygen.

The whole operation from clipping around, fixing ropes and turning Mr Hassan around took about 45 minutes.

Mr Hassan was not wearing a down suit or gloves and had no oxygen mask nor tank. His stomach had been exposed to the elements and he could not move.

Approx. 03:18: They witnessed an avalanche in the direction of the fixing team up ahead. Kristin and Lama received a radio message that the fixing team were experiencing problems ahead of them, out of sight and around the corner of the Serac. Being now the closest persons to the fixing team, Kristin and Lama made the decision to leave in order to go and check on the fixing team, knowing that Mr Hassan was receiving help.

At this point, Gabriel managed to make a pulley system of 3 ice anchors. Halung Dorchi Sherpa (reported by Explorers Web), from 8K Expeditions, joined Gabriel and Mr Hassan’s friend and together they pulled Mr Hassan up to a snow shelf in the Bottleneck. Up to this point, it was still dark. With him, Mr Hassan had Gabriel, Mr Hassan’s friend and Halung Dorchi Sherpa from 8K in addition to a queue of mountaineers behind them, witnessing the whole situation.

Gabriel continued to give Mr Hassan his oxygen and hot water to try and warm up his body.

Gabriel Tarso says:

Everything that we know in that situation is that we needed rescue gears like a warmer blanket, extra meters rope, extra ice screw, extra oxygen equipment (bottle, regulator and mask) and maybe more than 6 people. The better way could be heli, but we are talking about 8200m. So that impossible.

Approx 04.17: Gabriel realised he was extremely low on oxygen and needed to get more in order to survive. He knew that his Sherpa in front in the fixing team had an extra bottle. He left Mr Hassan with his friend. (It is unclear at this moment if Halung Dorchi Sherpa was still there.)

Approx 04:30: From a lower camp with a drone, William Steindl started filming Mr Hassan’s body and his friend’s attempt to keep him warm (time according to ExplorersWeb).

10:45: Kristin and Lama reached the summit.

11.17: Kristin called the home team with satellite phone. Kristin said on the satellite phone that Gabriel had told her that they had managed to pull Mr Hassan completely up to the path. The home team mentioned to Kristin that they had received a short message that “everyone is ok” from the Seven Summit Treks base camp team, and told her that they would give her more information as it would become available. The term “everyone” in the short message was meant by the base camp team to mean the Seven Summit Treks team, and the home team was unsure if it included everyone in the summit push.

Approx. 11:30: Gabriel re-joined Kristin and Lama. He told Kristin that he had to leave Mr Hassan, but that he was alive when he left.

Gabriel was able to reach the summit much faster than Kristin and Lama, as Kristin and Lama were helping the fixing team to make way in the snow and fixing the ropes, which takes much longer than walking on a track that has already been set.

Approx 13:17: On their descent from the summit, Kristin and Lama reached Mr Hassan after he had passed away. Due to the fact that 6 people are needed to carry a single person down and that there can only be a single file on the Bottleneck (one person in front and one person behind the person being helped), they knew that it was not possible to carry him down.

23:34: Kristin and Lama arrived back to base camp. The team marked the 14 Peak World Record with a cake and Coca-Cola that had been prepared beforehand. It is a tradition to do fireworks for every summit. This was organised by the Base camp Team and fired off as soon as people in the basecamp sees the headlights of people coming towards the camp.

Trustworthy Sources

In the aftermath after the K2 accident, several newspaper reported falsely about the event, claiming that Kristin “walked over dying mr. Hassan to reach the record” – this is false information. Kristin, Lama, Gabriel and several other people put their own lives in danger in order to save mr. Hassan.

Below, we are listing articles from trustworthy sources. Journalists that have taken their time to understand the situation and to tell it as it happened.

Alan Arnette’s podcast and article:

Podcast Interview with Kristin Harila

K2 2023 Covarage: Harila and Tenjen Cleared on Muhammad Hassan’s Death

Matthew Loh’s article in Business Insider

https://www.insider.com/death-k2-real-story-climbers-stepped-dying-man-kristin-harila-2023-8

Tore Meirik’s articles in FriFlyt (In Norwegian)

https://www.friflyt.no/klatring/kristin-harila/dodsdramaet-paa-k2

https://www.friflyt.no/klatring/kristin-harila/kristin-harila-muhammed-hassan-k2

Eye Witnesses

There are many people claiming different and many also give false information of what happened. However, only the people who were there, know exactly what happened. We have shared below the witness statemens from 3 eye witnesses, all present during or right after the accident happened.

