TEENAGE mountaineer Shehroze Kashif continues to scale new heights. On Tuesday, the 19-year-old became the youngest person to summit K2, Pakistan’s highest and the world’s second highest peak, with supplemental oxygen. The feat followed his ascent of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, in May. His achievement needs to be celebrated but the joy has been tinged with sadness — and some relief.

Shehroze reached the summit only a day after the remains of Pakistan’s legendary mountaineer Mohammad Ali Sadpara, along with two climbers, were finally spotted in K2’s ‘bottleneck’ — a narrow gully just hundreds of metres from the summit. Sadpara along with Ireland’s John Snorri and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr had been missing since February when they were attempting a summit in winter. The rescue had to be called off due to bad weather conditions. But Sadpara’s son Sajid — who in 2019 became the youngest person to climb K2 at the age of 20 — became part of another expedition to find his father’s body. Pakistan’s Samina Baig was also attempting to scale K2 this week but had to cut short her expedition due to dangerous conditions.

Mountaineering: ‘A heart as big as K2’

Since the relaxation of Covid-19 rules this year, many foreign climbers have arrived in Pakistan which is blessed with some of the world’s highest peaks. The mountain wilderness here has attracted tourists for long and Pakistan was once an essential stop on the ‘Hippie Trail’ before militancy in neighbouring countries saw a decline in the overland journey from Europe to South Asia. The 2013 massacre of 10 climbers at the Nanga Parbat base camp was another blow but foreign climbers have started coming back in the last few years.

Pakistan’s mountains have a commercial value that remains untapped and Shehroze’s ascent is a sign that the country’s youth is also picking up interest in mountaineering. To keep that interest alive, it’s imperative that the government take steps by incentivising the sport, and empowering the Alpine Club of Pakistan by providing funds as well as helping set up a professional mountaineering school.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2021

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