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The son who was forced to leave his father and two others high on K2 last winter has made good on his vow to recover his father’s body, though whether the trio touched the summit of the world’s second-highest mountain in winter remains a mystery for now.

The fallen climbers came to K2 in December, among more than 60 climbers seeking to an historic first—the last of the world’s highest peaks yet to be climbed in winter. A Nepali team plucked that prize in January, stepping arm-in-arm onto the summit while singing their national anthem. The Nepali triumph emboldened the others, and about 40 climbers surged up the mountain in the first days of February, intent on slipping through a narrow weather window to reach the summit. By mid-morning on Feb. 5, only four remained above Camp 3. They were Juan Pablo “JP” Mohr Prieto of Chile, Icelander John Snorri and Pakistan’s Muhammed Ali Sadpara, who had started his mountaineering career as a porter earning $3 a day and become Pakistan’s preeminent alpinist. With them was Ali Sadpara’s 22-year-old son, Sajid.

Sajid turned back at his father’s urging after his oxygen apparatus failed just below the Bottleneck, a gauntlet of overhanging seracs at about 27,000 feet that is considered the crux of the world’s most difficult high mountain. After they parted ways, Sajid and those monitoring the climb from base camp lost track of Ali, Snorri and Mohr. The trio’s Garmin trackers and a satellite phone stopped working, presumably because their batteries could not function in the cold. Overnight temperatures dipped below minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit). A storm was forecasted for the next day.

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Sajid returned to Camp 3, where he brewed tea and left a light burning through the night for his father and the others to find their way down. They never did. The next morning Sajid made the excruciating but unavoidable decision to descend ahead of the coming weather. He reached base camp late that afternoon, by which time gusts of up to 100 mph raked the summit. The search for the missing climbers kept the Pakistani nation transfixed for 12 more days, though climbers, including Sajid, harbored no false hopes.

“At 8,000 meters in winter, a person’s chances of surviving for two or three days are next to none,” the young man told a scrum of Pakistani reporters a scant 48 hours after making his escape. He then vowed to return in the summer to find his father’s body and prove, if he could, that Ali Sadpara had reached the summit before he died.

 

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A post shared by Elia Saikaly (@eliasaikaly)

Sajid Sadpara climbing through the Bottleneck. @eliasaikaly

Joining him were Canadian filmmaker Elia Saikaly and Pasang Kaji Sherpa, both of whom had been on K2 in February to film Snorri and the Sadparas. They had planned to join the summit push for as long as they were able, relying on supplemental oxygen to make up for a lack of acclimatization. But the film crew didn’t find the oxygen left for them at Camp 3, and were forced to descend. Saikaly said the mixup saved probably saved their lives.

The feeling that they should have been with the doomed climbers fueled Saikaly’s desire to find them, no matter the obstacles. He forged ahead with his plan to film a documentary of Sajid’s quest, despite a lack of financial support. Saikaly, Pasang Kaji and Sajid arrived at Camp 4 to the news that a team of Sherpas fixing the route to the summit had discovered Mohr’s body a short distance above the camp, and the remains of Ali Sadpara and John Snorri above the Bottleneck.

The Sherpa team led Sajid to his father’s resting place the next morning, July 27. Sajid continued to the summit “in order to honor my father Ali Sadpara and lost companions,” he tweeted. On the descent, Sajid lowered his father’s frozen remains down through the Bottleneck, a solemn and perilous task he performed alone until Bolivian climber Hugo Ayaviri happened upon the scene.

Ayaviri was finishing an extraordinary feat of his own, having summitted both Broad Peak (8 8,047 meters/26,401 ft) and K2 (8,611 meters/28,251 ft) without oxygen. Now he joined in to help Sajid carry his father to the outskirts of Camp 4, a flattish patch of ground the size of a cricket pitch at 25,900 feet.

There Sajid covered his father’s body in snow and recited Fatiha, so that his father might rest in peace in accordance with his Muslim faith. He marked the location with a Pakistani flag.

 

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A post shared by Elia Saikaly (@eliasaikaly)

Sajid and Ayaviri moved Juan Pablo Mohr’s body away from the climbing route and covered it with snow. They collected some of Mohr’s personal belongings to give to his family, some of whom had trekked to base camp.

Sajid also recovered John Snorri’s Garmin transmitter, cell phone, satellite phone and GoPro 360 camera from his resting place higher on the mountain, in hopes they will provide clues to how high the trio climbed, and how they perished. Both Snorri and Sadpara were clipped into the rope the Nepali summit team fixed in January, with their gear rigged for descent, meaning the duo were almost certainly on the way down when they died. Neither was carrying oxygen bottles or masks, suggesting they had exhausted their supply and discarded the equipment. Mohr was climbing without oxygen. Whether they reached the summit remains unknown, for now.

The question may seem pointless to many, but it’s of great importance to the families of all three men. So far, only one frame has been recovered from the GoPro, and it offers few clues. Specialists may unravel more digital evidence in the days and weeks to come. “We jump to no conclusions as we continue to put the pieces together and search for evidence of a successful winter ascent,” Saikaly wrote. Wherever the search leads, we can hope Sajid Sadpara has found some peace.

Top Photo: Muhammad Ali Sadpara at rest on K2. Elia Saikaly via Instagram


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