Sixty years after the first ascent of K2 (8,611m), an all Pakistani expedition has made it to the top of Pakistan’s highest mountain and the most difficult 8000 meter peak in the world.
Ali Durrani, Ali Rozi, Hasan Jan, Mohammad Sadiq, Ghulam Mehdi and Rehmatullah Baig are the six climbers from the eight member ‘K2 2014 Pakistan Expedition: Sixty Years Later’ who successfully made it to the top of K2 on Saturday.
24-year-old Ali Durrani is the youngest Pakistani to have climbed K2.
Italian mountaineering ambassador and alpine guide Michele Cuccchi also reached the summit of K2 with the Pakistani team.
Mr Cucchi, along with speed skiing world champion and Italian mountaineering ambassador Simone Origone, provided technical assistance to the Pakistani climbers.
The Pakistani climbers hail from the villages of Sadpara, Shigar and Hushe valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan region.
Though unknown to most Pakistanis, the climbers who formed part of the K2 2014 Pakistan Expedition are some of the toughest men in Pakistan. With most of them working as guides, climbing instructors and high altitude porters, the men have an impressive list of 8000m and 7000m summits to be proud of.
Some of them have also served in the ’Concordia Rescue Team’, one of the highest rescue teams in the world which carries out mountain rescues in Pakistan.
Team leader Mohammad Taqi, Hushey Valley’s most well-known guide and climber, has the summits of Broad Peak and Spantik under his belt.
Hasan Jan, also from Hushey has done Nanga Parbat, Char-Ku Za, Gasherbrum 2 and Broad Peak.
Mohammad Sadiq from Sadpara, the village said to have the best high altitude porters in the world, has done G1, G2 and Broad Peak.
Hushey’s Ghulam Mehdi has conquered G1, G2, K7, Nanga Parbat and Spantik while his peer Ali Durrani scaled Broad Peak earlier.
Ali Rozi also from Hushey has climbed Broad Peak and G2. Mohammad Hasan has scaled G2, K2 and Broad Peak. Rehmatullah Baig from Shimshal is an ace rock climber.
The Savage Mountain
Pakistan is home to an alpine paradise where five of the fourteen 8000m peaks including K2, Gasherbrum 1 and 2 and Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat stand proudly, alongside hundreds of unclimbed 6000m and 7000m peaks.
At 8,611m, K2 is almost 237m lower than Mount Everest 8,848 m, but it’s sharper and much harder to climb.
Of the 14 mountains in the world over 8,000 meters, K2 has the highest failure rate, hence earning the name of the ‘Savage Mountain’. While some 4000 climbers have ascended the more popular Mt. Everest, roughly 400 have set foot on the summit of K2.
Though the terrain is harsh and the ‘death zone’ ever so unwelcoming, the K2 2014 Pakistan Expedition members were helped by good weather window. Some 35 climbers made a push for the K2 summit on July 26 this year.
In July 31, 2012, 28 climbers managed to scale K2 in a single day, the most successful day in K2’s difficult mountaineering history so far.
“‘Sherpa’ and ‘porter’ are the labels that Western mountaineers apply to the indigenous people of the Himalaya. To expeditions, such people are a vital source of labour. And because they are paid for their work, it is easy to slip into a rather arrogant mode of thinking that presupposes that all Nepalis, Pakistanis, and Indians see mountains as no more than a source of income,” Australian journalist/climber Greg Child wrote in a 1987 article for Climbing Magazine.
Given the fact that mountaineering is an expensive occupation and the cost of an expedition can run into at least 5,000 dollars for even a Pakistani, many high altitude porters and climbers are unable to go for peaks that they assist foreigners in climbing.
In this backdrop, not many Pakistanis can aim for the mountains that have been on the ‘to do list’ of world class mountaineers.
The expedition was supported by SEED (Social Economic Environment Development) which is promoted by EvK2CNR and the Italian government.
The aim behind the initiative was to give Pakistani climbers a chance show their talent and tell the world that Pakistanis are no less when it comes to climbing.
In a statement issued earlier, EvK2CNR president Agostino Da Polenza and a professional mountaineer said: “Last year I met the Pakistani team at Broad Peak Base Camp. Receiving my compliments the Pakistani mountaineer told me their dream to climb K2 and asked for help. I was glad to help them. So here we are, the expedition is starting.”