Nima Rinji Sherpa, 17 years old, writes:

I was together on same team as Kristin. On 27 July during our summit push, we started hearing a noise just as we were reaching the bottle neck. At first, I thought it was a client from some company who might be scared to cross the bottle neck. But then as we reached the bottle neck.

We were all shocked as it was a person hanging upside down on the bottleneck. There were about 6 people in front of us. Lama, Kristin, Me and Gabriel was behind them. I thought the guys in front of us would go for rescue as the path to the bottle neck was really narrow. We could only move in a line.

But as we waited there, we realized that the people in front of us were also very shocked and helpless in the situation with no idea of how to rescue in that situation. We all got really scared as Hassan was not wearing down suit and the jacket, he was wearing was also not properly covering up his whole body. He was also not wearing gloves.

We then tried to get the help of another Pakistani climber who was before Hassan. But due to where Hassan was lying on bottle neck, it seemed that the Pakistani climber couldn’t help much to rescue Hassan. Then Gabriel, Kristin and Lama took the risk by crossing the people in front even when even the path was very narrow. I just stayed behind as I felt I was not well qualified to rescue someone at bottleneck which can be considered the most dangerous part of K2. I also felt that if I made even a slight mistake in the place we were, then it could cause a lot of problems to everyone there.

After that Lama tried to pull the Hassan so that Hassan could stand and try to help himself also. But soon Lama realized that it was impossible for just him to pull Hassan up. Kristin was there telling people to move behind and making sure everyone was safe as the anchor we all clipped in was loose and not secure.

Then few minute later, an avalanche went side of bottleneck which came from where the fixing team was. Then the fixing team informed that they had problem. After that Kristin, Lama and Gabriel split up. Worrying about the safety of the team and difficulty of the conditions there Kristin and Lama went towards the fixing team. Similarly, Gabriel along with two other people stayed there to rescue Hassan. After that Gabriel and the others managed to pull Hassan and put him on the path of bottleneck. And because of how narrow the path was, it was very hard to rescue Hassan and take him down below the bottleneck. Then Gabriel stayed around 2 hours in the bottleneck looking after Hassan but he soon realized his oxygen was also running low. So, it only made sense for him to either go up or down. Then he decided to go up. I also went forward as my climbing partner (Pasang Nurbu Sherpa) went to join the fixing team and I was just going along with Kristin and Lama. So, I went forward to catch up with them. We also told the Pakistani climber to stay with Hassan and I thought eventually as everything was being talked in the radio, maybe the company which Hassan was working for would send a team to rescue Hassan. But at the end that didn’t happen and even after the effort of Lama, Kristin and especially Gabriel, unfortunately that day Hassan lost his life in the bottleneck.   

But one thing I still don’t understand is why everyone is criticizing and questioning Kristin for this. I think the main party who should be questioned is the company who Hassan was working for.

Text from Singaporean mountaineer

First client in row (person number 4), wrote the following in a comment on Kristin’s Instagram post:

I stood there for 2 hours, the anchor was even too lose for us to stand and my sherpa tried to access Hassan and almost fell (he is very young and also first time experience such situation, and he was exhausted after attempting to help). Also, there was Hassan friend above who was not able to go down and help him. We stood there didn’t know what to do and we could not turn back either (not even back to a safe anchor and all I could do was to stick to the bottleneck face!) as the queue was tight behind. It was indeed extremely difficult to even just reach him and Kristin’s team actually pulled him back to the main track. Think he had some injury that we could not see, that he could not speak nor move. And I really don’t know how anyone could move him from there.. it was frustrating and emotional.. but that’s 8200m.

Text received from Gabriel Tarso, Kristin’s cameraman (translated from Portugese)

Gabriel Tarso is a mountaineer and outdoor photographer and has more than ten years of experience in high mountains. In May of this year, he reached the top of Mount Everest for the third time in a row.

The biggest and hardest peak of my life

In more than a decade of work, I have had many experiences that will accompany me throughout my life. From the emotion of being able to travel the world, meeting people, cultures, and places so diverse, to the daily challenge of documenting projects that required much more than good angles and beautiful landscapes. From the beauty of seeing the sun rise from the top of the highest mountain in the world to the frightening possibility of dying on the ground, without oxygen, above an altitude of 8,000 meters. Many of these moments were narrated in photos, videos, and short stories. But recently I discovered that images and words are often not enough to tell some stories. And at the same time, that’s why I have to try, even if it’s the hardest story of all so far.

