‘Mountaineer mom’ Naila Kiani sets her sights on K2

Published June 25, 2022
Naila Kiani, accompanied by her climbing partners, the late Ali Raza Sadpara and Sirbaz Khan, holds the national flag during her G2 expedition in July 2021.—Courtesy Naila Kiani
Naila Kiani, accompanied by her climbing partners, the late Ali Raza Sadpara and Sirbaz Khan, holds the national flag during her G2 expedition in July 2021.—Courtesy Naila Kiani

KARACHI: Nearly a year after setting a record by becoming the first Pakistani woman to have conquered an 8,000m, Gasherbrum-II, in Pakistan, Naila Kiani on Friday began her journey for K2 expedition this time, but without her mentor the late Ali Raza Sadpara, the one who believed in her prowess and told her she can conquer the world’s second highest mountain.

What made her story even more interesting is the fact that 8,035m G2 was the first mountain she had ever climbed and that too around seven months after giving birth. “My daughter was seven and a half months old when I summited Gasherbrum-II,” the Dubai-based climbing enthusiast, a banker by profession, related over the phone before arriving here to take up the new challenge.

Leaving for Skardu on Saturday after having team briefing on Friday, Naila will be accompanied by accomplished Pakistani mountaineers Sirbaz Khan and Suhail Sakhi, who were with her when she summited G2 with the late Ali Raza Sadpara. “The same G2 team is going to K2,” said Naila. “We have decided to dedicate this expedition to Ali Raza chacha.”

Sirbaz has previously summited K2 in 2018.

To be accompanied by climber Sirbaz Khan; will dedicate summit to memory of Ali Raza Sadpara

“When I reached base camp after the G2 summit, Ali Raza chacha was the one who said, ‘You can climb K2’,” recalled Naila. “He gave me that confidence.”

Ali Raza chacha, as Naila referred to him, passed away last month while recovering from injuries sustained during a training climb. It was for their upcoming expedition to K2. His loss has hit Naila hard. He was the person who encouraged her the most. “Several things stood out about him,” she said. “He was an incredibly humble man. And he would be always teaching and guiding others. Despite being twice as old as most of the others, he was the fastest even when carrying a load. Lastly, the thing I loved about him what that he was always good humoured. There was always a smile on his face. During some of our hardest moments on the mountain, he would crack a joke and we’d all end up laughing.

“My expedition has now taken on a new meaning. I am definitely going. Chacha’s not in this world anymore to realise his dream but I will dedicate my climbing expedition to him,” Naila revealed.

Most mountaineers train in the mountains but Naila is based in Dubai. On top of that, K2 is one of the hardest 8,000m mountains to climb. How is she managing to train for this expedition? “It has been incredibly difficult for me to manage everything,” she said. “I climbed G2 during my maternity leave. I headed straight into work when I came back after doing my summit as I have a fulltime job.”

It doesn’t help that she also has an infant that keeps her up all night. “My little daughter is teething now,” she adds. “Even now, I’m not getting a full night’s sleep. Managing sleepless nights, a baby, training for the climb, preparing for the expedition etc is very hard,” she told Dawn last month.

Other than her daughter, her ‘G2 baby’, Naila is also mother to a three-year-old son. Considering that expeditions can take well over a month, will she find it very difficult to leave them behind? “We don’t ask this question from men,” she responds.

“Even foreigners have asked me this question because mothers are expected to look after their children even if they have a full-time job. Sirbaz was with me [on G2],” she adds. “His daughter was born a day after mine. But no one asked him, ‘How do you go on your 14 peaks mission and stay out of the house for most of the year?’”

Naila’s K2 expedition is supported by the Bilquis and Abdul Razak Dawood Foundation. “Without their support, K2 wouldn’t have been possible for me,” she said. “They have a vision to support talented Pakistani youth in sports or education and are helping so many other individuals like me.”

K2 is known as ‘The Savage Mountain’ due to its high death rate, yet it holds an irresistible charm for mountaineers, especially in Pakistan. What’s it like for her? “The peace that you get in the mountains keeps bringing you back. When I planned my first climb, I just wanted to test my physical and mental strength, just to see how far and high up I could go. Out of all of the sports [including boxing] I’ve done, this tests you the most. Plus, there is the incredible views from the top,” she adds. “You ask yourself: is this heaven or is this earth?”

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2022

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