Muhammad Ali Sadpara takes his name from his birthplace, the Sadpara village of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, located at the periphery of snow-clad Skardu. Sadpara, or Satpara, is home to numerous brave men who take to the Himalayan mountains through all seasons as porters or guides to local and foreign mountaineers. A familiarity with the rough terrain, and skills acquired through years of practise, makes navigating the mountains a lucrative business for those deprived of more traditional means of income up North.
However, Muhammad Ali Sadpara scaled the mountains out of passion that extended beyond survival. He attributed his achievements in mountaineering to “a love for the mountains,” and acknowledged the hard work and luck required to persevere in the face of nature’s domineering heights.
Born on February 2, 1976, Sadpara began his journey as a porter who transported luggage and supplies through the mountains for foreign mountaineering expeditions as well as the Pakistan Army. In an interview, he claimed that one of his first jobs included providing supplies to Army posts leading to Siachin, and his brush with danger there prepared him to take on any challenge the mountains had to offer.
In 2004, he started his mountaineering career by accompanying an expedition to K2, the second-highest peak in the world. In his profile published in Alpine magazine, it is told that he earned $3 a day for carrying loads weighing up to 25kg to base camps in the Karakoram mountains, and memorised his way through the terrains of the K2, Broad Peak and the Gasherbrum—which are three of five 8000m peaks to be situated in Pakistan. The others are in China, Tibet, and Nepal.
Muhammad Ali Sadpara is the only Pakistani to have scaled eight of the fifteen 8000m peaks in the world. His first was the Gasherbrum II in 2006, after which he went on to climb Spantik Peak in 2006, Nanga Parbat in 2008, Muztagh Ata in 2008, Nanga Parbat in 2009, Gasherbrum I in 2010, Nanga Parbat First Winter Ascent in 2016, Broad Peak in 2017, Nanga Parbat First Autumn Ascent in 2017, Pumori Peak First Winter Ascent in 2017, K2 in 2018, Lhotse in 2019, Makalu in 2019 and Manaslu in 2019.
His winter ascent of the Nanga Parbat was a record-breaking feat that earned him national and global glory. It was the first successful winter ascent of the ninth highest mountain in the world.
A year prior to this feat, Sadpara had also assisted with a search and rescue effort on Nanga Parbat, where missing mountaineers Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi were ultimately found dead. Sadpara had witnessed the ruthlessness of nature first-hand, at multiple occasions, but was relentless in his drive to keep facing it.
In 2018, Sadpara was propositioned by French climber Marc Batard, along with Pasang Nuru Sherpa of Nepal, to undertake a five-year mountaineering programme named ‘Beyond Mount Everest.’ It would comprise scaling the Nanga Parbat in 2019, K2 in 2021, and Mount Everest in 2022.
The government of Pakistan, in January 2021, announced it would sponsor Sadpara’s endeavours to scale the remaining 8000m mountains. Previously, Sadpara had never been offered sponsorship or assistance by private or government donors, and had relied for the good part of his mountaineering career on borrowed or sub-standard equipment.
On February 5, 2021, days after stepping into his 45th year, Muhammad Ali Sadpara set off on a winter ascent of the K2. As told in his Alpine profile, this was one of his two greatest wishes in life; the other was to buy a sewing machine for his wife.
A day into the ascent, contact was lost with Sadpara, and his companions John Snorri from Iceland, and Juan Pablo Mohr from Chile. The three were officially declared missing soon after, according to reports by the Alpine Club of Pakistan and the expedition’s manager, Chhang Dawa Sherpa.
Sajid Ali Sadpara, Mohammad Ali Sadpara’s son who accompanied him to this trek, had aborted the descent on Friday after his oxygen regulator had malfunctioned. His interaction with his father before he descended marked their last, thus far.
Sajid Sadpara believes Ali Sadpara completed the ascent of the K2, but met an accident on the way down. He thinks the chances of his father’s survival remain “close to none,” as the search and rescue operation for the mountaineers completes its third day.
Nonetheless, thousands in Pakistan and across the world hold out for a miracle, and pray that the mountains are as kind to Muhammad Ali Sadpara as he has always been to them.