12-Year-Old Girl Left to Climb Broad Peak on her Own

Selena Khawaja, shortly after arriving at Broad Peak Base Camp. Photo: Saad Mohammed

Young Selena Khawaja made waves when she showed up at Broad Peak Base Camp to try to break an age record by summiting at only 12 years old. Some argued the girl was strong for her age and was experienced enough. She had already summited Mingli Sar (6,050m) and Spantik Peak (7,027m).

But many more considered it irresponsible to put such a young person under such pressure. No matter how talented a child is, her mental and physical development is incomplete and unable to fully grasp the perils of an 8,000m peak. Accusatory fingers pointed mainly at Selena’s father, Yousef Khawaja.

Father falls ill

Two weeks ago, Selena’s father fell ill and was evacuated from Base Camp. Most of us assumed that the girl had flown out with her father. We were wrong.

Earlier this week, a climber in Base Camp, who didn’t want to be named, alerted ExplorersWeb that Selena had remained in Base Camp with a porter. She was expected to climb Broad Peak, in the company of strangers. Now Lotta Hintsa has spoken up about the issue, which is causing a scandal both in Pakistan and internationally.

Hintsa gave an interview to Helsingin Sanomat. Other sources, such as Il Corriere della Sera and RussianClimb, quickly picked up, translated, and shared the story.

Hintsa spoke first about her and Don Bowie’s recent attempt on Broad Peak. Then she said:

“This trip has shown very strongly that one of the most dangerous things on the mountain is other people. If you don’t have the ability to save yourself from a crevasse, for example, you start a butterfly effect that affects everyone else.”

As an example of the “circus” that high-altitude mountaineering has become, Hintsa mentioned Selena. “There was a 12-year-old Pakistani-Canadian girl with her father,” Hintsa said. “Her Dad got sick and left the girl alone in Base Camp and told her, ‘HAPs 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.”

In the end, someone called the consulate and said that the father was playing Russian roulette with his daughter’s life, said Hintsa.

In the end, thankfully, Selena got scared and refused to climb the mountain on her own. She was eventually airlifted back to town. It is unclear when.

Angry tweets

While researching this story, I received a series of angry messages, purportedly from Selena’s Twitter account. It had been publishing information about Selena since 2018 and states, “I want to be the youngest to summit Everest”. It is unclear who is behind the profile, but the recent tweets do not sound like a 12-year-old girl. Note that kids under 13 are not allowed on Twitter. The messages went as follows:

Whoever wrote the tweets then switched to threats:

Finally, the voice of Selena concocted a whole new version why she did not summit Broad Peak:

Exposing children to high altitude is a matter of ethical, parental, and medical debate. Yet this controversy broke not because Khawaja wanted to climb Broad Peak, but because she is a minor and was left without a legal guardian in a potentially dangerous situation.

While the world debates U.S. gymnastics star Simone Biles pulling out of her events because of the pressure, this story from one of the world’s highest mountains calls for reflection too. If 24-year-old Biles succumbed to the “twisties” despite her long experience, the pressures on a child striving to meet the expectations of parents/sponsors/mentors/audiences are far worse. And the consequences could easily have been graver than losing an Olympic medal.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Khizer
Khizer
3 months ago

It’s my personal opinion but there should be a case against her father for criminal negligence. Apparently a meaningless “world record” in a sport which does not give them a second look is more important than his own kid’s life, that too one which could bring a lifetime of climbing accolades in the future. Spantik (Except maybe the Golden Pillar route) does not give her any experience remotely close to what she needs on an 8000er or even other 7000ers. Manglik Sar is worse. The Pakistani government is grossly lacking in governing the sport. Any chance that twitter account is… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Khizer
Anonymous
Anonymous
3 months ago
Reply to  Khizer

What do you mean by another imposter?

+1
Khizer
Khizer
3 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

There have been many cases of random people creating accounts under climbers’ names and then spreading false info while pretending to be them.

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guwinster
guwinster
3 months ago
Reply to  Khizer

Seems like it is probably just her father who made the account.

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Belijo
Belijo
1 month ago
Reply to  Khizer

But on the other hand, we should show respect to the training results of this young girl. Why no one wetsern climbing association invitites her to join the training in their youth training camps for a while? This would be an alternative to that experience to be trained from fathter in that age and share experiences with other youngsters – its so important in that age! Where are the youth mountainers and leaders among the readers of that article? Who invitate her for youth training course?!

