The trivialization of death live has also reached the world of the mountain. The viralized tragedy of the high-altitude porter Muhammad Hassan is not, however, a first. Before, there were very similar cases on Everest, and in other ‘eight thousand’, with no one to record it and place it on the firewood pyre of social networks. However, it is worth remembering the case of David Sharp, with similar circumstances in his misfortune: on Everest dozens of people passed on his legs looking the other way, on their way to the roof of the planet. Contemplating the evidence, that is, the repeated gesture of passing over the body of a dying human being, all that remains is to know how it is possible to achieve such detachment. And even so, the inexplicable may continue to be so after turning around the circumstances that have brought such disheartening images.
The Pakistani Hassan was a high-altitude porter due to life circumstances. Very few people in Pakistan dream of being mountaineers: they do dream of getting out of poverty. And mountain tourist money is a great shortcut if you’re willing to work and eventually lose your life doing it. The alternative for Hassan was well known: working the land, cutting and carrying firewood, picking and drying apricots, and herding a humble herd of goats. He was 27 years old, wife and three children. And, as several witnesses have emphasized, his experience in high mountains was meager. A circumstance that can explain certain things.
In the art of making foreign currencies profitable, the Nepalese have eaten the toast in no time at all over the Pakistanis, almost intruders in their own mountains. Everest summit fever has become too small for the workers of the Sherpa ethnic group and they have been opening new markets for five years. The second highest mountain on the planet, the most respected, where Hassan has lost everything, K2 is the expensive new playground of Nepal’s guide companies.
On July 27, a hundred people slipped into the top of K2. An outrage, if one takes into account the meager historical statistics of this mountain and the bad weather that devastated the mountain that day. Before, only mountaineers stepped on the top of K2. Sometimes accompanied by local porters or sherpas. Now, the tourists are legion, a fact that also helps to explain the desperate case of Hassan that happened that same day.
For decades, a reality prevailed in the Himalayan discourse: above 8,000 meters, in the death zone, no one could help anyone. You had to be autonomous and accept your destiny. The passage of time has notably altered this axiom and, also, the gestures of those who never accepted it as such. So what was seen as an immutable reality has turned into half a fallacy: yes, someone in trouble can be helped above 8,000 meters. Only three things are needed: the will to do it, human means and, sometimes, money (although it would be worth it if only the first two circumstances occurred). Hassan suffered an accident in one of the worst possible places: in the crossing under the gigantic block of ice that dominates the K2 Bottleneck.
At first, no one agreed on what caused his misfortune: An avalanche? The impact of a block of ice? Is your artificial oxygen depleted? A fall? all almost at the same time? In any case, something left Hassan prostrate, who, it was said, was there to collaborate in the placement of the fixed ropes, sent by the agency that had hired him. “Apparently,” explains Luis Miguel Soriano, a mountaineer and high-altitude cameraman (a regular on Carlos Soria’s expeditions), “what really happened is that he suffered a bad fall and was left hanging upside down from the fixed rope. The trail was very narrow under the great serac and if you stepped outside of it you would slip dangerously. The weight of the oxygen canisters presumably caused him to hang upside down when he fell, unable to get back up. He stayed like that for a while until a Sherpa I spoke to explained that he helped him return to the trail. The next day, when I passed that place at night on my way to the top, I did not notice that the shape cornered in the middle of the flank was a person: I only discovered it in daylight, during the descent, and at that time it had been dead for hours.”
