Pakistan’s 8,000m Season Recap: To Help or Not to Help

Three elements shaped Pakistan’s 8,000m climbing season in 2023: relentless bad weather, a new business model based on linking peaks, and some sad episodes involving high-altitude workers.

The season showed the best and the worst of the climbing community. The generosity of some saved two men’s lives, and another man lost his life while dozens passed by.

According to Gilgit-Baltistan authorities, 639 foreign climbers bought permits for Pakistan’s 8,000’ers. All but one team went up the normal way. Sherpas from Nepal opened most of the routes, but the rush of climbers aiming to chain-summit several mountains left no time to fix the entire route in some cases.

This was the case on Gasherbrum I (where traditionally there are few fixed ropes anyway) and K2. On the latter, sherpas fixed the route on the go, with nearly a hundred climbers in tow.

Climbers on fixed ropes descend from K2's summit

Climbers on fixed ropes descend from K2’s summit. Photo: Pemlakpa Sherpa


Among the commercial teams, several climbers went without O2 and with varied levels of support. Some only had logistics at Base Camp and agreed to a fee to use the fixed ropes.

Some no-O2 climbers used personal support, from a high-altitude porter (HAP) carrying gear and helping with the tents, to a proper guide doing all the tasks and leading the clients up and down.

Drama on Nanga Parbat

As usual, the season’s action started on Nanga Parbat. Here, a long spell of bad weather tested climbers’ patience. There was no chance to set up Camp 4 or to fix ropes on the upper sections. It was no wonder that when a marginal summit window opened, climbers rushed up, and the drama started.

Nanga Parbat's Base Camp at nightfall.

Nanga Parbat’s Base Camp at nightfall. Photo: Tunc Findik


The summit push started from Camp 3 and featured lots of snow on the route. Even those with O2 returned from the summit exhausted. For those independent climbers who proceeded without O2 (with or without personal sherpa/HAP support), it was worse, though not impossible. But the problem was not just the conditions. It was making the right decision when other climbers needed help.

When Saulius Damulevicius of Lithuania, Volodymir Lanko of Ukraine, and Israfil Ashurli of Azerbaijan pitched the tents they had carried in Camp 4, they had no time to prepare for the summit before the SOS calls started. Other climbers arrived at their tents asking for fluids and rest. Those three helped and sacrificed their own climb.

Polish climber Pawel Kopec couldn’t even make it to Camp 4. He collapsed 200m below the tents. Attempts to help Kopec proved useless, and he died that night. An Italian team in Camp 4, whose members did set off toward the summit as planned, drew criticism. The Italians, led by Mario Vielmo, later offered up their version of events and also explained why one of their porters had been left without a tent in Camp 3 the night before.

Yet there are some unanswered questions about Nanga Parbat and the death of Kopec. His team declined to share details, citing the wishes of Kopec’s family, and we have not had a chance to speak to Asrufil Ashurli, who saved at least one life at risk to his own.

Ashurli dressed in high altitude jacket with the sun goggles on his forehead, holding an Azerbajiani flag on a high mountain place.

Israfil Ashurli. Photo:


Ashurli took Pakistani Asif Bhatti into his tent. Bhatti had attempted a no-O2 push despite being weak, according to other climbers. When he reached Ashurli’s tent, Bhatti had frostbite and snowblindness. He couldn’t go down alone. Ashurli stayed with him, took care of Bhatti (whom he didn’t know), and helped him down in bad weather.

By the time they reached Base Camp, nearly all the other climbers had gone home or to other mountains. Ashurli ended up in the hospital, recovering from the frostbite he himself had sustained during the rescue.

Tunc Findik and Sophie Lavaud finished their 14×8,000’ers quest with their summits on Nanga Parbat.


After Nanga Parbat, most climbers went on to other peaks. Karakoram 8,000m climbing typically begins in July. A few of those on the EliteExped and Seven Summit Treks teams who were in a hurry and wealthy enough to pay $22,000 bought a helicopter ride to the Gasherbrums Base Camp. Others trekked from Skardu to Concordia, then on to their chosen destinations.

Cardell raise her fist in triumph, while Urubko looks at her, on a cloudy summit.

Pipi Cardell and Denis Urubko on the summit of Gasherbrum I. Photo: Pipi Cardell



Denis Urubko and Pipi Cardell were already at the Gasherbrum’s Base Camp. They needed plenty of time for their ambitious goal: a new alpine-style route on Gasherbrum I. This season, they were the only team climbing an 8,000’er off the normal route. They broke trail to Camp 3 and acclimatized on the normal route so thoroughly that they eventually summited.

However, bad weather gave them no chance to summit again via their new route. They waited until the very last moment, already in August, to attempt a fast one-day ascent, but snowfall and slab avalanches pushed them down.

Otherwise, the Gasherbrums granted opportunities for normal-route climbers, despite unstable weather. You can read a full recap of the season on both Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II here.

