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The unsung heroes of Pakistan's mountains

While foreign mountaineers win plaudits for their feats, local climbers are often overlooked

He is the only man ever to have scaled K2 three times, but Fazal Ali’s achievements have gone largely unrecognised, like those of many of his fellow porters who risk life and limb on Pakistan’s highest peaks.

As one of the few elite porters in the country specialising in high-altitude expeditions, the 40-year-old has spent nearly two decades on Pakistan’s deadliest slopes — plotting routes, lugging kit and cooking for paying clients.

At 8,611 m, K2 is not quite as high as Mount Everest, which stands at 8,848 m. But its technical challenges have earned it the nickname “the Savage Mountain” and dozens have lost their lives on its treacherous, icy flanks.

Mr. Ali conquered K2 in 2014, 2017 and 2018 — all without additional oxygen.

“He is the only climber with this achievement,” said Eberhard Jurgalski from Guinness World Records.

While foreign climbers have won plaudits for their feats, Mr. Ali and his colleagues are overlooked, even among the mountaineering community.

“I am happy,” Mr. Ali said. “But I am also heartbroken because my feat will never be truly appreciated.”

He is one of many high-altitude porters who work on foreign expeditions to northern Pakistan, a remote region that is home to three of the highest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.

Chosen for their endurance and knowledge of the extremely difficult terrain, the porters trace the route for climbers and fix ropes for their ascent.

They also carry food and supplies on their backs and pitch their clients’ tents. However, once the mountaineers return home, the porters — indispensable during expeditions — often feel forgotten.

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