IN an otherwise dark scenario, our mountaineers are giving us something to cheer, something to feel good about, something worthwhile to be actually proud of. It is not just the political or economic scenario that is disappointing and depressing; the domain of sports itself is not doing much. Hockey, the national game, is down in the dumps. Squash, where we used to rule the world for years and years, has not produced a single star in a long time. And, cricket, though some may disagree, remains the rollercoaster ride that it has almost always been. Against that backdrop, the feat of our mountaineers stand out in sharp contrast. They truly are our unsung heroes.

Shehroze Kashif, for instance, added another feather to his cap recently when he conquered the world’s fourth highest peak, Mount Lhotse (8,516m), in Nepal. Hailing from Lahore, 20-year-old Kashif had just two weeks earlier scaled Mount Kanchenjunga, which is the world’s third highest peak. He is the youngest mountaineer ever to summit the three highest peaks — Everest (8,849m), K2 (8,611m) and Kanchenjunga (8,586m). Besides, he is also the youngest Pakistani to have climbed Broad Peak (8,047m) which he did at the age of 17.

Abdul Joshi, who hails from Hunza’s Shimshal valley, gave us a double delight when he recently summited Mount Everest. Known in the community as the ‘Path Finder’ for his amazing talent of finding new routes to the peaks, Joshi was the first person in the world to cross what is now called the FN/Joshi Pass and the Verjerav Pass. Among other achievements, Joshi is the first Pakistani to have summited Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world (8,091m).

As if these two are not enough, Sirbaz Khan, from the Aliabad area of Hunza, recently became the first Pakistani to climb 10 of the world’s 14 highest peaks — each at a height of more than 8,000 metres — after he scaled the Kanchenjunga. One hopes he will become the first Pakistani to climb all the 14 such peaks.

And when one is talking of mountaineers, can the discussion ever be complete without a mention of the late Muhammad Ali Sadpara? Certainly not. On four of his expeditions, Sirbaz was accompanied by the legend himself whose mission is now being carried forward by his son Sajid Ali Sadpara.

Ironically, our heroes who perform in a do-or-die situation to unfurl the Pakistani flag on the mightiest of peaks have been badly neglected by successive governments, be it financial support, provision of equipment and accessories, rewards or even appreciation. It takes a lot to prepare for an expedition in terms of time, money, effort and commitment.

Pakistan is home to five 8,000-plus peaks out of the total 14 in the world which is nothing but a blessing. It is time the government and other stakeholders took some serious steps for the promotion of mountaineering in the country.

Otherwise, the day is not far when mountaineers will lose their courage, strength and determination, and, above all, their dream of answering the call of the mountains. Let’s acknolwedge their feats.

Rao Zaid
Ghotki

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022

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