Pakistan 8,000m Season Recap

Climbers traversing under the Great Serac in the night. Photo: Shehroze Kashif

It has been a special season on Pakistan’s 8,000’ers. After the disastrous spring season inNepal, many climbers changed their plans and canceled expeditions to Pakistan. Those who stuck with it had their patience tested by ever-changing restrictions, flight cancellations, and the fear that the Delta variant might savage the season.

Pakistani outfitters, high-altitude workers, and climbers had an added incentive to press on: with most international outfitters out of the game, it was a chance to show their progress.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan issued 185 permits to climbers from around the world, Ali Saltoro told ExplorersWeb. Forty-eight of them summited K2, 25 reached the top Gasherbrum II, and 14 summits have been claimed on Broad Peak — but without indicating whether they reached the main summit or the fore summit.

On Hidden Peak, a handful of no-O2 climbers broke trail and independently fixed ropes on the upper sections. Their hard work led to five remarkable summits. The only team on Nanga Parbat was not as lucky. Beset by bad weather and poor conditions, they retreated without reaching Camp 2.

And yet, the season had a dark side: two lives were lost, coordination faltered when things went wrong, and for some climbers, it was almost as hard to get home as to get to Pakistan.

Earlier this week, we covered the Gasherbrums. Here are some other highlights:

K2

True to its name, the Savage Mountain offered beauty and ferocity in equal measure. On the normal route up the Abruzzi Spur, two Sherpa-supported commercial expeditions took the lead from Camp 2 to the summit. They were rewarded with excellent conditions on the two-day summit push.

Only two independent climbers, Niels Jesters and Hugo Ayaviri, completed the climb without supplementary O2. Ukrainian Dmytro Semerenko didn’t use bottled gas until the summit but then, feeling sick, he chose to sip some O2. By doing that, he lost the no-O2 tag but avoided getting himself and those around him in trouble at 8,611m.

Climbers traverse under the Great Serac at night. Photo: Shehroze Kashif

There were also two attempts on other routes. Ian Welsted and Graham Zimmerman reached 7,000m on the West Ridge but retreated in dangerous conditions due to extraordinarily high temperatures. They considered a second attempt but finally decided to head home, Zimmerman confirmed.

On July 24, Stephan Keck, Jordi Tosas, and Rick Allen surprised many of us when they set off to try a new route in pure alpine style, up the southeast face. Excitement turned to horror the following day, when an avalanche swept through the team between Camp 1 and Camp 2, killing Allen. As per his family’s wish, Allen was buried at the foot of the mountain. Climbers from around the world sent their condolences and shared memories of a brave, understated climber.

Rick Allen, ready to go for higher camps on K2. Photo: Karakorum Expeditions

The season also saw several Pakistani flags on the summit, starting with young Shehroze Kashif, who reached the summit just after the Sherpa rope-fixing team on the first summit day. Kashif, who summited Broad Peak at 17, has climbed Everest and K2 this year at 19.

On a call with ExplorersWeb, Kashif said he wants to become the youngest person to complete all 14 8,000’ers. “I want to do it for my country,” he explained. However, it will not be this fall: Kashif said he needs some rest after spending half a year on expeditions.

ExplorersWeb also asked Kashif about comments from some climbers, who expressed doubt about his age. He explained that the rumor stemmed from a misunderstanding during his Broad Peak climb, and willingly provided ExWeb with official documents, from a photo ID to his birth certificate, to kill the chatter.

Shehroze Kashif praying on the summit of K2. Photo: Shehroze Kashif

An all-Pakistani team from the Hushe region also made the summit, led by Ali Durani and including Muhammad Hassan Hushe, Mushtaq Ahmad, and Yusuf Meeri.

Sajid Sadpara was determined to find the remains of his father Ali, who went missing on the mountain last winter. Despite many challenges, he kept his word. Valentyn Sypavin found the body of Juan Pablo Mohr, while Madison Mountaineering’s Sherpas came upon the remains of Ali Sadpara and John Snorri, still attached to fixed ropes above Camp 4.

Sajid rushed up, marked, and protected the remains, and on the following morning, he summited K2 in tribute. It was his second time on top of Chogori. On the way down, with the help of Niels Jespers and particularly Hugo Ayaviri (both returning from a no-O2 summit), he moved the body and buried Ali near Camp 4.

