The Plight of Pakistani High-Altitude Mountain Porters

Mountaineering In Pakistan:

K2 is the second highest mountain peak in the world after Mount Everest but is said to be the most treacherous and difficult to traverse in terms of mountain climbing. It is also the highest point in the Karakoram range as well as in Pakistan.

As a result, people eager for a challenge frequently turn towards K2 in Pakistan to take the challenge on. Owing to the dangerous environmental conditions and climate, specially selected days are often when a lot of climbers try to reach the summit of the mountain. However, in order to carry their heavy mountain equipment, mountain climbers, often employ the help of local porters to lead and carry their heavy mountaineering equipment and gear up the steep slope.

This is done often without providing them with ample safety measures and frequently not at all. This is incredibly risky on top of being highly irresponsible.

Also read: The Predicament of Occupational Health And Safety In Pakistan – An Unending Plight

Recent Death Of Pakistani Porter Mohammad Hassan:

On July 27 2023, a group lead by sherpa guide Tenjin, consisted of Norwegian climber Kristin Harila who were attempting to set a new record of climbing the world’s 14 highest mountains in 92 days.

Mohammad Hassan was a a 27-year-old father of three who slipped and fell off a narrow trail in a particularly dangerous area of K2 known as the bottleneck-a steep slope and narrow trail which is a notoriously dangerous and famous part of the K2.

He was acting as a porter in order to facilitate the mountaineers to climb the mountain with heavy gear and equipment. When he was severely injured a dozen climbers crossed over his body eagerly in order to reach the summit, completely disregarding the injured porter.

Kristin Harila has since completely denied any and all responsibility for the tragic death of the porter owing to the dangerous conditions of the bottleneck trail and his body dangling from the rope. She stated that there was nothing that could be done about it at that time and that he was hauled back after the group reached to the summit after an hour.

Noticeably, this has drawn quite a reaction from people because many suspect discrimination is also at play in this tragic event.

The Injustice for the Porters and Responsibility of their Deaths:

An investigation has been launched into Hassan’s death by the secretary of the Pakistan Alpine Club, a sports organization that also acts as the governing body for mountaineering in Pakistan. The investigation is being conducted by officials in the Gilgit-Baltistan region that has jurisdiction over K2.

It is a grave injustice that these porters who take this risky job in order to provide a chance at good life for their families are paid very meagre wages for such an arduous and laborious task. Moreover, there are no safety measures or gear provided to them that other mountaineers are given.

The famous Pakistan High altitude mountaineer- Ali Sadpara also began his career as a porter and made his first ascent in a similar manner, that is in flip-flops and poor finances over many years. He also went on to help many people climb various summits without ever receiving any proper wage or equipment for a very long time.

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This needs to be taken into account to improve the living conditions of these people forced to work at such a meagre wage and dangerous conditions. Where expert mountaineers with hard training and proper gear and boots are climbing these peaks with difficulty yet it is known that most porters make their climbs in flip-flops and disposed off gear. These are basic necessities and the porters are deprived of them – this exposes them to all sorts of occupational health and safety hazards.

Moreover it is extremely saddening that our porters who also make the dangerous trek upwards get no recognition at all. The overall situation for their job is very bad- lack of equipment, they make their journeys as most porters often do- in slippers/flip-flops and cast off gear along with little pay compared to the life-risking journey they have to make.

Also read: Occupational Health and Safety Conditions in Pakistan

Suggested Solutions:

In order to prevent the exploitation of the locals at the hands of foreign mountaineers who very well can afford to pay a decent wage to the desperate locals ready to act as porters; the porters need to unionize and the government needs to set standards/laws that international climbers must follow. In addition, the Pakistan Alpine Club should also make sure that the mountaineers are providing the porters with a pay suitable to this extremely risky and difficult job and proper standardized equipment and gear to prevent any OHS hazards.

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