A few weeks back we shared the story of 12-year old Selena Khawaja, aka ” the Mountain Princess of Pakistan.” At the time, Salena was preparing to leave for Broad Peak, an 8051 meters (26,414 foot) mountain found along the border of Pakistan and China. Her goal was to reach the summit of that mountain, becoming the youngest person to ever reach the top of an 8000-meter peak.
Naturally, Selena’s age brought a lot of attention to her story, sparking debate as to whether or not it was safe for someone so young to be attempting such a dangerous expedition. Now, the Karakoram climbing season is coming to an end and her story has come to the forefront once again, this time stirring even more controversy.
If you followed the Broad Peak climbing season, you probably already know that it was a very difficult one, with few summits, very dangerous conditions, and the death of a well known alpinist. You had to dig pretty deep into expedition dispatches to find any mention of Selena, who had gone to the mountain with her father—Yousaf Khawaja—to make her attempt on the summit.
A few weeks into the expedition however, Yousaf took ill and had to be evacuated from base camp by helicopter. He left Selena behind and fora time her fate was unknown. To most observers, it seemed unlikely that she would continue the climb without her father and it seemed more than likely that she too departed BC.
As it turns out, that wasn’t what happened at all. It seems she stayed in Base Camp with her support team and high-altitude porters, possibly to make an attempt on the summit. In the end, she never reached the top of Broad Peak, but her story has stoked controversy now that the teams are headed home and a prominent climber is speaking out.
Left on Broad Peak
According to Explorers Web, Finnish model/mountaineer Lotta Hintsa brought a lot of attention to Selena’s story when she gave a post-expedition interview. In that interview, which was quickly translated to a variety of languages, Hintsa decried the “circus” like atmosphere that can sometimes surround high-altitude mountaineering. As an example of this, she cited Selena both for her age and the situation that she found herself in.
Hintsa, who was climbing Broad Peak with Don Bowie, is quoted as saying “There was a 12-year-old Pakistani-Canadian girl with her father. Her Dad got sick and left the girl alone in Base Camp and told her, ‘HAPs (Ed: high-altitude porters) will pull you to the top’. Her father wanted the girl to set some world record. The girl said she doesn’t dare or know how to climb herself.”
ExWeb goes on to report that someone reportedly placed a call to the consulate on Selena’s behalf and she was eventually airlifted back to Skardu to go home. When exactly that happened remains unclear.
A Storm on Social Media
Originally it was also reported that Selena had gotten scared and refused to climb the mountain. Of course, this seems perfectly natural for any 12-year old who would have found themselves in her situation—alone on a big mountain without her father. But this too has brought added controversy with Selena’s official Twitter account hitting back at critics.
ExWeb correspondent Angela Benavides received a series of tweets that are purportedly from the Pakistani girl. Those tweets are archived in Angela’s story, linked above and include denials that Selena was ever truly alone in BC. They also show a changing narrative about what happened on Broad Peak, with Selena first saying she didn’t summit because of poor weather conditions and then later indicating it was due to a guide who took ill.
In one tweet, Selena denies telling Hintsa that she didn’t want to climb. She asserts that the Finnish mountaineer probably isn’t the source of the story, but if she is, Selena intends to sue her for tarnishing her reputation. As Benavides points out, these message aren’t likely to be from Selena herself, as anyone under the age of 13 isn’t allowed on Twitter.
From Broad Peak to Everest?
The ExWeb story also indicates that Selena has said that she wants to become the youngest person to ever summit Everest. If that is the case, Broad Peak was likely seen as a tune-up for other big expeditions to come. It also means that we’re likely to hear from Selena and her father again very soon, as time is starting to runout on that dream.
Currently, American Jordan Romero is the youngest person to reach the summit of Everest, having climbed the world’s highest peak at the age of 13. That means Selena would need to go to Everest this fall or next spring in order to have a chance at setting a new record. It’s not clear yet if that is happening, but don’t be surprised if we hear her name again soon.
Whether or not anyone this young should be on an 8000-meter peak remains open to discussion.
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