In June 2023 I travelled to Pakistan to work as a photographer and videographer on Norwegian climber Kristin Harila’s project, which aimed to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world and break a world record. After more than a month between roads, camps, and villages with bucolic landscapes, we reached the day to climb the last mountain, K2 (8,611 meters), considered by many to be the most dangerous in the world. On the evening of July 26th, I left Camp 3 at 8pm to document Kristin’s climb and her guide Tenjen Lama Sherpa. We felt strong and we were in sync. Until, around 2:00 am on the 27th, we came across a queue at the Bottleneck, the most dangerous stretch of the journey, as it was an extremely steep crossing under a serac (a large block of ice about to break free and fall down the mountain) and at constant risk of avalanches.

We were all in single file, as this is the only way to reach the top. The space is so narrow that it can only fit one person at a time. In front of me were about ten other climbers standing in the dark. From where I was, I was trying to record the difficulties of the route when I understood that something had happened right ahead. I leaned over a little and saw the desperate scene: a person hanging upside down, connected to the same rope as all of us. There began a real nightmare. We had no idea what had happened, if the person had slipped, if they had been hit by an avalanche or if they felt sick and fell. It just couldn’t be understood. But everything indicated that the accident had occurred a short time ago.

Every minute we spent in line increased the anguish and distress caused by the groans of pain that we all heard. It was impossible not to hear. Everything was bleak. In addition to being upside down, the person’s torso was completely exposed to the -20-degree cold. I still didn’t know if it was a man or a woman, if it was a local worker or a climber from another country. What I did know was that he was a desperate person in need of help, as his life was at risk.

After standing in line for a while, I realized that whoever was closest didn’t know how to deal with that situation. It was at that point that I gave up on my climb. With great difficulty, Kristin, Lama, and I moved towards the accident, disconnecting from the rope and crossing each of the people in front of us. When we finally got there, we saw that it was a young man. Immediately, one of the things that most drew attention was that he was not wearing supplemental oxygen, nor a helmet, nor suitable clothing, such as a down suit (overalls indicated for high mountain ascents). I didn’t understand why he wasn’t wearing his gloves.

Lama went to him first, trying to turn him around by himself. He did not manage. Then,  Lama climbed above to the top ice anchor almost 5 meters higher up. He was then attached to Kristin. I climbed to Hassan. With no time to try to understand the poor working conditions of that man, or what could have caused that situation, I disconnected my mask and gave some of my oxygen to try to revive him. Lama passed me a rope that we attached to Hassan. After that, I wrapped express tape around his torso to try to equalize his body and get him out of that awkward position. This whole operation took about 1 hour. After which Kristin and Lama went ahead as they heard on the radio that the rope fixing team was in trouble.

After they left, I worked for an hour to hoist him on a reduced 3:1 system (which is a rescue technique to help reduce weight), which I improvised with some prussiks (cords) and carabiners, together with that guy’s friend, who returned to the accident site to assist in the rescue attempt. But I was also limited, as I didn’t have an extra meter of rope or an extra ice screw to help with the rescue. All my equipment had already been used on other occasions, including my axe, which I gave Lama to move to the anchorage above that man. All conditions were unfavourable. Even so, I tried everything I could, until the last second.

The line at the Bottleneck stood still for another hour or so. Because of this, many people gave up climbing. On the other hand, some completely ignored what was happening there. Several times I felt someone touch my shoulder lightly and say: “Could you go to the side so I can pass, please?”. Either way, it was unbelievable. Of course, in that situation, it angered me a lot and, at the same time, I know that people were also terrified to leave that place as quickly as possible. Standing still on the most exposed and dangerous stretch, whatever the mountain, means counting on luck at every second. And not everyone is willing or confident enough to risk their life to try to help someone in such an inhospitable place.

After more than an hour of efforts, we managed to bring Mr Hassan to the small plateau. All signs indicated that he was hypothermic, as he did not have adequate clothing and equipment to withstand the cold. To make matters worse, he appeared to have broken legs, because during the fall, the climbing chair he was using ended up on his knees, locking him in the upside down position with his legs completely twisted for at least an hour. I tried to revive him and warm his uncovered hands. I took off my oxygen mask and let him breathe some more. I tried to give him something warm to drink and tell him everything would be fine. But he no longer responded to any stimulus, he didn’t give any sign that he was really going to be all right. An extremely sad and tragic feeling was, in slow motion, taking hold of me. Looking into his eyes, almost without any sparkle, I realized that there was no hope those would be the last minutes of life for Muhammad Hassan, a 27-year-old Pakistani porter, who had accepted that job at altitude for the first time, to support his family.

