For mountaineering fans, this year was special: the Winter K2 Summit was taking place for the first time—38 years after a Polish team went to K2, the world's second highest mountain, to gauge the feasibility of a winter climb. However, the joy was short-lived, as contact with three expert mountaineers, from Pakistan, Chile and Iceland, was lost just near the Bottleneck, short of the summit, on the night of Friday, February 5, 2021.
The search for the three climbers, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, John Snorri and Jp Mohr Prieto, was temporarily halted because of bad weather and they are feared dead. Still, the families of the missing men have been hoping for a miracle.
Any winter climb on K2 is considered dangerous because of unpredictable weather, and in August 2008, 11 climbers died following an ice avalanche.
On the afternoon of February 6, two Pakistani Army helicopters began an aerial search and rescue operation which was unsuccessful as of February 9, four days after contact with the climbers was lost. As a result, the remaining winter summit expeditions have been called off for this year.
American summit coach and mountaineer Alan Arnette tweeted:
The Seven Summits Treks expedition is leaving K2 Base Camp, thus ending the effort for more winter summits. History will show 10 winter summits, 2 deaths and 3 missing for 2020/21 https://t.co/O6VuYJ5ube
— Alan Arnette (@alan_arnette) February 9, 2021
At 8,611 metres (28,251 ft) above sea level K2, also known as the “Savage Mountain,” is second only to Everest in height, and is part of the Karakoram Range on the border of Pakistan and China. It is one of 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters; Pakistan is home to five of these: K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II; the remaining are in Nepal and China.
The first winter summit on Mount Everest took place in 1980. Only eight expeditions have attempted a winter ascent on the “deadly” K2, said Pakistan Alpine Club secretary, Karrar Haidri, with success finally coming this season.
On January 16, 2021, 10 Nepalis reached the summit of K2. A second group of climbers, which included Muhammad Ali Sadpara, his son Sajid Ali Sadpara from Pakistan, John Snorri from Iceland and Jp Mohr Prieto from Chile, attempted to scale the K2 summit. During the climb near the Bottleneck, short of the summit, Sajid Ali's oxygen cylinder malfunctioned and he returned to base camp, while the others headed towards the summit. They lost contact with base camp late on Friday. On Saturday, February 6, after their support team stopped receiving reports from them, they were reported missing.
Apart from Pakistan Army Aviation, a number of experts, including local high-altitude climbers and members of the Seven Summit Treks (SST) winter expedition team, joined the rescue mission. The Pakistan government assured that the country would spare no effort to find the missing mountaineers.
Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a Nepalese mountaineer who has scaled 14 highest peaks, including K2, and is leading the SST winter expedition tweeted :
It’s already been more than 30 hours, we (at basecamp) have received no news of John Snorri??, Ali Sadpara ??, and Juan Pablo Mohr ??, since none of the GPS trackers seem to be working.
? #k2expedition #k2winter #k2winter2021 #karakorum #sherpa #nepal #pakistan pic.twitter.com/Q4j9krGJ8e
— Chhang Dawa Sherpa (@ChhangDawa) February 6, 2021
Sadpara's son Sajid returned to base camp with a heavy heart, and has said he believes the trio made it to the summit but something went wrong on the descent. Later, he flew in one of the helicopters to assist the mission. As there was no positive news, he returned home to Skardu, a city in Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan.
Karim Dad Chughtai from Gilgit-Baltisan tweeted:
Receiving Sajid Sadpara, the son of Muhammad Ali Sadpara at Aviation Skardu. He returned from Bottleneck , K-2, on 5th Feb due to want of oxygen while his father left to summit K-2 the same day. Ali Sadpara is missing and search operation still continues. @RandhawaAli @DCSkardu pic.twitter.com/davHjB156Z
— Karim Dad Chughtai (@KarimdadChught2) February 7, 2021
Ali Sadpara's cousin and nephew, both expert climbers, also reached the base camp to assist the search.
Everest Today, a mountain blog, tweeted:
Elia Saikaly: “Imtiaz and Akbar, Ali Sadpara’s cousin and nephew arrived at basecamp a little more than 24 hours ago, both incredibly talented Pakistani climbers who have summited K2, to assist in bringing Sajid Sadpara down from the base of K2. (1/6) pic.twitter.com/O3Dp0Tnw1x
— Everest Today (@EverestToday) February 8, 2021
Earlier some mainstream media misreported that the team had successfully summited K2, but later it was retracted and news of losing contact with base camp went viral on social media, and hashtag #k2winterexpedition2021 started trending. People from Pakistan changed their display pictures in solidarity with the climbers and started sharing stories of Ali Sadpara.
Amal Khan, a journalist, talked about Sadpara's family:
I learned today that all this time we prayed, ached, wondered, Sadpara's wife, Fatima, did not know for certain Ali was missing. She was asking: ‘why hasn't he called me.’ She was partly told yesterday the team was “stuck” on the mountain and has spent every moment since weeping.
— Amal Khan (@amalkhan) February 8, 2021
Sundas, a student, is keeping hope alive:
Beautiful family and cutest kids of @john_snorri May they find their father alive along with Sadpara sahib and Mohr today.
Ameen #Alisadapara , #K2WinterSummit2021 pic.twitter.com/h67x1qOUAZ
— Sundas (@SundasHere) February 8, 2021
Journalist Tanveer Ahmed tweeted:
Today, Juan Pablo Moher will be celebrating his 34th birthday with J Snorri and Sadpara on the heights of the #SavageMountaink2, at a height that hardly anyone has celebrated.
Our love and best wishes are with you wherever you are.
Happy birth day.#JPMohr #K2WinterSummit2021 pic.twitter.com/VfwSrLFb4L
— Tanveer Ahmed?? (@Mountain_Man007) February 9, 2021
Some shared stories of the conditions under which the porters worked while assisting foreign climbers on such expeditions, including being underpaid and exploited.
Cyclist and photographer Kamran tweeted:
“A Balti porter told me that even their mules carrying luggage to the basecamp have a better insurance than we do.”
3 times K2 summiter Fazal Ali who is taking part in #alisadpara rescue mission. #k2winterexpedition2021
A Thread. pic.twitter.com/nW7B04MkB1
— Kamran On Bike (@kamranonbike) February 8, 2021
Journalist Urooj Tarar from Lahore tweeted:
#alisadpara none of us have any right to mourn him or as we say ‘be proud of him’. When he was porting for foreign expeditions for as low as $3, in hands-me-down and worn-out equipment, none of us raised our voice for him and many other like him. Heck, we didn't even know they…
— Urooj (@uroojtarar) February 7, 2021
Their chances of survival is “next to none” but some, like journalist and writer Amal Khan, still have lingering hope:
Today I mistakenly expressed my condolences while speaking to a friend of Ali Sadpara. Gently he corrected me. “You know, Ali is famous for making ice igloos with his ice pick,” he said. “He can make them anywhere, on any mountain.” This is a true, rational hope. Let's hope
— Amal Khan (@amalkhan) February 7, 2021