A look back at the extraordinary life of one of Pakistan’s bravest mountaineers
“The journey is definitely marked with failures and successes. But the love of climbing mountains never allowed me to hold back.”
— Muhammad Ali Sadpara, November 2019
Born on February 2, 1976, in Chugho Garwing, Sadpara; Muhammad Ali, popularly known as Ali Sadpara, is the most successful Pakistani mountaineer. Growing up between the mountains, he was known for his brilliant climbing technique, terrain knowledge and determination. He had climbed all eight-thousanders in his career targeting to climb higher.
His father Haji Asad had migrated from Chuhgo Garwing to Sandoo in 1982 and taken up residence there. He was the youngest son of his parents. In his teens, playing as a centre forward, Muhammad Ali Sadpara was the best football player in his team.
“When I was young, I remember Sandoo’s football team was quite weak and could hardly qualify for the semifinals in any major tournament. However, there were a few players who lifted the team’s standing and Ali was one of them. He was so charming that the opponents would always appreciate his determination to win. When he had the ball, it was almost like an eagle grabbing a pigeon. Some people would come only to see him play. Even when the team lost, he stood out and was a winner. I would look up to him as a hero even then; he was a whole team by himself.” Zeeshan Mehdi, one of Ali’s close acquaintances, tells The News on Sunday.
Ali went to high school in Kashmara. Mehdi was his school fellow. He saw him grow as a shining star and become the apple of everyone’s eye on account of his charming personality, his determination and his commitment to excellence and victory. He played for the school football team and later became an integral part of the college team.
Ali later chose a mountaineering career. Within no time, he had started making his presence felt on the national scene. Even among elite climbers, he held a special position and prominence. He would find new paths for the climbers while they rested in their tents. He once told an interviewer that while his mind would sometimes grow numb with his body in the freezing cold of the night, the first ray of the sun would help his body regain his strength and thus help him come back to his senses and continue his mission. There were times, he said, when on account of the harsh weather he could not even feel his toes and legs.
He was truly a leader: he could not see anyone fall or lose. He would hold hands with his team and wave the national flag on the highest of the mountain peaks. These included Gashebrum II Pakisatn, 2006; Spantik Peak Pakistan, 2006; Nanga Parbat Pakistan, 2008; Muztag Ata China, 2008; Nanga Parbat Pakistan, 2009; Gashebrum I Pakistan, 2010; Nanga Parbat first winter ascent, 2016; Broad Peak Pakistan, 2017; Nanga Parbat Pakistan first autumn ascent, 2017; Pomori Peak first winter ascent in Nepal, 2017; K2, Pakistan 2018; Lhotse Nepal, 2019; Maklu Nepal, 2019; Manaslu, Nepal 2019; and K2 winter ascent, 2021.
Even in formal meetings, Ali was comfortable in his traditional shalwar kamez. Journalist Owais Tohid recalls in a recent article: “Whoever was related to Sadpara, is missing his smiling face. I, too, am worried. Our hearts are grieved… we are waiting for a miracle so that we should see his shining face again. Whoever knew him knows that he was a cheerful person. He never had a colour, cast, creed or religion bias. I have a strong relationship with him. I grew with him. I belong to the tourism field since 2015. I met him before he left for expedition. He was an inspiration. He would say that the potential for Pakistan is in tourism. He gave me ideas on how I could serve in the tourism sector. He came to mountaineering to give it recognition, and became the face of Pakistan in the sport. Climbers from across the world wanted Ali in their team.”
Sadpara’s achievements include climbing Gashebrum II Pakistan, 2006; Spantik Peak Pakistan, 2006; Nanga Parbat, 2008; Muztag Ata in China, 2008; Nanga Parbat, 2009; Gashebrum I Pakistan, 2010; Nanga Parbat first winter ascent, 2016; Broad Peak Pakistan, 2017; Nanga Parbat, first autumn ascent, 2017; Pomori Peak, first winter ascent in Nepal, 2017; K2, Pakistan 2018; Lhotse Nepal, 2019; Maklu Nepal, 2019; Manaslu, Nepal 2019; and K2 winter ascent, 2021.
Manzoor Ameen Sadpara, a relative of Ali, says that the latter had once told him about his desire to be recognized as an all-weather climber and not just a winter climber. “I don’t have all the equipment I need yet. I will first make my name with winter climbing,” Manzoor Ameen quotes Ali Sadpara as having said.
He started a Nanga Parbat campaign and summited it in autumn, winter and summer. Three people from Ali’s family have already summited K2, including his son Sajid Sadpara. Sajid and a cousin are currently part of the rescue operation to find his father.
Talking to The News on Sunday, Ali’s media manager, Rao Ahmed says: “We are in deep grief. At the same time, we are keeping up hope.” He says people need to understand the need not to intrude on the privacy of the Sadpara family, especially his wife and children.
“We played football together. His mother fed him on her breast for longer than the custom. That made him a lion among men. He was the strongest man I have ever seen. He was the strongest football player in Baltistan and was once known as Baltistan’s Ronaldo. Ali was a great patriot. He would talk about Pakistan all the time,” Ghulam Muhammad Sadpara, a friend and relative, recalls.
“He was always thinking about how to make Pakistanis proud. He was, however, a bit disappointed at the lack of climbing schools in Pakistan, like the ones they have in Nepal. He would often say that there are no schools here and no proper training. He would say that we have the highest mountains, but no one comes here. He had huge respect for the army. He would say that I just want to wave Pakistan’s flag atop every mountain.”
“He was a social worker and always available to lend a hand to the needy. He had travelled all over the world but never shown discourtesy to a senior. He believed that nothing was impossible… I am certain that he had accomplished what he aimed for before his last breath,” Ghulam Muhammad says.
“Sajid Ali is a strong person. His father is missing but he has shown no weakness. He knows that he has to answer his family who would be asking why he has returned alone. He is grateful to the nation for their support,” Manzoor says.
“A lion’s son is a lion. There can be no doubt about that. Sajid Ali is brave enough for all kinds of difficult situations. He stayed at the camp for more than 24 hours after summiting, waiting for his father to come back. He is his father’s success. He is going to be the next Muhammad Ali Sadpara.” Manzoor says.
“He had no political ambition or agenda. He did what he knew he could do best and that was mountaineering. In this country a poor person never gets the recognition he deserves. This is also true of Ali,” Manzoor says.
Maheen Aziz is an art, culture and entertainment journalist from Karachi. She can be reached at mmaheenaaziz @outlook.com