Left to Freeze to Death on K2

Editor's Note: BBC published Shahzeb Jillani's tragic story of the Pakistani mountain climber Amir Mehdi. We reprint here.

Amir Mehdi wanted to be the first Pakistani to scale the country's highest peak, K2, and as one of the strongest climbers in the first team to conquer the summit, 60 years ago, he nearly did. Instead he was betrayed by his Italian companions, left to spend a night on the ice without shelter, and was lucky to survive.

In the picturesque Hunza Valley, off the Karakoram Highway that connects north Pakistan with the Chinese province of Xinjiang, lies the village of Hasanabad.

I travelled to this remote place after discovering it had been the home of one of Pakistan's pioneering high altitude porters, Amir Mehdi - also known as Hunza Mehdi.

The Hunza porters, equivalent of the Sherpas in Nepal, are still in great demand for expeditions to Pakistan's highest peaks, such as K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I and II - five of the world's 14 mountains more than 8,000m high.

But Amir Mehdi, a member of the Italian expedition that triumphed on K2 in 1954, is today a forgotten man.

"My father wanted to be the first Pakistani to put his country's flag on top of K2," says Amir Mehdi's son Sultan Ali, aged 62. "But in 1954 he was let down by the people he was trying to help."

A year earlier, in 1953, Mehdi had proved his strength on Nanga Parbat (8,126m) assisting the Austrian mountaineer, Hermann Buhl. Buhl, the first person to reach the summit, had been forced to spend a night alone standing on a narrow ledge as he descended, and had later needed help to reach the base of the mountain. Mehdi and another local porter took turns carrying him on their backs.

So, when the Italians approached the Mir of Hunza, Jamal Khan, asking for men to help with the K2 ascent, Mehdi was among those picked from the hundreds of aspirants who packed the royal court.

He went on to make a huge contribution to the success of the expedition, which turned two climbers - Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli - into Italian national heroes.

A day before their summit bid, Mehdi had been persuaded to help an up-and-coming Italian climber, Walter Bonatti, to carry oxygen cylinders up to a height of about 8,000m, where they were to meet Compagnoni and Lacedelli.

"Other high altitude porters refused. My father agreed to the mission because he was offered a chance to get to the top," says his son, Sultan Ali.

But when they got to the designated spot, late in the evening, the tent was nowhere to be seen....

Read the rest of the story here


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