K2: Fake News and Good News

In the Karakorum, no news is not necessarily good news, but at least it’s better than false rumors spreading uncertainty. Welcome to winter K2 in the age of social media.

Last Sunday, John Snorri, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, and his son, Sajid Sadpara, were struggling to summit K2 before the weather worsened. They were behind schedule. Snorri’s tracker located them on the Black Pyramid rather than Camp 3, as they’d hoped.

But that night, some sources — including three accounts identifying themselves as Ali Sadpara the climber — reported that the team was finally in Camp 3. Back in Iceland, Snorri’s home team echoed the jubilant news. And yet, the tracker stubbornly fixed the team at 6,731m, roughly the location of the higher Camp 2.

Eventually, Ali Sadpara’s friends, local mountain bloggers, and expedition operators in Pakistan began warning the public not to pay attention to these false social media accounts. They had no actual connection to Sadpara or his entourage. Most of them were written in faulty Urdu and had no credible information. But it was too late: Some of the impersonators had already put out an SOS, stating that one of the climbers was badly injured and that an aerial rescue operation had begun.

Desperately, the liaison officer in Base Camp tried to soothe the growing panic. But the only official accounts, operated by Sadpara’s old friend, Rao Ahmad, and the Facebook page run by the well-connected Karrar Haidri, couldn’t neutralize the flow of bad information, which now had a life of its own.

It wasn’t until the following morning when both Snorri and Sadpara directly told their home teams that they were okay and heading back down to Base Camp because of worsening weather, that facts began to replace falsehoods. The descent was reportedly difficult, but all three climbers made it down safely and in good health.

According to Rao’s Ahmad’s wife Moira, the false accounts weren’t originally trying to do mischief.  “Most of them started as fan pages,” she told ExplorersWeb. “But as the expedition’s relevance grew, they eventually began to impersonate the climber, perhaps to get relevance themselves.”

At least, Ali Sadpara had great news, real news, waiting for him in Base Camp. Gilgit-Baltistan’s Minister of Tourism, Raja Nasir Ali Khan, told him that the Pakistan government has agreed to fund Sadpara on the six 8,000’ers he still has left to do in his own 14×8,000m challenge. The Minister then shared the good news on Twitter, quickly answered by the (real) climber:

Congratulations from media and climbers worldwide have since flooded Sadpara’s Twitter page. The great Pakistani climber will soon be leading his own expeditions, rather than working as a porter and guide for international teams.

Ali Sadpara and Simone Moro on the summit of Nanga Parbat, winter 2016. Photo: Alex Txikon


Ali Sadpara’s career resembles that of many of the Nepalis who summited K2 earlier this month. He has had anything but an easy life, as his profile in Alpinist reveals. He has climbed as a job and has gained the respect of all his teammates. He has summited eight 8,000’ers, but his totemic achievement is Nanga Parbat. Not only has he has summited it four times, but in February 2016, he shared in its first winter ascent, along with Simone Moro and Alex Txikon.

He put the world on notice with that achievement, but despite some hopes, Pakistan never followed through with support, so Ali simply returned to work in the fields and on the slopes.

Today, the Nepali summiters have become national heroes at home. It’s only fair that Ali Sadpara gets a chance to earn similar recognition in Pakistan, while he waits to summit winter K2, financial worries behind him.