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Delwyne
Delwyne
3 months ago

Angela, thank-you for your great reporting. You have earned my respect for your objective reporting of the goings on at altitude. In this arena, cluttered as it is with money, politics and ego, I appreciate your (mostly;-)) unbiased chronicling of events. Thanks!

+13
Thomas hall
Thomas hall
3 months ago
Reply to  Delwyne

Objective?
Unbiased? Are you sure?

+3
Tara
Tara
3 months ago

A girl at 12 (any girl no matter how fit and talented) is not physiologically and psychologically mature enough to climb an 8000 m mountain. Yes, in perfect conditions she might eventually be pulled to the top, but what if something went wrong high on the mountain?

+3
Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
3 months ago
Reply to  Tara

Do you mean a child? Because at 12 there may be little difference between a boy and a girl as far as strength and endurance go.

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Tara
Tara
3 months ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

Yes, a child. There is some difference between a boy and a girl, but it’s too little to be significant on 8000m. Pushing your child to break age records on the highest mtns is iresponsible, even crazy.

+2
androdgeny
androdgeny
2 months ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

no he means a girl – she is a girl. he is not making a commentary on male vs female stereotypes – he is just stating the facts

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Readers
Readers
3 months ago

“sources say Selena herself speaks no English” —- that seems quite wrong – have been following her on instagram and speaks perfect English, in fact she’s Canadian too and lives there as well! So quite possible it is Selena herself and a lot of misreporting been done on her. Get an interview with her to get the facts please we all will wait.

+2
Don Paul
Don Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  Readers

I just checked twitter, found her account but not any of these tweets. They appear to have been deleted. It’s a matter for the Pakistani police, or child protective services.

+1
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago
Reply to  Don Paul

The tweets were not uploaded by me, they are as a reply to people.

+3
Jess
Jess
3 months ago
Reply to  Readers

She may well speak perfect English, but I don’t think you could come to that conclusion from the very short captions on her Instagram (@mountainprincess92 for anyone wanting to look).

@Don Paul – the tweets are still there. Check the replies to Angela’s tweets.

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Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago
Reply to  Jess

I am not a person that writes a story a caption should be short and precise.

+2
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago

Just fixed?! Don’t you think morality is something? Shouldn’t you have apologized for quoted false and rubbish sources, do you have any proof of other lies you told? Shame on you and your reckless reporting. I wish you had the least bit of moral authority.

+8
Thomas hall
Thomas hall
3 months ago
Reply to  Selena Khawaja

Angela is a terrible reporter! Twists, lies and misleads. You should be writing columns in celebrity magazines or something

+5
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas hall

True and she still hasn’t apologized for the wrong things she wrote she has just quietly removed them

+3
androdgeny
androdgeny
2 months ago
Reply to  Selena Khawaja

is it fun talking to yourself?

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Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
2 months ago
Reply to  androdgeny

What do you mean talking to myself?

0
Jehangir Jamali
Jehangir Jamali
3 months ago

Thank you for this article. While the mountain folks and the HAPs are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, I am at a loss of words that a father would leave a 12 year old unattended by a parent or relative or guardian in the middle of nowhere to climb an 8000er. Pakistan doesn’t have child protective services but I assume Canada does and that they save this girl from her reckless father.

+6
Josh Briggs
Josh Briggs
3 months ago

This isn’t really a story. I doubt the girl was every going to climb the mountain. I don’t think anyone would have gone with her and she wasn’t going solo.

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guwinster
guwinster
3 months ago
Reply to  Josh Briggs

Pay me enough money and I’ll take her up. I’ve never been on Broad Peak and don’t know what I’m doing, but give me $4 million USD and I’ll figure it out. My guess is it would cost a lot less money to find a Pakistani HAP who would at least give a half effort to bring her somewhat close to the summit. As far as I can tell all of the “serious” climbers on Broad Peak kept their mouths shut about this situation until after they had abandoned their own attempts. If this girl had started out at 0400… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by guwinster
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago
Reply to  guwinster

I always wanted to start the climb, never did i say i never wanted to start the climb, its just this fake article spreading lies about me.

