Sirbaz Khan is only Pakistani to have scaled 9 out of 14 peaks above 8,000 meters.
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – From starting as a porter in his teens, Sirbaz Khan has since scaled the heights of mountaineering, becoming the only Pakistani to climb nine peaks over 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) tall, including the world’s two tallest mountains, Everest and the mighty K2.
Hailing from the picturesque Hunza Valley of the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, near the China border, Khan hopes to summit all of the world’s 14 mountains with an altitude of over 8,000 meters by the end of 2023 to join a small club of mountaineers who have achieved the feat.
The 33-year-old climber, who began his professional climbing career are mere five years ago, in 2016, has developed a taste for only the highest mountains.
“I’ve never tried to touch mountains below 8,000 meters in my professional career. My aim is to scale all the 14 peaks that are over 8,000 meters,” Khan said in an interview with Anadolu Agency on the eve of International Mountains Day, which falls on Saturday.
“Below 8,000 meters isn’t my taste,” Khan, also known as “8,000-meter boy,” said with a smile.
In 2019, he became the first Pakistani to summit Mount Lhotse in Nepal, which stands at 8,516 meters (27,939 feet) and is the world’s fourth-highest mountain.
Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Manaslu, Anapurna, and Gasherbrum-II are among his other 8,000-meter expeditions.
Out of five peaks in Pakistan over the 8,000 mark, Khan has already scaled four mountains, leaving only Gasherbrum-I, which he plans to summit next year.
Khan accompanied iconic mountaineer Pakistan Muhammad Ali Sadpara on four of his 8,000-meter peaks expeditions. Sadly, Sadpara died this February while attempting to ascend K2 without supplementary oxygen.
– ‘Love for mountains runs in our blood’
It was 2004, when mountaineers from across the world gathered in Gilgit-Baltistan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of K2’s conquest, that gave Khan an opportunity to join an Italian team planning to scale the world’s second-tallest peak.
He wasted no time seizing the opportunity.
“I never looked back after that,” he said. “It was just the beginning of my passion to climb all 8,000-meter tall mountains in the world,” Khan said.
That same year, together with Mohamad Ali Sadpara, he tried to scale the daunting K2, his first-ever mission as a professional climber, but he failed.
But the following year, Khan scaled Nanga Parbat, known as the “killer mountain” due to its highly treacherous terrain.
“Mountaineering wasn’t something new to me, although none of my family members has ever joined this adventure sport. But it’s in the blood of the Hunza people,” he added.
Scenic Hunza has produced several world-class climbers, including Nazir Sabir, the first Pakistani to summit Mount Everest, Ashraf Aman, the first Pakistani to reach the summit of K2, and Samina Baig, the first Pakistani woman to scale Everest and then all seven tallest peaks in all the continents.
“God willing, the time is near when I will achieve my lifetime target,” said Khan, who is also a volleyball player.”
– Brain gain
Formerly known as the Northern Area and once part of the erstwhile Pakistan-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir, the region at the confluence of the world’s greatest mountain ranges – Karakoram, Himalaya, Hindukush, and Pamir – is witnessing a brain gain as people return to invest in the region.
It is home to five peaks of over 8,000 meters and 120 mountains higher than 7,000 meters (22,966 ft.).
However, local climbers have long been forced to work as mere porters to carry loads with foreign climbers due to financial constraints and a lack of training.
“The first and foremost hurdle I faced was lack of proper training. It’s not a normal sport like cricket, hockey, or football. While mountaineering your first day could be your last,” Khan said.
“Apart from being highly dangerous, mountaineering is also a very expensive sport that the majority of local people cannot afford,” he said, adding that a single climber’s kit alone costs over 200,000 Pakistani rupees (about $1,200).
He said he believes, however, that with a proper strategy and marketing, 40% of the region’s population can take part in mountaineering and tourism.
“This region has the potential to become a tourist magnet. All that’s missing is a good strategy and marketing,” he observed.
Khan credits his success to his mentor, Ali Raza Sadpara, an iconic high-altitude porter, and climber, and his senior Mohammad Ali Sadpara, who scaled eight peaks measuring over 8,000 meters before he died while attempting to ascend K2.
“I’ll never forget these two people who encouraged, mentored, and shaped me into the person I am today,” he added.