According to the testimonies collected, in the long line of aspirants to the top and workers there was enough bottled oxygen and qualified personnel to improvise a delicate rescue. But apparently there were other matters at stake: set the rope that would allow clients to progress, satisfy their demands, return to base camp as soon as possible. That is, except for a couple of exceptions that tried to revive Muhammad, the rest did not believe that he had to get involved in helping him. O did not consider that the effort was worth it given the place of the accident and the little chance of survival that the injured person presented. But it should be remembered that several climbers have been practically rescued from the top of Everest, taken to a field at a lower altitude and taken out by helicopter. In Pakistan, on the other hand, there is no air rescue service and army helicopters only fly in very special situations. How can a person be rescued from the roof of the planet? With the promise of good money capable of mobilizing half a dozen Sherpas well supplied with artificial oxygen, wisely using the fixed ropes and improvising hang-ups in the snow. Slow, expensive, dangerous… but possible. No one, it seems, could or wanted from the base camp to offer money in exchange for the ransom of the unfortunate man. No one saw any reason to get down to business of their own accord.
One of the most repeated descriptions of Hassan, made by his base camp colleagues, made it clear that he lacked pedigree not only as a mountaineer but as a high-altitude porter: that if he wore outdated clothing, outdated equipment and inadequate for the task, that if his clothes were from another era… “Yes, I can corroborate this,” explains Soriano: “he was very poorly equipped and did not wear a down jacket, as we all do, and when he fell, in addition to injuring himself with the crampons, he damaged himself the back and the upper part of the clothing gave way and the trunk was almost exposed, which at that altitude above 8,000 meters was more than serious. Immediately he began to convulse and I don’t know how long it took him to die ”Would anything have changed if a wealthy client had suffered the accident? Mountain tourism works like this: some pay to climb a mountain, and by doing so they believe they are acquiring a right over phenomena as uncontrollable as illness, accidents or weather. So they put pressure on the agencies, on the workers and insist that they have the right to launch an attack on top. Just a decade ago, no one in their right mind would have sought the top with a latent danger of avalanches.
On July 27, several witnesses claim to have turned around after being involved in an avalanche. The fixed rope saved them: some gave up and others continued. They had paid for a peak and nothing was going to separate them from their destiny, not even if they had to lengthen their stride to avoid a black and yellow lump. Before, those who risked the most to reach the culminating point of a mountain, said they were possessed by ‘summit fever’. They used to be experts. Now, that same peak fever, of a peak conquered a thousand times and hardly an award to frame in the living room at home, seems to legitimize the egoism of a few. “Hassan had very little chance of surviving after his accident, and a rescue in that situation was really complex, which does not mean, from my point of view, that he should have tried something, no matter how damned he was.
Afterwards, seeing the images of people walking over his body when he was still alive is very shocking and I don’t want to excuse them but it is true that they walk like zombies and only see one step after another. They are very fair physically and walk like automatons. These people were not physically or technically prepared to attempt a rescue and the Sherpas who went with them have to take care of their clients, ensure that nothing happens to them and that leaves little room to help others… which does not mean that they would have to having tried to save Hassan because his life was more important than any peak”, says Soriano.
But the evident lack among tourists of autonomy in the environment or of an authentic mountain culture does not explain what happened either. Expert mountaineers have left their colleagues behind, relying on the half-truth that it was not high enough to be involved in a rescue. Others, on the other hand, like the Romanian Horia Colibasanu, preferred to risk dying rather than abandon Iñaki Ochoa de Olza. If Kristin Harila had suffered an accident on July 27, to quote the most media personage in the entourage, would there have been a rescue? Would he have deserved more attention than Hassan? “Hassan was part of the Seven Summits Club group, with which I was traveling,” explains Soriano. “Interestingly, Alex Abramov, the expedition leader, gave the order two days before the accident to all Pakistani high-altitude porters to return to base camp because the Sherpas on the team were complaining that they were getting sick, their work was not productive and they were consuming resources. such as bottled oxygen or cooking gas. All the Pakistanis were relegated except Hassan: for him it was very important because he had very little experience and in his case reaching the top would have allowed him to climb several rungs in the country’s social and labor hierarchy. When he passed away he was not working”.
Ultimately, his destiny was determined by his humble origins, a simple man hunting for a chance to change his life thanks to the increasingly cruel business of mountain tourism in the Himalayas and Karakoram.
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