Sajid Sadpara fulfilled the most difficult mission of his life. Photo: Elia Saikaly

Elia Saikaly, a member of Sajid’s team, is filming a documentary on Ali Sadpara’s winter climb and Sajid’s quest to retrieve the body. He also hopes to find out whether the deceased climbers summited K2 before perishing.

Karakorum Expeditions’ commercial team, led by Mirza Ali, didn’t join the same summit push. Ali canceled their expedition, due to “dangerous conditions” and seemed to refer to the death of Rick Allen (who was on a different route) as a contributing factor: “The tragedy cost my client’s summit, my team and my sister’s summit,” Ali posted on Facebook. His sister Samina Baig was attempting to become the first Pakistani woman on top of K2.

Long Shadows Over Broad Peak

According to official data from the Pakistan Alpine Club, there were 14 summits on Broad Peak. Yet events on the only summit day suggest this figure might not be accurate. Climbers waited hours for the rope-fixing team to prepare the route, and at least three climbers decided to bypass the fixers to make a late summit at around 3:30 pm. Did all 14 make the main summit, or did some turn around at other points on the summit ridge?

So far, confirmed summiters are Oswald Rodrigo Pereira, Neils Jespers, and Hugo Ayaviri. On the way back, they crossed paths with Nastya Runova and Kim Hong-Bin, accompanied by at least one porter. Later, they saw two or three members of the Pakistani rope-fixing team.

Runova reported that she reached the main summit, and it is assumed Hong-Bin may have summited too. However, this has not been confirmed, because the South Korean climber never made it back to Base Camp. There are many unanswered questions. Why the apparent lack of communication between climbers and Base Camp? How is it possible that Hong-Bin spent a night stranded, standing on a ledge on Broad Peak’s Chinese side, before the alarm was raised?

The events have been pieced together, as far as is possible, here. You can also check out an amazing timeline compiled by one reader in the Comments section under this story.

Broad Peak certainly had a complicated season. For two weeks, only Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa were on the mountain, setting up the first two camps. Then a large group of climbers joined them in Base Camp, including a Karakorum Expeditions team and a group of rope-fixers tasked with fixing the upper half of the route.

Some climbers aimed straight for Broad Peak, such as Bowie, Hintsa, and skiers Vitaly Lazo, Anton Pugovkin, and Thomas Lone. Many others intended to acclimatize there before launching a summit push on K2.

Summits and an evacuation

After the first summit push, in addition to the climbers mentioned previously, Mirza Ali reported summits by rope-fixers Jalal Uddin, Eid Muhammad, Faryad Karim as well as Bulbul Karim, Ilyas and Inayat Ali, plus clients Fahad Badar of Qatar and Saeed Al Memari of UAE. Badar claims that he reached the main summit, but he was seriously frostbitten and had to be evacuated.

Outfitter Blue Sky Treks and Tours reported Hong-Bin’s summit and four Pakistani summiters, identified as Yusuf, Imtiyaz, Mehdi, and Hussain, who is noted as the “rope-fixing leader”. Sadly, none of them saw Hong-Bin mistakenly descend to the Chinese side of the mountain, where he was unable to return to the route.

The first summits were already late in the day on Broad Peak. The fact that there were more climbers on the upper side of the mountain (including two rescues), combined with Broad Peak’s long, undulating summit ridge, casts some doubt on the final summit total. Further details on the subsequent summit claims would be desirable.

The view from Broad Peak Col at sunset. Drama unfolded later that night. Photo: Oswald Rodrigo Pereira

Some days later, a second summit push was aborted due to a dangerous snow slab before the col leading to the summit. Argentinian Nacho Lucero tried on his own one day later, believing conditions had improved, but poor visibility forced him down. He also reported constant rockfall between Camp 2 and the base of the mountain.

Finally, there is the case of 12-year-old Selena Khawaja and her father. Both were determined to turn the girl into the youngest ever Broad Peak summiter. Unfortunately, Selena’s father became ill and had to be evacuated, leaving his daughter on her own, with a HAP and a cook, to climb the mountain. The full story is recounted here. The information has been confirmed by several climbers, including Lotta Hintsa and Sophie Lenaerts. Sources only differed when discussing the child’s attitude. Some insist she chose to back off, while others insist she was still willing to climb the mountain and fulfill her father’s wish. Whichever the case, diplomatic authorities ended her attempt when they found out that there was a minor in Base Camp without her legal guardian.

