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‘More than a mountain’: Sajid Ali Sadpara leads drive to clean K2

K2 BASECAMP: K2 is the Earth’s second-highest mountain but for Sajid Ali Sadpara it is more than “just a mountain” — it is also his father’s final resting place. 

However, this magnificent and awe-inspiring peak is now blighted by litter, and Sajid is on a mission to clean it.

In a rare act of charity in one of Earth’s most unforgiving environments, Sajid and his five-strong team scaled the 8,611-metre (28,251-foot) spur of rock, clearing oxygen canisters, mangled tents, and snarled rope discarded over decades by climbers.

They spend a week precariously ferrying back down some 200 kilograms (400 pounds) of litter hacked from the pinnacle’s frozen grip.

Pakistan raised high

K2 was forged when India collided with Asia 50 million years ago, sprouting the Karakoram range of mountains across Pakistan’s present-day northeastern Gilgit-Baltistan region.

It was named by British surveyors in 1856 — denoting the second peak in the Karakoram range. Over time nearby mountains with alphanumeric designations became better known by names used by locals.

But sequestered up a glacial cul-de-sac on the Chinese border — days from the faintest suggestion of human settlement — K2 kept its foreboding moniker, stoking a reputation as a wilder, more untamable, and more technically demanding ascent than Nepal’s Everest, which stands 238m higher.

First conquered by Italians in 1954, its winter winds scourge up to 200km/h and temperatures plunge to -60°C (-76°F).

But it also ignites primal passions with its archetypical triangular silhouette — the shape of a peak a child might draw.

After two days on paths slit through valleys and four more across the Baltoro Glacier — a 63km hulk frozen in a permanent storm swell and seamed with crevasses — K2’s first glimpse ripples frisson through hikers.

It stands like an altar at the end of a colossal aisle.

Sundown deepens its rocky reliefs and burnishes snowy slopes to rose gold. Pilgrim paragliders come to whirl in its shadow.

One renowned wilderness photographer labelled this vista “the throne room of the mountain gods”.

“We love it more than life itself because there´s no place of such beauty on Earth,” said Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) warden Muhammad Ishaq.

Against this sublime backdrop, Ali Sadpara stood out among a majority white, Western mountaineering elite as a domestic hero who rose from humble roots to scale eight of the world’s 14 “super peaks” above 8,000m.

“Pakistan’s name was raised high because of Ali,” said 48-year-old Abbas Sadpara, an unrelated veteran mountaineer who guided the AFP team to K2.

Two years ago Sajid was attempting a perilous winter ascent of K2 with his father and two foreigners when illness forced him back.

The three men who carried on were later discovered dead below the “bottleneck” — an overhang that looks like a frozen tidal wave on the final stretch before the summit.

Sajid recovered his father’s body and performed Islamic rites at an improvised grave near Camp Four — the last stopoff before the top.

He marked the spot with GPS coordinates before the mountain enveloped the remains at a height of more than 23 Eiffel Towers.

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