The naturally talented, resilient and humble climber Ali Sadpara was born on February 2, 1976, in a village called Sadpara, near Skardu in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The village of Sadpara is famous for its porters who have helped many summit seekers achieve their dreams as they carry backbreaking loads on Baltoro glacier — the gateway to the mighty K2 and other peaks.
Muhammad Ali Sadpara was often described by his peers as a ‘tough-as-nails climber with a good humored nature’. He is the only Pakistani to have climbed eight of the 14 ‘8,000 meter Peaks’. Sadpara gained immense popularity when he, along with Spain’s Alex Txikon and Italy’s Simone Moro, made a world record with the first winter summit of Nanga Parbat back in 2016. The Spaniard and the Italian stated that their summit would not have been possible without Sadpara. These words were a token of respect for the great mountain climber, Ali Sadpara.
In 2016, Ali Sadpara, in an interview, said,
“Mountains demand passion.”
Aap ki dillagi hone chahiyee paharoon kay saath
[your heart needs to be in love with the mountains].“
Pakistan is home to five 8,000m peaks, which include K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, and II. The remaining are in Nepal and China. Ali Sadpara started his journey as a porter. He got his first proper climbing gig in 2004 when he accompanied an expedition to K2. “One of my very first jobs was to deliver supplies to Pakistan Army posts leading to Siachen way back in the mid-1990s,” he said in an interview with a local media outlet.
According to a source, when a Pakistani army truck pulled into Sadpara to recruit porters, Ali couldn’t resist the opportunity. At the time, Pakistan and India were barred in a longstanding dispute over the Siachen Glacier, a strategic corridor to China. Ali was headed into the world’s highest battleground. At night, he climbed walls of ice and transported supplies to soldiers in isolated mountain passes.
“‘After the Siachen, I wasn’t afraid anymore. In climbing, there are two outcomes, life or death, and you must find the courage to accept either possibility,” Sadpara said.
When work was short, Sadpara would go back to farming. In 2006, he climbed Gasherbrum II, his first 8,000m peak, without proper climbing gear. After coming back from Gasherbrum II, he said,
“I didn’t have the right boots, didn’t have a down jacket, let alone a down suit to protect me from the harsh cold. I had some second-hand climbing gear, which I bought from the market in Skardu and repaired. But I still managed to climb and come back safely.”
And since then, there was no looking back. He went on to climb Spantik Peak (Pakistan) in 2006, Nanga Parbat (Pakistan) in 2008, Muztagh Ata (China) in 2008, Nanga Parbat (Pakistan) in 2009, Gasherbrum I (Pakistan) in 2010, Nanga Parbat First Winter Ascent (Pakistan) in 2016, Broad Peak (Pakistan) in 2017, Nanga Parbat First Autumn Ascent (Pakistan) in 2017, Pumori Peak First Winter Ascent (Nepal) in 2017, K2 (Pakistan) in 2018, Lhotse (Nepal) in 2019, Makalu (Nepal) in 2019 and Manaslu (Nepal) in 2019.
In 2018, veteran French climber Marc Batard, Ali Sadpara, along with Pasang Nuru Sherpa of Nepal, undertook a five-year mountaineering program named ‘Beyond Mount Everest.’ The trio planned to scale Nanga Parbat in 2019, K-2 in 2021, and Mount Everest in 2022 to mark Batard’s 70th birthday. Batard hoped that Sadpara’s inclusion in the team would help in building a positive image of Pakistan.
On January 25 this year, the government announced that Sadpara would be sponsored to climb the remaining 8,000m peaks. However, recently, a tragic accident happened in which Sadpara, along with John Snorri from Iceland and JP Mohr Prieto from Chile went missing during the K2 summit. Search and rescue operations have been underway since then, but with zero luck.
In a Facebook post, a renowned mountaineer, Minigma said,
“Waiting for the good news of this jolly man. Praying for Ali, John, and Pablo to return safely. Their walkie talkie was not working well as they had a low-frequency walkie talkie. I hope they are already back. Muhammad Ali is a world-class climber from Pakistan, and we climbed Nanga Parbat together in 2017, and we are good friends since 2014 from my first visit to Pakistan.”
