Rock climbing is probably one of the toughest and most dangerous forms of extreme sports. It involves scaling vertical mountain-faces, often without any safety harnesses and ropes. Imran Ali is a 36-year-old rock-climber from Quetta, who recently received notice after a social media video of him went viral. In the death-defying video, he can be seen climbing the Char Shakh mountain in Mari Abad. Ali belongs to the Hazara tribe of Balochistan who reside in Mari Abad.
Ali says that Char Shakh (Four Peaks, about 3,200m) is his favourite climb because he finds it as the most challenging among all the peaks of Quetta. “There is a new challenge awaiting me each time I climb there,” he says, adding that this is the reason he has trained some 30 other climbers there also.
The rock climber’s own vertical growth started when he was only 13 and a student of class eight. “You are not very sane around that age,” he admits. “Nothing scares you. You are daring. You believe that there is nothing that you cannot do. Living in the mountainous surroundings of my city also had an effect on me.”
Rock-climbing involves not only strength, endurance, skill and sure-footedness, but also the ability to make quick decisions — when you’re dangling half-way up a sheer mountain wall, with only your feet and hands gripping nooks and crannies in the rocks, the decision about which way to move next can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Imran Ali is a rock climber from Quetta, who feels that his extreme sport, with all of its excitement, thrill and dangers, has tremendous scope in Pakistan, given so many mountain peaks here just beckoning to be attempted
Ali accepts that, unlike mountaineering, rock climbing might not be as exciting a sport in popular perception. “In our country it is mountaineers that people look up to more. Movies and documentaries have also added to the glamour of mountaineering. The late Mohammad Ali Sadpara, Mirza Ali Baig, Samina Baig, etc., have become household names. But there are many other unsung heroes in rock climbing as well. They can also make a name for Pakistan if provided some exposure,” he points out.
Obviously, Ali considers himself one of the unsung heroes. And he may have a point.
“A few years ago, when the American rock climber Alex Honnold conquered one of the Yosemite mountain peaks of over 3000m in his solo attempt with ropes, it took him one-and-a-half years to just observe the points of the peaks. After that he made a complete sketch and attempted to climb, which resulted in his also filming his progress along the way. But here I cannot even afford such a camera to cover my climbing expertise,” he says.
When asked if the government provides any facilities to rock climbers, he says that it has not happened as yet “because our government is not even aware about such sports.”
Still, Ali says that he can train youngsters in fast rock climbing, which is also an Olympic sport.
“In fact, I had been approached by some students from Islamabad and Lahore to teach them rock climbing, but I could not accept their request because I needed more equipment for their safety. And for that I need funding,” he says.
“This was the reason why I, through some of my links, tried to reach the provincial sports ministry in Balochistan and they have asked me to climb a few other mountains of Quetta, make a portfolio, etc., in order for my proposal to be accepted,” he says.
“I had also approached a private brand, which promotes such sports in their advertisements and campaigns. I told them I will do live stunts for them too, but they were not interested because, maybe, I am not that big a public figure yet like our mountaineers,” he says.
Given the skill required and the danger of the sport, however, it is certainly not for everyone.
“There are interested individuals here who want to do rock climbing, but when they come and see me do it up close, they lose courage and back out. It is true that there is an over 90 percent chance of losing one’s life in rock climbing. You need to remain focused,” he says.
When asked if he has any international or local inspirations in solo rock climbing, Ali says that he admired David Lama, an Austrian free solo rock climber, a lot. “He was lucky to have got many sponsorships and international recognition. That’s also how I got to know of him. I used to follow his every video and interview. Unfortunately he, along with fellow climbers Jess Roskelley and Hansjörg Auer, lost their lives when they got caught in an avalanche on Howse Peak in the Waputik Range of the Canadian Rockies in 2019. The group had climbed a new route on the east face of Howse Peak, one of the most challenging Canadian rock-and-ice faces,” he says.
Ali says that he has provided his name and number to all the local mountaineers and rock climbers he knows. “It is to offer them my rock climbing and rescue service. I have rescued many mountaineers in this area who got stuck in the mountains. Rock climbers do that.
“I still remember when a local boy fell down a hole inside the mountains. Fortunately, my younger brother was with that team and he called me to rescue the boy. I went down to get him with my ropes. He was severely injured, but I had my first aid box with me, which helped a bit until I brought him up,” he says.
About his plans for the future, Ali says, “I will be attempting a steep 300-metre mountain in the Char Shakh mountain range. I have asked a friend to come with me and make a drone video of my climb, because the beauty of this sport can only be shown through a drone camera,” he smiles.
“My aim is to climb the K-2, G1, G2 and Nanga Parbat peaks using my rock climbing techniques. Although I know about all the equipment I would be requiring for it, because of a lack of financial support, I cannot think of doing this anytime soon,” he sighs.
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 26th, 2021