Since 2013, an additional challenge has been staring the mountaineers attracted to the largest cluster of daunting peaks in the region. That year terrorists killed 11 climbers at their base camp at the foot of the mighty Nanga Parbat.
According to the Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP), the number of mountaineering expeditions daring to come for climbing the five highest peaks – K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I and II – has been declining.
“Sadly, the disturbing trend continues,” regrets the APC president, retired Colonel Manzoor Hussain. “Last year some 34 expeditions came to Pakistan, compared to nearly 70 plus groups before the incident.
Worse, he does not see “the gloomy picture improving as long as bad news continues coming out of Pakistan.” No expedition applied for the permit to climb the major 8,000-metre and above peaks this 2016-17 winter season whereas in 2014 about 26 foreign climbers’ groups had applied for the permit, he noted.
New climbers reluctant to come since Nanga Parbat attack in 2013
His hope, however, is that climbers being “a different breed of athletes”, fear will not keep them from their dream peaks for too long.
“Indeed, some old hands have applied for climbing permits this year. But we have been unable to attract new climbers. They are the future of adventure tourism in Pakistan,” says Col. Manzoor, himself a veteran climber.
However, the ACP president partly blames the decline on the restrictions put by Pakistan on Sherpas, the high altitude porters from Nepal, who most international expeditions wish to bring along with them on their Pakistan climbs.
Foreign climbers’ increasing dependence on Nepali Sherpas impacted the livelihoods of local porters but then Pakistan lacks trained high altitude porters. The government limited the number of Sherpas foreign climbers could bring after local porters, who relied heavily on income from expeditions in the summer seasons, protested that Sherpas “stealing” their jobs.
Sherpas are not just high altitude porters. They are also trained climbers, according to Col Manzoor. “They are better trained and understand the complexities of technical climbing. So, foreign climbers trust their lives with Sherpas more than high altitude porters,” he said.
Last year, an Australian-New Zealand mountaineer and her Nepali Sherpa were turned back from Islamabad airport, he recalled.
Meanwhile, his Alpine Club is so short of funds that it could not prolong its search for three mountaineers who went missing attempting a more than 5,000-metre high virgin peak in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, which was a technically challenging ascent.
Despite assistance from Pakistan army, which rents its helicopters to perform search and rescue operations, the missing climbers could not be found on the mountain.
“The search can only be conducted in September when the snow has melted. Another search mission can be launched provided there is sufficient funding and the family members request again” said Col Manzoor.