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

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.