Horia Colibasanu (left) and Lukas Woerle in their yellow tent on Broad Peak

Horia Colibasanu (left) and Lukas Woerle in Camp 3 before their final summit push on Broad Peak. Photo: Horia Colibasanu


Broad Peak

The season on Broad Peak was relatively quiet compared to previous seasons. Horia Colibasanu launched a summit push almost immediately after reaching Base Camp. Feeling strong, he didn’t mind the lack of ropes on the long final ridge and used no O2 or personal sherpa support. He set off with Austrian Lukas Woerle, whom he had met in camp. Colibasanu climbed ahead and didn’t notice that the story from Nanga Parbat was repeating itself. Woerle stopped to help a Pakistani porter, which cost him his summit attempt. American Dan Buonome also stopped to help.

Woerle attempted Broad Peak a second time but he told Explorersweb that he was still weak from the previous try and his rescue efforts. He decided to abandon his push on the ridge.


The Gilgit-Baltistan government thanked Woerle for his bravery with an official certificate of commendation. He was also nominated for a civil award, and given a free climbing permit should he ever decide to return to Broad Peak, Sajid Hussain, the Deputy Director of the Tourism Department Gilgit Baltistan, told ExplorersWeb.

There was another expedition worth mentioning on Broad Peak. Their goal was not to summit but to pay respect to Polish winter pioneer Tomasz Kowalski. Kowalski died 10 years ago while descending from the first-ever winter climb of Broad Peak. The team was led by Rafal Fronia, who had seen Kowalski’s body when he summited Broad Peak the previous year. This year, with other Polish climbers helping him, he put the body in a special bag and buried it in a snow cave under the ridge, on the Chinese side of the mountain.

Viridiana Alvarez of Mexico, one of Seven Summit Treks’ multi-peak climbers, completed her 14×8,000’ers quest on the summit of Broad Peak.

The bitter finale on K2

Finally, there was K2. This season, the weather on the second-highest mountain on earth was especially implacable. Teams were barely able to reach Camp 2 in difficult conditions.

The season neared its close without any summit chances. Eventually, the rope-fixing team made it to Camp 3 in whiteout conditions.

Climbers walking up on a snowy slope in foggy weather.

Climbers on K2 in bad weather. Photo: Allie Pepper


The only possible summit chance was on July 27. Everyone on the mountain set off for the summit on that day. Some of the pushes were extremely grueling. Even the better-positioned needed to go all the way from Camp 3 and climb behind the rope fixers. They had only laid the fixed ropes at the bottom of the bottleneck the night before.

Conditions were bad, yet most climbers followed their guides through the unstable snow and fog.

two figures with headlamps on K2 in the dark

Lucy Westlake (left) and a sherpa guide, ready to leave Camp 3. Photo: Lucy Westlake


Summits and tragedy

Among those pushing hard on K2 was Kristin Harila of Norway. Harila had already summited 13 of the 8,000’ers. On K2, she would smash the existing 14×8,000m speed record set by Nirmal Purja. Harila missed summiting all 14 peaks within three months by just one day.

As usual, Tenzen Lama Sherpa accompanied and supported her. He climbed all 14 peaks with her and so shares the record. On K2, they were joined by another sherpa, at least one camera operator, and a larger team from Seven Summit Treks, including sherpa guides and clients. A rope-fixing team was right ahead of them, made up of several teams from Base Camp. It included three men from Seven Summit Treks. Reports speak of several rope-fixing teams, working in shifts to break trail and fix ropes.

A long line of climbers on a snow slope in the fog.

A frame from a video by Pansang Nurbu Sherpa shows Kristin Harila at the head of a long line of climbers.


One of the Seven Summit Treks rope-fixers was winter Manaslu summiter Pasang Nurbu Sherpa, who shot the video below and posted it on Facebook. In it, sherpas shovel their way up K2’s final slopes, with a long line of climbers in tow. The end of the line disappears into the fog.


Summit news arrived at around 11 am that day. Some more climbers topped out on July 28. But soon after, word trickled back to Base Camp that things were not going well. Some spoke of an avalanche, a death, and maybe more.

Nearly half of those attempting the summit on July 27 turned around after experiencing small avalanches at the Bottleneck. Others, like Harila’s team, summited and successfully hurried back to Base Camp, or stopped in higher camps for the night.

Harila was among the first to summit and celebrated her speed record for the 14×8,000’ers. Only a few climbers mentioned the corpse on the route when they descended. None mentioned that the person was still alive while some of them were on their way up earlier that day.

Endless line of climbers at the traverse on K2, and a lonely figure in the middle.

A large number of climbers at the traverse, in front of and behind a stricken Muhammad Hassan, who is marked with a circle.


The information came instead from climbers who had turned around at the Bottleneck and later, from drone footage. Further investigation showed that Muhammad Hassan, a HAP working to support his family, had had an accident but was still alive hours later.

ExplorersWeb was the only media outlet to fully investigate the story. It made international news and horrified the climbing community. Here is the complete story.

Some sherpas have posted videos of the dead porter right on the ropes, with climbers jumping over him. Here is one by Lakpa T. Sherpa:


The Gilgit-Baltistan government has opened an investigation that will run for 15 days.

Headlamps mark the way up the Bottleneck in the early hours of July 27.

Headlamps mark the way up the Bottleneck in the early hours of July 27. Photo: Wilhelm Steindl

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.