Pakistan awaits news of national climbing hero missing on K2
Islamabad (TP) February 12, 2021: Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Pakistan’s most successful mountaineer and a national hero in the country, was acutely aware of the risks of climbing the world’s highest mountains in winter.
A member of the first team to climb the 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat in winter in 2016, Sadpara was back three years later to help retrieve the body of British mountaineer Tom Ballard who had died on the notoriously dangerous peak.
Now Sadpara, 45, is missing along with two other climbers, John Snorri, 47, of Iceland, and Juan Pablo Mohr, 33, of Chile, on K2, the world’s second highest mountain.
The three were last seen by Sadpara’s son Sajid at about noon on Friday, at what is considered the most difficult part of the climb: the Bottleneck, a steep and narrow gully just 300 metres shy of the 8,611m summit when Sajid was forced to turn back because of a malfunctioning oxygen mask.
The spot is just above the ceiling of helicopters that have been searching for the men for three days. “Muhammad Ali Sadpara is a national hero and an asset for the country,” Pakistani military spokesman Babar Iftikhar said on Monday. “The Pakistan army is putting in full efforts to rescue him.”
In a world long dominated by western climbers, Sadpara, like the Nepalese climber Nirmal “Nimsdai” Purja, who was among the Sherpa team to make the first successful winter ascent of K2 only weeks ago, stands out for his achievements. As well as Nanga Parbat in winter, he had climbed eight of the world’s 14 mountains over 8,000m and secured sponsorship from the Pakistani government to climb the rest.
Sadpara had started his climbing career as a high-altitude porter on the Baltoro glacier on K2 in 2004, before falling in love with high-altitude climbing, ruing in an interview four years ago the lack of opportunities that Pakistani climbers had compared with foreign teams, despite having five of the world’s highest mountains on their doorstep.
The first ascent of Nanga Parbat in winter in 2016 with Simone Moro and Alex Txikon, however, catapaulted him into the ranks of the world’s elite mounatineers.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Sajid acknowledged there was little chance the three could have survived so high on K2 in winter, adding that he had waited overnight at a camp just below the Bottleneck, believing the three had reached the summit and would be coming down.
“I kept the light of my tent on at night thinking they would see it when they return,” he said.
“I think if they search for the bodies it makes sense to continue the [rescue] operation, but their chances of surviving, if you are at 8,000 (metres) in winter for two or three days … are next to none.”
It was the group’s second attempt at climbing K2 this winter, in a season that has already seen three other climbers die in the area.
Sadpara, who grew up in the village of Sadpara in a portering community in the Skardu region, once explained the financial dynamics that drove many to the mountains to carry loads for foreign expeditions but few to climb in their own right.
“Many climb for money, which isn’t that much but it sustains people. However, not many of my fellow porters want to climb. If they had better opportunities, they would quit climbing,” he said.
“Honestly if you ask me, I would not want my children to work in this field. My sons are studying, one of them is in college, and has simply refused to climb. I want to be able to earn enough to provide for my family.”
While helicopters have been searching the upper reaches of the mountain for the three, Pakistani media has been following the efforts with almost hourly updates and social media users posted their hopes for a rescue despite the dwindling odds.
Among those still hoping for his safe return was the writer Fatima Bhutto, who tweeted on Monday: “Hoping so much for Ali Sadpara’s safe return.”
Others, however, were coming to terms with what they feared to be inevitable. “Today we lost you and you’re resting high on K2,” said Karim Shah Naziri, a skier and climber, in a tweet.
“The man who was always ready for the rescue operation to save lives, today I’m remembering your picture of 27 February 2019 when you were ready for the rescue operation of [Danielle] Nardi and Tom on Nanga Parbat.”
Courtesy: The Guardian