MOUNTAINEERING: THE MOUNTAINEER FROM LARKANA

Published October 1, 2023
A happy and proud Asad Ali Memon . — Photo by author
A happy and proud Asad Ali Memon . — Photo by author

As far back as he can remember, Asad Ali Memon loved to collect posters and pictures of people involved in dangerous and extreme sports.

“Whenever I came across a picture of anyone bungee-jumping, skydiving, scuba diving, skateboarding, rock-climbing or the like, I would just stop in my tracks and stare, until someone or the other nudged me into coming back into my own world,” the 24-year-old mountain climber, the first one from Sindh to summit Mount Everest, tells Eos.

This was when Asad lived in Larkana. He was born there, he went to school there. In fact, he had never stepped out of there until six years ago, when he just happened to notice an announcement on social media about a workshop in Islamabad. “Somewhere in there I noticed the words ‘extreme sports’. It lit a spark inside me. I just had to be a part of that workshop,” he says.

The next thing he knew, Asad was on his way to Islamabad. Everything changed after, thereon. “I changed thereon,” Asad smiles.

Although the workshop was not exactly what the young man had in mind, it still introduced him to Tahir Imran Khan, his current instructor who, in turn, introduced him to rock climbing. “It was basically a workshop for folks who enjoyed outdoor activities, trekking and rock climbing. The participants there were already into these activities and here I was, absolutely raw.

An unlikely mountaineer from the plains of Sindh reached the top of Everest this summer. Now he has his eyes set on mountains in Australia and Antarctica, so that he can boast of having climbed mountains on all seven continents

“But I learned many new things, including how to tie different kinds of knots on ropes that would help me climb rocks also,” he says, adding that Islamabad offers many such opportunities because it is surrounded by hills.

With the workshop over, Asad returned to Larkana, but this time one thing was very clear in his mind. The barren plains were no place for him. He was no longer going to stay there. The mountains were calling.

“The mountains have a kind of hypnotising effect on me,” he says. “I feel like there is a bond between me and nature, and it is very strong. It gets even stronger as I climb mountains.”

Asad’s story of passion, resilience and pursuit of excellence saw him relocating to Karachi, at first for educational purposes and, then, to find ways of travelling the world to realise his dreams. Studying business at a prestigious college of Karachi, he also had an idea of how to raise money to follow his ambitions.

 Vertical strides | Photos courtesy Asad Ali Memon
Vertical strides | Photos courtesy Asad Ali Memon

“I started travelling a lot to make up for what I had missed in my formative years. I went to Murree, to Naran, to Kaghan, and I went hiking. In between, I attended multiple workshops arranged by Tahir sahib. As I went north, my ambitions were also getting higher and higher. I knew what I wanted to do,” he says.

“Gradually, I was able to upgrade myself with proper equipment, thanks to the help of some friends, and set off on my journey to climb my first ever mountain, the Minglingh Sar Peak, which lies at the core of the Shimshal Pass. Ascending from sea level to the 6,050m summit of Mingligh Sar was no less a daunting task, but I triumphantly completed it with steadfast perseverance and courage. What had once been but a fantasy had now become a thundering reality for me, and I loved every bit of it.”

Asad was hungry for more. He wanted to challenge himself.

“I wanted to build up my physical endurance, along with my strength of mind. I knew I had the willpower for it. I wanted to go for a seven summits challenge,” he says. “It required me to climb the highest peak of each of the seven continents and cross the Arctic region unaided,” he explains.

“See, we in Asia have the liberty to choose how we want to climb our mountains. There are people here who carry your luggage — the porters may even carry you on their shoulders for a little bit of extra money. But it is not like this everywhere,” Asad points out.

 Gaining height during his Everest climb
Gaining height during his Everest climb

“Every expedition, every climb is different, taking you to new heights of experience,” he says.

Of the seven mountains that he wanted to climb, he has already climbed five. Though one would think that, being Asian, Asad would have gone for Mount Everest first, Asad started in 2019 with the continent of Europe, where Mount Elbrus in Russia is the highest peak.

“Since then, I have travelled to South America, Africa and North America. Having successfully summited Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Denali in Alaska, I felt that I was ready for Everest.” Asad summitted it in May of this year. 

He says that the year 2021 was a mixed bag. “It was bad because of the world being in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was good for me because despite that I was able to travel to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. On average, the 5,895-metre-high dormant volcano takes a week to climb, but I was able to do it in 20 hours,” he laughs.

But he is not always in such high spirits. He remembers how not being acclimated to the cold weather, his body took very long to adjust. “It was minus 25 degrees at Everest base camp alone, and it took me three weeks to just be able to sleep in that kind of low temperature. Still, I triumphed,” he beams.

So what’s next on his agenda? “The two remaining continents, Antarctica and Australia, of course,” he says, adding that he is looking forward to climbing Antarctica’s Mount Vinson, which may not be very high but would test his endurance, as he will be carrying all his stuff on his shoulders and on a sledge, because there are also no porters there for this kind of work.

He also points out that the highest peak of Australia, Puncak Jaya, is technically in Indonesia.

“Maybe my climbing career didn’t have an ideal start. I come from a very simple family, where it is a luxury to be able to pay for one’s education, leave alone pursue hobbies. But mountain climbing has taken me places. And to get to these places, I raise the funds myself, by arranging sponsorship. I started this way and I’m still doing it. For the Everest climb, I’m indebted to the Sindh Government, especially the mayor of Karachi, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, who personally supported me,” he says.

Asad wants to meet the mayor again to convince him to build a rock climbing facility for the youth of Karachi. “So that they can discover the thrill of it themselves right here, instead of having to go to Islamabad like me,” he smiles.

The writer is a member of staff.
X: @HasanShazia

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 1st, 2023

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