February 21, 2021

The search and rescue operation for Muhammad Ali Sadpara of Pakistan, Iceland’s John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto has been abandoned 13 days after the high-altitude climbers attempting a winter summiting of the second highest peak in the world went missing. An announcement to this effect was made at a press conference in Skardu on Thursday. The authorities said experts agreed that there was no chance of their surviving the conditions for so long.

The story of the lost climbers, battling nature at its harshest, gripped the nation and the social media had been abuzz with prayers for their safe return. Fake news and conspiracy theories about the climbers being rescued and the reasons for their disappearance abounded. On Wednesday, a false claim about Sadpara having been rescued was trending on the social media. The perilous climb is made significantly more dangerous in the winter months. The fact is part of its appeal for the elite mountain climbing enthusiasts. It’s not surprising that the story captured the imagination of so many; it is the quintessential story of humankind defying impossible odds and sometimes even surviving those.

K2 is not known as the Savage Mountain for nothing; for every four people that have summited it one has died trying. Its challenge continues to be answered to by many local as well as international adventurists. Despite the tragic nature of the press conference, Ali Sadpara’s son Sajid, who was part of the expedition but had to turn back because his oxygen regulator malfunctioned, vowed to carry his father’s legacy forward. A statement from the other climbers’ families said, “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.” The idea that they made it to the summit after all is a source of solace for the grieving fans of the adventurers.

Such adventures, inevitably, not only attract enthusiasts of extreme sports, they also start and sustain conversations about ecological conservation and the untapped potential of tourism in Pakistan’s scenic north.

Editorial: The K2 tragedy