TEN peaks conquered, four more to go. Sirbaz Khan continues to scale new heights in his attempt to become the first mountaineer from Pakistan to summit all 14 peaks in the world above 8,000m. Last week, the 32-year-old raised Pakistan’s flag atop the Kanchenjunga in Nepal, considered the toughest of the 14 due to its deep gorges and bitterly cold weather. The feat moved him two summits clear of his mentor, the legendary Mohammad Ali Sadpara who died during a winter expedition of K2 in early 2021. The achievement came just a month after another famous Pakistani climber Abdul Karim, known as Little Karim, passed away. Hailing from Ali Abad in Hunza, it has been quite a journey for Sirbaz who worked for 11 years in a kitchen before becoming a professional climber. That says a lot about his determination and relentless pursuit of the heights he has conquered as well as the hurdles he has had to overcome. Saad Munawar, Sirbaz’s expedition manager, noted after Sirbaz reached the top of Kanchenjunga that there was a time when local climbers were not allowed to summit the peaks in Pakistan and now mountaineers from the country were conquering peaks in foreign lands.
Sirbaz’s predecessors weren’t even classified as mountaineers for a long time. They were termed ‘high-altitude porters’; the peaks they conquered as travelling parties for more renowned climbers never came on record. They climbed mountains in flip-flops and cast-off gear. Just to climb mountains in the regions they were born in, they had to rely on being part of expeditions. Things are changing though. Sponsors are now supporting local climbers, which has also helped Sirbaz, who wants to raise his tally of 8,000m conquests to 12 by scaling Makalu in Nepal and Gasherbrum-I in Pakistan by the end of summer. However, more investment, from both the government and private companies, is needed to nurture local talent. As the focus shifts to local mountaineers and after Sirbaz hopefully completes his ‘Mission 14’, the desired change should come.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2022