On May 11, 19-year-old Shehroze Kashif became the youngest Pakistani to summit Mount Everest. He is also the fourth youngest mountaineer in the world to have summited the world’s highest mountain.
Before reaching the 8,848.86-metre peak, the teen also has the honour of being the youngest Pakistani to have climbed the 8,047-metre Broad Peak at the age of 17, which also earned him the title of ‘Broad Boy’.
After being locked down in Nepal for 15 days following the summit, Shehroze finally returned home to a rousing welcome on Monday. Dawn caught up with the young mountaineer to look back at the life-altering experience.
Shehroze was just 11 when he wanted to climb up a mountain while accompanying his father on an official trip to Shogran. But, of course, his father refused.
“As a kid, I had a lot of questions about what could be up there: a playground, cricket field or what? But my father said we’ll return soon with proper equipment and gear.”
The 11-year-old ended up climbing the 3,885m Makra Peak two weeks later, while his father waited at the base camp.
“I gained a sense of achievement. I felt I was at the top even though it was 3,000m.”
Thus began a string of tougher treks over the years with Shehroze peaking the 4,080m Musa Ka Musalla at the age of 12; 4,600m Chambra Peak the same year; 6,050m Manglik Sar in Shimshal at 13; 5,585m Gondogoro La K2 base camp at 14; 5,800m Khurdo Pin Pass at 15; Broad Peak at 17; and 6,050m Khusar Gang at 18.
The pampered, first born child to his parents was never an adventurous soul and wanted to be a scientist rather, even though he was a poor student.
“The pampering made me dependent and lose my self-confidence. When I saw the mountains, all my plans changed. Plus, I was a terrible student who sat re-send-ups at least five times.”
So bad was he at school that a teacher had once told his parents the child couldn’t achieve anything in life. “Today, I have so many medals that I have run out of space,” he says with pride.
After Shehroze peaked the challenging Khurdo Pin Pass at age 15, he claims the great writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar, who’s a family friend, had spoken about him at an event, saying: “Whether I’m alive or not, Shehroze will be the youngest Pakistani to climb the Everest. I saw his future through his eyes.”
While training for Everest, the teen received a video message from Mr Tarar, who told him to “remember that an 80-year-old man will be climbing right behind you”. At the Everest peak, Shehroze recorded a message for the veteran telling him that the 80-year-old man, who was climbing behind him, was actually ahead of him pulling him along. “He responded with a video, saying that was the best Eid gift he had ever received.”
However, Shehroze feels dejected that his father had to solely fund the entire expedition that cost them a hefty Rs10 million, including the $10,000 permit. “We met the president and sought sponsorship, as the government sponsored other sportspeople. I told him Pakistan should own this expedition. He said he’d look into it, but no one got back to us. We even reached out to airlines and banks. In fact, the Punjab Sports Board added my name to their website as a national athlete, but didn’t treat me as one.”
Prepping for the perilous trek was nothing short of rigorous. From physical exercises to a strict diet, for six months Shehroze cut himself off from the world and trained day and night. “I would run daily with a 20kg bag, do squats and swim. I dedicated my life to training. My diet consisted of everything from eggs, bread, butter, olive oil, peanut butter and shakes to salads, rice and meat to fruits. I avoided all kinds of sweets. But being a big foodie I’d skip the routine sometimes. It wasn’t easy.”
There were avalanches, rock falls, icebergs collapsing and only five or six of the 25-member team could reach the Everest summit, while three died and the remaining turned back. But nothing deterred the young boy. “I was focused towards my goal. After all, we pay for feeling homesick. I wanted to take my country to the top. I was representing Pakistan, so that kept me going. Physically, I was fit throughout.”
When he reached the Hillary Steps, considered the toughest point on the mountain a few hundred metres before the summit, he “thought I was at the point that I had seen only in movies. One wrong step and you’re part of history. But all I was thinking was that I’m only a couple of hours from the summit”.
He tells aspiring mountaineers not to rush to the mountains if they aren’t trained enough. “I have seen people die. It’s not about making a name for yourself. There are strong winds, ice storms, temperatures below -30. Get adequately trained before setting off.”
After around 60 days of climbing, during which the team survived on soup only, Shehroze reached the summit a little after 5am local time. “I saw God’s nature that not everyone can see; the 36-degree view was breathtaking. You’re literally on top of the world, there’s nothing beyond that.”
Just like the Everest expedition, his future plans are equally grand, but, this time, he expects some government assistance beyond social media acknowledgement.
“I want to get a commercial pilot licence, which takes a lot of money. I have served Pakistan a lot, so I expect the government to support me. Also, I have summited two of the 14 peaks above 8,000m, called the 8,000-ers, and plan to cover the remaining as soon as possible. I want to do this with Muhammad Ali Sadpara’s son, Sajid, to continue his legacy. But that’s not possible without sponsorship. My father has been sponsoring me so far, but he can’t anymore.”
Pakistan has five of the biggest mountains, but there’s no regard for mountaineering or support for it, which Shehroze feels is unfortunate.
“I hold two records for Pakistan, represented my country at the Everest, but there has been no government support. It’s high time the government acted and treated mountaineering as a sport.”
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021