The was an impossible situation. At this point on the mountain, no man or woman could help carry Hassan down. The path of the Bottleneck is just too narrow for a rescue.

With the first light of day, people were crowding and began to cross the ropes that divided us. In fact, we were in a very dangerous place and the chance of another accident was very high. Despite having felt a mixture of anger and indignation at the indifference of those around us, we had to accept that we had done everything possible to save him. I didn’t want to leave; I didn’t want to leave him behind. I wanted to try some more. Even though I knew it would be in vain. Even though I knew I had tried everything. My oxygen cylinder was practically empty and if I didn’t leave, maybe I would never get up from there. I said goodbye to Hassan in his last breaths of life, feeling a mix of feelings that words still don’t reach the point of trying to define.

I walked away not believing in everything that had just happened. It didn’t take long for my oxygen to run out for good. I spent more than twenty minutes breathing the rarefied air of K2. Confused, without any motivation to move forward. In a way, I felt that I had given up on something bigger and that reaching the top of a mountain no longer meant anything. I don’t know how, I kept walking until I found our team’s Sherpa at another point in the line carrying an extra bottle of oxygen. I still felt bewildered even after breathing again.

It was another difficult moment. I wanted to go down, but I couldn’t because of the amount of people going up. The stretch after Bottleneck, where I was, is equally steep and full of blue ice, very smooth and hard, which makes the route extremely arduous. The way out is the same way back. Inside, I just wanted to finish my job, turn around, and be done with it all. Even more so because the forecast was for a drastic change in weather from 10 am onwards. By that time, we should have been back at Camp 3.

Although I felt physically and emotionally drained, I gathered what little strength I had left to catch up again with Kristin’s team and the Sherpas who were leading the line securing the ropes to the top of K2. Around 10 am I still hadn’t reached them and decided to try to record with the drone the final meters of them approaching the summit. The equipment destabilized in the air, due to the falling snow, and plummeted for more than a thousand meters on the Chinese side of the mountain. There I gave up once again. I don’t know exactly where I got the strength from, but I reached 8,611 meters.

Kristin and Lama were already at the summit and had thought that Hassan was okay and receiving help, unfortunately I had to share the news that he was not well.

There was no summit photo for me. I recorded the videos I needed, looked at the landscape that already intubated us inside the clouds and got ready to descend for another 17 hours until I reached base camp again. I just wanted to pass out inside my tent. It was the longest lap I’ve ever ridden. And also the saddest.

The next day at Base Camp, I slept for over twenty hours straight. The next challenge for the members of the expedition would be to cross, in four days, the almost 100 kilometers of the Baltoro Glacier, towards the small town of Askole.  When we arrived here, I said goodbye to the other members of the trek-expedition and returned I went alone with a Pakistani resident of the region who, coincidentally or not, knew where Hassan’s family lived. I didn’t think twice. I wanted to look Hassan’s family in the eyes and offer my condolences, even though I knew nothing could comfort them.

So we headed towards the village of Tisar until we finally found Hassan’s wife and three children. The middle one, a 4-year-old boy, had the same face as his father. Looking at that child’s face without much notion of the world’s ills made me wonder what that man was like. What were his dreams, what did he want for his life, what did he do on his days off, how was his day to day with his family, what were his last thoughts. I guess I’ll never know. Just like I’ll never forget the look he had on Bottleneck. The face that makes me feel that, in some inexplicable way, I’m still there, in the early hours of July 27th, facing the saddest scene my eyes have ever seen.

While I was at Hassan’s house, with his family, feeling all the shock of his departure, I saw that life and death go hand in hand all the time. That after the end many things must continue. I think it was in those moments, playing with a boy who had just lost his father, that I reached the greatest peak of my life. No thin air, no sunrise, no beautiful landscape to contemplate. Just life and death occupying the same time and place in the innocent eyes of a child.

The Official Report from the K2 Accident

The Pakistani government investigated the incident. There was no mention of wrongdoings from Kristin Harila nor her team. Gabriel Tarso received an “appreciation letter” for his effort to save a life that night.

Download Report
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