Muhammad Ali Sadpara had the mountain for his passion. But when his name is mentioned in front of the mountaineers who have rubbed shoulders with him, it is his love for dance that first comes to mind. Her soul was awakening when qawwali music sounded. We saw her vibrate in his shoulders, discreetly, then gently grab his arms, his legs and echo through his whole body. It is there, in the base camp around the fire, that man let himself be carried away into stratospheric universes.
Two dreams inhabited the mind of this Pakistani climber. Give his wife a sewing machine and climb the K2 (8,611 meters) in winter. It was in 2019 that he gave these pious wishes to the American magazine Mountaineer. The same year, he was going to climb successively Lhotse (8516 meters), Makalu (8481 meters) and Manaslu (8163 meters). He had reached the top of K2 the year before in the spring. And would thus count eight of the fourteen 8000 in his Himalayan hunting table.
The story does not say whether his wife received her sewing machine. And no one knows if Ali Sadpara has reached the top of the highest mountain in his country, because he will never come back. On February 5 at 10 a.m., he was last seen with his companions, the Icelandic John Snorri and the Chilean Juan Pablo Mohr, at 8,200 meters, as he was about to cross the Bottleneck, the most technique and presentation of the ascent. According to his son Sajid, who had to turn back there because of problems with his oxygen regulator, the trio were doing well and seemed in good shape.
What happened? The mystery still reigns. According to Chamonix meteorologist Yan Giezendanner, cited in Point, winds were only blowing at 50 km / h and temperatures of -50 ° C were “acceptable” for the season. It is therefore the scenario of an accident caused by a phenomenon external to the rope that is favored. For the time being, ground and aerial searches have remained unsuccessful and doubt will remain as long as the bodies are not found.
Outpaced by the Nepalese
Ali was not the only one to dream of K2 in winter, only 8000 still virgin during the cold season. On the other hand, he was the only Pakistani mountaineer who could legitimately claim this ascent. Small, stocky, quick and agile, the man who had just turned 45 not only loved winter, but had, over time, gained enough experience to compete with the toughest Himalayas. In 2016, he participated in the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat (8,126 m) alongside the Italian Simone Moro and the Basque Alex Txikon.
“However, he did not receive the recognition he deserved for this feat,” notes Marc Batard, a friend of Ali known for having climbed Everest alone in 1988, without oxygen in less than 24 hours. He was considered the bearer of the expedition. This time at K2 it was different. He was recognized as a full member of the team. ”
With his son Sajid and the Icelandic John Snorri, Ali Sadpara arrived before everyone else at the foot of K2, on December 5, 2020. He equipped the mountain with fixed ropes up to Camp 1 at 5800 meters. But when the Nepalese launched their historic assault on the mountain on January 16, the Pakistani team were not in the game. Some will speak of a misunderstanding between the teams, others of a “blow” scaffolded by the Sherpas.
Ali, he did not enter into the controversy. He was outstripped, of course, but he never showed any resentment towards his Nepalese counterparts. Even when they received the honors from Pakistan that he himself expected. “I never saw Ali upset,” remembers Shamyl Sharafat Ali, a fan of Himalayas and facilitator of expeditions to Pakistan. He was a modest and calm being who had no ego. ” However, faced with the void left by his disappearance, questions arise. Why did he continue to climb the mountain when most of the climbers present at Camp 3 decided to turn back?
In the Alpine environment, everyone knew Muhammad Ali Sadpara. We evoke his jovial character, his sweetness and his innate charm. We also talk about his ambition and his desire to be finally recognized on the same basis as the Western mountaineers he accompanied. His goal of reaching the fourteen 8,000 peak was backed by the Pakistani military, but in a country where cricketers are king, that didn’t make him a national hero.
Known and respected at home, in the streets of Skardu, this father of four remained little known in the rest of the country. “The change came when the Nepalese reached the top of K2 this year. All of a sudden, Ali became iconic. He then promised to raise the Pakistani flag to the top. Maybe he felt the pressure, ”says Shamyl Sharafat.
On the phone, the man expresses his incomprehension. “Taking such risks is not like Ali. He was not a hothead. ” The enthusiast also shares his despair: “His disappearance leaves a colossal void in the country. No one has the same physical and technical skills as him. Behind him, today, there is nothing more. “
A pampered cadet
To get to know Ali Sadpara, it is necessary to immerse yourself in the heart of the tormented landscape of Karakoram in northern Pakistan, in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan. Five of the fourteen highest peaks in the world culminate there. Turquoise blue lakes bathe the valley bottoms. Dry air becomes freezing cold in winter. Between these desert mountain sides, 2,226 meters along the Indus, nestles the town of Skardu.
In Skardu, Ali Sadpara is known and respected. But it was the village of the same name as him, Sadpara, in a valley further south, that saw him be born on February 2, 1976. From his earliest days, he was considered a gem by his mother. Of the eleven siblings, eight died. He, the youngest, will therefore be pampered. His mother breastfeeds him until he is 6 years old and will protect him throughout his life. In the village, we cultivate corn, wheat and apricots. The surroundings are full of black cumin that can be harvested with your fingertips. But like school, Ali is little interested in working the land.
He first dreams of a footballer. He frequents green lawns until he is 14 years old, but neither his passion nor his talent is enough to break into the industry. To earn a living, he therefore sells sandals in Karachi, and the more the country opens up to tourism the more he is interested in altitude. In 2004, without any experience, he became a porter for a Korean expedition.
Booked months in advance
Since then, he hasn’t stopped climbing. Flying from opportunity to opportunity, man trains and improves. “He learned by observing and copying others. Over the years, he has become one of the few Pakistanis who knows how to install fixed ropes on a mountain, says Shamyl Sharafat. Western expeditions reserved it months in advance. And it was ultimately he who chose his teammates according to what they could bring him in terms of knowledge or experience. “
But Muhammad Ali Sadpara may bear the name of the Prophet and that of his son-in-law, he did not only have good sides. Some relatives remain disconcerted by remembering the differences they attribute to his ambition and his competitive spirit. “He tended to treat weaker than him with contempt as well as to ignore the spirit of the roped party,” recalls Marc Batard with a smile. He also always appropriated the best place on the bivouacs. ”
Aware of his good level, the Frenchman promised him a bright future in mountaineering. We now remember with fondness the care he brought to his mustache, his coquetries and his delicacies. By his selflessness, his character and his endurance, Ali Sadpara had made his place in the Himalayas. And no one else will dance like him.