As the summer climbing season in the Karakoram gets underway, a number of interesting stories have already started to emerge from Pakistan. Amongst them is the news that a 12-year old girl will attempt to climb one of the world’s highest peaks. And while it is easy to admire her adventurous spirit, such a young climber will surely reopen a long-standing debate in the mountaineering community. As she prepares for this undertaking, other climbers are wondering how young is too young?
The Mountain Princess of Pakistan
Born in the Abbottabad District of Pakistan, Selena Khawaja has been climbing mountains since she was six years old. Reportedly, the young girl showed a natural interest in hiking and climbing at a young age, something her single-parent father was keen to encourage. As result, she has already gained a high level of experience rivaling alpinists twice her age.
So far, Selena’s greatest climbing achievement is summiting Spantik Peak, a 7027-meter (23,054 feet) pyramid of rock and ice located in the Gilgit-Balistan region of Pakistan. The mountain is known not just for its altitude, but for being a technically difficult climb as well. As a result of her that success—and her extensive list of other climbs–Selena has earned the nickname of the “Mountain Princess of Pakistan” by the local media.
While Spantik is indeed a difficult climb worthy of celebrating, it isn’t amongst the highest peaks in the world. If everything goes according to plan however, the 12-year olds next goal is attempt one of Pakistan’s three 8000-meter mountains, writing her name into the history books at the same time.
Broad Peak Bound
Last week it was announced that Selena and her father would be heading to Broad Peak this summer to attempt to climb that mountain. 61-year old Yousaf Khawaja is coming off a successful ascent of Everest this past spring and is now looking to add another 8000-meter peak to his resume, bringing his daughter along for the journey.
At 8051 meters (26,414 feet) in height, Broad Peak is the 12th highest mountain on the planet. It also happens to be one of just 14 peaks that rise above the 8000-meter mark. Because of that extreme altitude, the climb will require plenty of acclimatization and it seems likely that both father and daughter will use bottled oxygen. The path to the summit does cross over rick, snow, and ice as well, making it a challenging ascent.
That said, Broad Peak isn’t as technical as some of the other 8000-meter mountains, especially it’s near-by neighbor—K2. In fact, the climb is considered one of the easier of the big mountains, making BP a good launching point for future expeditions to other—higher—mountains. Still, any expedition that heads up into the so-called “Death Zone” comes with inherent dangers for climbers of any age, which is why so many people are concerned.
As you can probably imagine, the announcement of this audacious climb for such a young alpinist has been met with mixed reactions on social media. Explorer’s Web has been keeping an eye on the comments, which range from complete condemnation to support and praise.
Most take the view that 12 years old is too young to be attempting a mountain of such altitude, as the risks are just two high for someone who is young and still relatively inexperienced. Meanwhile, Selena’s supporters are calling her expedition “inspiring” and wishing her the best of luck on her next adventure. They say that she isn’t like other kids her age and does have plenty of experience already, despite her young age.
It should be pointed out that Pakistan does not have any age requirements on it’s 8000-meter mountains, while both Nepal and China do. In the case of those countries, they require mountaineers to be at least 16 and 18 years of age respectively.
Record Setting Climb
If she is successful, Selena would become the youngest person to summit Broad Peak, as well as the youngest to climb any 8000-meter peak. Previously, the youngest person to top out on BP was Pakistani alpinist Shehroze Kashif, who did so in 2019 at the age of 17.
The youngest climbers to summit any 8000-meter peak include American Jordan Romero, who was 13 years, 9 months old when he summited Everest back in 2010, and Mulwah Purna who accomplished the same feat at 13 years and 11 months in 2014.
Naturally, Selena is hoping to summit Everest next, establishing a new youngest age record for that mountain too. In order to do that, she’ll need to get permission from either the Nepalis or the Chinese, both of which have been reluctant to provide permits for someone so young in age.
That is something to be sorted out down the line however, as for now, Broad Peak is the main focus. You can bet we’ll be following her progress closely and hoping for a safe return. Even though she is young, hopefully she’s learned the old adage about the summit being optional and getting down being mandatory.
What do you think? Should Selena be allowed to climb such dangerous mountains at such a young age? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
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