ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is mourning one of its proudest sons, the mountaineer Hassan Sadpara who rose from being a humble porter to unfurling the national flag on the highest mountain, Everest.
But what the mountaineering world remembers him fondly for is the zeal he displayed in searching and rescuing climbers and others who went missing in the fearsome cluster of +8,000-metre peaks in northern Pakistan.
“When it came to search and rescue missions, Hassan was most likely to get the first call,” recalled the President of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, retired Col. Manzoor Hussain.
The Pakistan army preferred to use him where its soldiers could not climb. Only the experienced high altitude porter could complete the mission.
“We would certainly call Hassan Sadpara whenever a climber needed to be searched and/or rescued, and several such occasions arose under my watch,” he said.
The most recent one occurred in September to find the remains of three Pakistani soldiers on the 6,326-meter high Toshi Re peak in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Hassan had braved hurricane strength storms, fatigue and exhaustion and sub-zero temperatures on some of the highest peaks in the world but on Monday he lost his fight against cancer at age 53.
Hassan Sadpara became the first Pakistani to climb six out of the 14 highest peaks in the world above 8,000 meters. Between the years 2004 and 2007, he climbed K2, the second highest peak after Everest, Gasherbrum I and II, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat, with foreign expeditions, accompanying them as a high altitude porter.
In January 2009, the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, in a meeting with him recognized his achievements and directed the government to provide funds for a Pakistan Expedition to Mt Everest.
Two years later, Hassan became the second Pakistani to scale the world’s highest peak.
But controversy followed his claim that he did that without supplemental oxygen. Detractors insist to this day that he used bottled oxygen on the climb.
Nazir Sabir, the first Pakistani to summit Mt Everest, preferred to hire Hassan Sadpara to accompany the expeditions to K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II that he served.
“Though lacking technical knowledge in climbing, he was an important and experienced crew member - somebody who could be relied upon on difficult and dangerous routes,” said Sabir.
Hassan Sadpara’s death looked sudden to Sabir as only last week he had heard that his health was improving.
Spokesperson of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, Karrar Haidri, called Sadpara a national hero.
“Hassan was among the few mountaineers our club would recommend to train aspiring climbers. He was an asset for the Pakistan Army to fix ropes to climb difficult terrain where soldiers could not go,” he recalled.
A native of Sadpara Village, near Skardu, Hassan Sadpara began his climbing career as a high altitude porter in 1993. He became a celebrated climber after conquering the Mt Everest.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2016