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Belijo
Belijo
1 month ago
Reply to  Selena Khawaja
In Germany in such cases it will be criminal offense at court named: Child welfare endangerment so that only the idea like this nobody can start to realize.
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Samson Simon Sharaf
3 months ago

Let me mediate. 12 years old! Yes. But this girl has the hunger, talent and is accomplished. It is because of her age that her father accompanied her. Both had undergone rigorous training in Pakistan in every aspect of climbing including rope fixing, rocks and overhangs. She is strong, agile and trained. Unfortunately, her father had to be evacuated and whole plans got upset. Remember, this season was Pakistani revenge for the tragedy of January. All Pakistani teams were sponsored. Two for K2, 2 for Broad Peak and one for Gashebrum 2. The first two were shared summits. All but… Read more »

Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago

That is actually really good advice, I will defiantly talk to my papa about this though i will be older than 13 next year

+2
Saadia Sharjeel
Saadia Sharjeel
3 months ago

I know someone who was with her and her father on Spantik. In fact he was asked by some police officer to take these father daughter to Spantik with him. He has narrated the whole story in a Facebook post. According to that post, the father gives the daughter some kind of drugs to make her climb. This is more serious that we think.
https://web.facebook.com/umair.ali.733450

+2
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago

Those so called “drugs” is Vitamin C(Kirkland Tablet Form) and my papa gave everyone a whole lecture on why vitamins are important for anyone to take.

+1
Saadia Sharjeel
Saadia Sharjeel
3 months ago

This is a screen shot of one of the comments I got from this child. I believe it is the father at the keyboard.

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Screenshot (2).png
jajo_majo
jajo_majo
3 months ago

this site and alosi r/mountaineering for example a floded with pakistani posters all blowing the same horn. I suspect it’s organized…

+2
Steve
Steve
3 months ago

This is a very biased and poorly written tactical with zero facts just twists and opinions… many comments on here from people who have never hear of her or her abilities before this

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Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve

True.

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
3 months ago

As a medical doctor with a specialty in anesthesia and critical care medicine, I concur with all here that this is totally irresponsible. 1.At age 12 she is not mentally or legally capable of assessing risk. 2.Children are at higher risk of HAPE because their pulmonary vasculature is more reactive. 3. Her lean mass will also make her more prone to hypothermia. Can she physically do it? Sure. But climbing big mountains is much more than strength or endurance. Does she think she can do it? Of course! The Roman’s knew this well and called their youngest troops infantry for… Read more »

Peter Farkas
Peter Farkas
3 months ago

Having met his father near Broad Peak BC (see my comment above), I fully concur with your assessment about his father.

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Farkas

Yes. A most deplorable action by the father.

If she is in fact the one reprimanding Angela in this thread, all is even more worrisome.

But I suspect it’s the person you met trying to further justify his carelessness by impersonating this young girl.

Once again young lady, and I say this with a kind heart – you need help. And it seems like home is not where you will find it.

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Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
3 months ago

My papa doesn’t even know how to use Instagram or twitter, he only knows how to use Facebook. How in the world can he impersonate me?

+2
Peter Farkas
Peter Farkas
3 months ago

As someone who briefly met Selena and his father near the Base Camp, let me add some color to the story: We met Selena and his father early July, on our way back from K2 BC to Concordia. They walked in the opposite direction, towards Broad Peak BC. Selena walked with a guide/porter, and her father followed them from 20 meters away. While Selena did not say a word to us, we had a several minute discussion with her father. He started with saying that he had, and is having health issues and openly admitted that he started the trip… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Peter Farkas
SAM
SAM
3 months ago

She was unable to climb Koser Gunge (6050 m) last year, and her father lodged a case against her HAP, she summited Spantik on the shoulders of her HAP! yes this is true. She is a kid and should not be blamed, but her father is a mental case who should be put behind bars for risking her life. Selena is not even allowed to eat what she likes at base camp and is beaten by her father. There should be a stop to this madness now!

+1
Selena Khawaja
Selena Khawaja
2 months ago
Reply to  SAM

Firstly, i could not summit Khosar Gung becuase i got a severe cough. Secondly, i did not go on shoulder of any porter. If i did share some proof

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