Lessons to learn

While most remained quiet while in Pakistan, several climbers have now denounced some behavior that hampered their expeditions. Climbers have mentioned very relaxed use of other climbers’ tents and stolen items, O2 used by whoever happened to be in camp, and sloppy behavior such as leaving tent doors open. An increasing number of climbers have some evidence-backed complaints about their HAP’s lack of experience, motivation, or reliability when compared to previous experiences on 8,000’ers.

It is no secret that a serious cleaning campaign is urgently required for Pakistan’s 8,000’ers. Old ropes and flattened tents need removal, and some teams must be confronted about abandoning their rubbish in the high altitude camps. According to some climbers, who prefer to remain anonymous for the time being, it is one thing to find ragged tents and old ropes from previous seasons, but it is unacceptable to have people (of several nationalities) throwing litter onto the mountains. Pakistan deserves to lead the management of expeditions and the commercial exploitation of its mountains, but this needs to be done in a sustainable, responsible, and transparent way.

On a positive note, everyone has recognized the skill and professionalism of Pakistan’s military helicopter pilots. One climber drew our attention toward a usually forgotten figure: the Liaison Officer. “Contrary to Nepal, where you rarely see them showing up in Base Camp, Pakistani Liaison Officers take their role seriously and do their best to coordinate tasks between climbers, outfitters, and authorities, especially if there is a rescue,” the climber told ExplorersWeb.

Getting home harder than climbing

Tom Livingstone, back from Pumari Chhish:

“This trip to Pakistan was going smoothly until the time came for me to travel home, whereupon I very nearly became stuck in the country (first physically and then legally). [There were] major landslides, roads closed, bad weather, last-minute flights, refused boarding (I dislike Qatar Airlines), questions of citizenship, calls to embassies, many crazy ideas on ‘escaping’, and eventually feeling like an illegal immigrant or escaped convict. It was a perfect storm of COVID, Brexit, airlines being idiots, and the world going mad. The night before an alpine route is usually full of nerves and disturbed sleep, but it’s nothing compared to this!”

Tom Livingstone while life was easy on Pumari Chhish East. Photo: Tom Livingstone

According to Finnish climber Juho Knuuttila’s latest post, his Dansam Peak team is going through a similar nightmare.

By August 6, most Karakorum climbers were still running around airports. Saulius Damulevicius was waiting in Vilna’s international area for authorities to give the green light to his COVID documentation. Niels Jespers had flown to Karachi, hoping to get a flight back to Brussels from there. However, a missing stamp on some of his papers saw him sent back to Islamabad after 24 hours. A communication problem meant that Hugo Ayaviri missed his flight back to Bolivia. Eventually, everyone made it back home despite the hurdles.

In the next few days, some climbers may post further details on their climbs and surrounding events, so expect new details to emerge.

Action on the rocks

While most are now home, a few climbers are in no hurry to leave. Mysteriously, Simon Messner and Martin Sieberer are somewhere, climbing something. The younger Messner has only mentioned that their expedition is in Pakistan and was due to begin three weeks ago. News is expected when they return.

Edu Marin on Trango Tower’s Eternal Flame route. Photo: @pumbaproduccions

A group of climbers is also tackling several routes on the Trango Towers. Edu Marin is trying to free-climb Eternal Flame. Barbara “Babsy” Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher are also there but have not announced their plans.

Marin reached the top of the Nameless Tower via Eternal Flame a week ago but was unable to free six of the pitches. He is determined to launch a new attempt, even after his climbing partner decided to call it a day. Luckily, he met a climbing pair from the Basque Country (Julen and Amaia, no surnames provided) who have volunteered to support him during the attempt. Marin reported from Base Camp recently, saying that they were waiting for a good weather window and “keeping the flame burning”.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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OldHikerDude
OldHikerDude
1 month ago

Excellent reporting, as usual. Now we have Fall and Winter action to look forward to, and it can’t come too soon.  Thanks for keeping all of us climbing junkies up to date!

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S K
S K
1 month ago

Thanks Angela for great overview of the season highlights, I love this site and its contents,

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Samson Simon Sharaf
30 days ago

Nice but you failed to mention That Hugo Ayaviri and his French wife after missing the fight became State Guests of Pakistan and were provided tickets back home.

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