They call it the Savage Mountain. It is the second-highest peak on Earth. For every four people who summited K2 (8,611m), one died on the mountain. On 1st August 2008, twenty-five climbers left the Camp IV to attempt the K2 summit, but eleven never returned. It was a perfect day for climbing, one in a million, yet it turned out to be the deadliest day on the mountain. Several factors led to the accident, including, miscalculations, initial delays, traffic jam, and an avalanche cutting off fixed ropes.
Two of the eleven climbers who perished on K2 were high altitude porters from Shimshal, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. Their names are Jehan Baig and Meherban Karim.
Here is the story of Jehan Baig.
Jehan Baig was a mason by trade who used to build houses in Shimshal. The circumstances didn’t allow him to study much, so he became a porter at the age of 12 to support his family. In the beginning, he used to accompany trekking groups in and around the Shimshal valley and later started getting hired on mountaineering expeditions because of his strength. Mountaineering wasn’t his passion, instead, a way to earn some extra money to help the family.
He worked as a high-altitude-porter (HAP) for four years. During this time, he summited G1 (8,080m) and G2 (8,034m), and was part of K2 missions two times but couldn’t summit. In 2008, he went to K2 for the third time with a French team.
On this expedition, a Serbian climber fell to death in the Bottleneck area (8,200m). Jehan Baig and a few other climbers went to recover him. Jehan was possibly suffering from high altitude sickness in the death zone. While trying to rescue the Serbian’s dead body, he lost his footing and started to slide. But instead of self-arresting himself using an ice-axe, Jehan let himself go silently and plunged to his death.
“This time, Jehan was looking forward to summit K2. It was his dream. We all asked him not to go, but there are no jobs here in Shimshal. He was doing it for us,” Gul Dana, his widow, said.
Jehan wasn’t originally part of the 2008 K2 expedition. He went in as a replacement for Qudrat Ali from Shimshal.
Jehan was the only breadwinner in his family. After his death, they received some financial support once or twice, but that wasn’t sufficient to solve their problems. The insurance compensation was only 200,000 PKR (1,250 USD).
“He couldn’t study and had to find work when he was a child, but wanted to give the best education to his children and younger sisters.”
Jehan left behind three children, two sons and a daughter. When I met his eldest son Azam (20) in Hunza, I could see tears in his eyes. Like his dad, he too couldn’t pursue his studies and had to look for a job at an early age. He approached the tour operator his dad used to work for, and asked for employment, but never heard back. He started working at a restaurant, and later took a 20-day culinary course in Lahore and opened a small eatery in Hunza. Unfortunately, the eatery closed down due to the pandemic. Nowadays, he is setting up a guesthouse.
Behind the tears in his eyes is a fountain of dreams; adventure flows in his blood. He took up skiing and won Gold Medal in a competition in Naltar. Unlike his father, who was a reluctant mountaineer, the son loves mountaineering. Azam was only 8 when his dad died. He doesn’t remember much about him. All he can recall is that he was very friendly to him.
“Dad couldn’t reach the summit. One day I want to fulfil his dream. Everyone forbids me, but I am not scared of the Savage Mountain. If I die on K2, I will be lucky. After all, dad and I will be together. Nothing else matters.”
We want to support Jehan Baig’s family. Please contribute to our campaign: https://gogetfunding.com/support-mountain-people/