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Ali Sadpara’s trainer was the first Pakistani to summit K2

Ashraf Aman shares memories of his historic journey

SAMAA | - Posted: Feb 18, 2021 | Last Updated: 7 months ago
Posted: Feb 18, 2021 | Last Updated: 7 months ago

The year was 1977 and the challenge was the Savage Mountain. Three Japanese climbers and one Pakistani were exhausted, famished, and low on oxygen. But the only thing that kept one of them going was the determination to hoist Pakistan’s flag on K2.  

That year Ashraf Aman became the first Pakistani to summit the world’s second-largest peak. He and the Japanese climbers earned the honour of becoming the second team to make history. The team summited the 8,611-metre mountain, located in the Karakoram range, from the commonly used Abruzzi Spur route. Japan even announced a public holiday to celebrate the victory of their climbers.

The first thing Ashraf did after reaching the top was read the national anthem. “I just couldn’t stop myself as it was such an emotional moment,” he told SAMAA Digital over the telephone from Islamabad where he now lives.

If the journey to the top was difficult, the descent proved harder, he went on to describe, as he returned to help a fellow climber in distress. Two of the men on the team had been quick to descend, but one of them collapsed at Bottleneck, saying he didn’t have it in him to go on. “I just couldn’t leave him behind,” said Ashraf. “I knew he wouldn’t have survived.”

Ashraf Aman and Japanese climbers photographed during their K2 expedition in 1977. Photo: Ashraf Aman

Ashraf then picked him up and brought him down the treacherous path with the help of ropes. When they reached the camp, Ashraf realised that it did not have space for both of them so he descended to another camp below. It was so dark, he could barely see anything, and while he initially used the camp light at one point he was in pitch black. “Somehow, I was able to make my way and reached the other camp.”

It was only when they reached Base Camp that Ashraf realised that he had lost his toes to frostbite. “Mera payun jal gaya tha [my feet had been burned],” he said. He recalled telling friends before the expedition that whoever climbs the mountains will lose his toes. “I knew that this would happen.” In those days, of course, the climbers didn’t have thermals, sturdy boots, or strong harnesses. “Despite all of this, I didn’t feel any pain during the summit,” he explained. “There is a different kind of energy when you are up on mountains. Nothing else matters.”

k2 summit
Ashraf Aman poses with the Pakistani flag at the top of K2 in 1977. Photo: Ashraf Aman

Mountaineering in the blood

Ashraf Aman was given the title of ‘Himalayan Tiger’ by German mountaineers when he ascended Nanga Parbat with them while he was completing his matriculation. “I was young, energetic, and quite agile, and they were quite impressed.”

K2 summit
Ashraf Aman photographed at K2 Base Camp in 1977. Photo: Ashraf Aman

His love for the mountains runs in the blood. Six members of his family were part of the first successful ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953. The first summit has been claimed by Austrian climber Hermann Buhl.

Ashraf puts this passion down to being born in Aliabad village which is located at an elevation of 2,206 metres. He is comforted when surrounded by nature and mountains. As a child, he used to travel to Gilgit on foot for three days for school. He used to live in hostels at High School No. 1 near the post office in Gilgit’s main market and would return home on weekends and holidays.

Mountains hold a special place in Islam too, he said, adding that Holy Prophet (PBUH) used to mediate in the cave of Hira on Jabal al-Nour, Prophet Musa (AS) used to talk to God on Mount Sinai.

Training mountaineers

The Himalayan Tiger spends most of his time training mountaineers and introducing Pakistani peaks to foreigners now. He runs a tourist company called Adventure Tours Pakistan in Islamabad. In fact, when he was running an organisation to train porters and professional assistants, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, who went missing during the K2 winter summit, was one of the students.

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Ashraf Aman photographed with former president General Zia-ul-Haq. Photo: Ashraf Aman

“My mission in life is for others to come and explore Pakistan and its mountains,” he said. “I was offered British citizenship and Green Card but I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said. “My parents have taught me to love my land and serve the people here.”

Ashraf was even asked to join the expedition to Mount Everest, as no Pakistani had summited the world’s highest mountain back then, but he wanted his first feat to be in Pakistan. “I didn’t care about fame. I am just a patriot who loves mountain climbing.” 

The story was originally published on February 12, 2021.

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