While talking to a media outlet, Ali’s 21-year-old son Sajid Sadpara said the three climbers probably met an accident while on their way back after summiting the K2. He said the trio had already climbed 8,200m and were moving into the bottleneck – the most technical part of the mountain – when he broke away from them.
Sajid said the chances of surviving the extremely cold weather after remaining missing for three days and without proper gear were “meager, adding that an operation could be conducted to retrieve the bodies. A rescue operation involving army helicopters and climbing experts is underway but with no success till now.
Maybe Muhammad Ali Sadpara saw the danger that lay ahead, and the malfunctioning equipment gave him the opportunity to send his son back into a safe zone — a final fatherly act that protected Sajid from the cold abyss on the Savage Mountain. He was a brave person and made his country proud on a number of occasions.
On 18th February 2021, Sadpara along with Iceland John Snorri and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto were official declared dead in a Press Conference held in Skardu. Ali Sadpara’s son Sajid Sadpara was present at the briefing along with Gilgit Baltistan’s Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan.
“The overwhelming love and support for the ‘national hero Ali Sadpara’ has given immense strength to me, my younger brothers, my sister, and my mother. My family and I have lost a kindhearted person and the Pakistani nation has lost a brave and great adventurous individual who was passionate about the Pakistani flag to the point of insanity,” Sajid said emotionally. Stressing that the outpour of love from Pakistanis offered his family great support in a tragic time, Sajid said that he will follow his father’s footsteps and continue to climb.
Citing experienced climbers, Sajid said he believed his father and the other two mountaineers made it to the summit of K2, but met with an accident on their way down. He was with them but unfortunately, he had to descend because he felt unwell and his oxygen equipment had issues.
“All three were strong mountaineers — willing, able and with the courage to make history by standing on top of K2 in winter conditions. Based on the last known contact by John Snorri’s telephone, we are confident that all three men made it to the top of K2 and something happened on the descent,” JP Deban, a friend of Mohr’s said at the press conference as he read out a statement on behalf of the families of foreign climbers.
“John Snorri’s family would like to extend gratitude to the authorities of Pakistan, Chile and Iceland for their efforts and devotion for finding our loved ones. There is no doubt in our mind that the extent of research and technologies used in the search were unprecedented and hopefully will improve the safety of future mountaineers along the way.
“The Pakistan Army has been extremely supportive in this difficult time, sharing resources and manpower. To the great people of Pakistan Army, we say thank you for caring for Ali, John and Pablo,” he added.
“The friendship between Ali, John and Sajid is something we will cherish. As such, we are grateful for the safety and survival of Sajid.”
The statement further said: “Our Icelandic hearts are beating with Pakistani and Chilean hearts. Thank you to all who have devoted your time to the search and taken the time to care by sending supportive words and thoughts to us in these difficult times. Ali, John and Juan Pablo will live forever in our hearts.
“Also, as Juan Pablo Mohr’s family, we want to share the same feelings and gratitude for all who were involved in this historic operation, Pakistan government, government of Gilgit Baltistan, and Pakistan Army and with a special mention of the Sadpara family, for all the support and friendship and their friends and people from Skardu, whose love for Ali, JP and John is now forever in our hearts. We will continue their legacy, together,” it added.
Paying tribute to Sadpara, the tourism minister said that the GB government has recommended civil awards for Sadpara and his son. A financial package for the family would also be announced along with scholarships for his children, he added. The recommendations included the renaming of Skardu Airport as Muhammad Ali Sadpara Airport and a government job for Sajid. A mountaineering school in Shigar will be named after Sadpara.
President Arif Alvi expressed condolences to Muhammad Ali Sadpara’s family as well as the families of the other climbers. In a tweet, he paid tribute to Sadpara, saying “he battled nature with strength, fortitude and heroism.”
The tale of Ali Sadpara is full of passion, resilience, achievement, and tragedy. While it is an irreplaceable loss for the entire Pakistani nation, it is also a clear depiction of the fact that we have been unable to cherish our national heroes and their talent, the way we should have. It is unfortunate that the importance of legends like Ali Sadpara is realized only when they are lost. The government needs to facilitate, nourish and sponsor such sons of the soil that have this burning passion to make the nation proud. There is a dire need that the government recalibrates its priorities and focuses on utilizing the vast and untapped talent pool, that Pakistan is abundant with.