Talking with Dawn.com, Munir Ahmed, Communications Consultant SEED-EvK2CNR, said that the all men were doing well and will be on their way to Skardu after much needed rest.
“Team leader Mohammad Taqi and Ghulam Nabi, were unable to summit and returned from Camp IV following a bout of high altitude sickness,” Munir added.
The mighty K2
Though Everest is the highest peak in the world, mountaineers say it is K2 which sets true climbers apart from ‘mountaineering feather seekers’.
K2, also called the ‘Savage Mountain’ due to the extreme difficulty of ascent and its bottleneck, has the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders after Annapurna.
Statistics suggest that ‘for every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying’. So extreme are the elements of nature that the mountain has never been climbed in winters and remains an elusive mountaineering feat.
In 1856, the mountain was surveyed by the European survey team. Thomas Montgomerie was the member of the team who designated it “K2” for being the second peak of the Karakoram Range.
The other peaks were originally named K1, K3, K4 and K5, but were eventually renamed Masherbrum, Gasherbrum 4, Gasherbrum 2 and Gasherbrum 1 respectively.
Later, in 1892, Martin Conway led a British expedition that reached “Concordia” on the Baltoro Glacier.
Oscar Eckenstein, Aleister Crowley, Jules Jacot-Guillarmod, Heinrich Pfannl, Victor Wessely and Guy Knowles made the first attempt on K2 in the year 1902 via the Northeast Ridge.
It took “fourteen days just to reach the foot of the mountain”, wrote Crowley in his book ‘Confessions of Aleister Crowley’. Back then, no lightweight climbing equipment existed and the explorers relied more on their instincts and will power than anything else to push for greater heights.
After five serious and costly attempts, the team reached 6,525 meters although considering the difficulty of the challenge, and the lack of modern climbing equipment or weatherproof fabrics, Crowley’s statement that “neither man nor beast was injured” highlights the pioneering spirit and bravery of the attempt.
The failures were also attributed to sickness (Crowley was suffering the residual effects of malaria), a combination of questionable physical training, personality conflicts, and poor weather conditions – of 68 days spent on K2 (at the time, the record for the longest time spent at such an altitude) only eight provided clear weather.
After the failed attempt, the second attempt was made in 1938 by an American expedition led by Charles Houston.
Though they figured that the Abruzzi Spur was the most practical route, and reached a height of around 8,000 metres (26,000 ft), they were forced to abandon the attempt due to diminishing supplies and the threat of bad weather.
In 1939, an expedition led by Fritz Wiessner came within 200 metres (660 ft) of the summit, but ended in disaster when climbers Dudley Wolfe, Pasang Kikuli, Pasang Kitar and Pintso disappeared high on the mountain.
In 1953, Charles Houston returned to K2 to lead the American expedition. The expedition failed due to a storm that pinned the team down for ten days at 7,800 metres (25,590 ft).
The first ascent of K2 was done by the Italian expedition on July 31, 1954, when Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli reached the summit. Walter Bonatti and Pakistani Hunza porter Amir Mahdi, were vital for the expedition as the carried oxygen bottles for the two climbers to the height of 8,100metres (26,600 ft). And hence Pakistan’s K2 became the ‘Italian Mountain’.
The summit of K2 remained elusive till 1977 then, with most expeditions abandoning the trip due to bad weather. In 1977, a joint Pakistan-Japan Expedition led by , Ichiro Yoshizawa attempted to scale K2.
Pakistani mountaineers Ashraf Aman and Nazir Sabir were part of the 52 member team that aimed for K2 with an army of some 1500 porters. Facing tough weather, Ashraf Aman was the first Pakistani to summit K2 on August 7, 1977.
In 1981, ace mountaineer Sabir returned to climb K2 again but this time from a new route. Sabir and his team from Waseda University created mountaineering history by climbing K2’s West/South West Ridge rather than the usual Abruzzi route.
Sabir later went on to bring more glory to the country after becoming the first Pakistan to climb Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.
In the following years, a number of Pakistani high altitude porters and climbers made it to the top of K2. These include: Rajab Shah and Mehrban Shah (K2 International Expedition July 7, 1995), Asad Khan (Swiss-Italian Expedition, July 27, 2004), Nisar Hussain and Mohammad Hussain (Chinese Expedition, July 27, 2004), Mohammad Ali and Shaheen Baig (K2 International Expedition, July 28, 2004) and late Mehrban Karim (K2 International Expedition, August 1, 2008, died on descent).