By: Bazla Syed
“I am a lover of mountains. I find them fascinating and each step that takes me up is a kind of pilgrimage even though I have lost 57 closest friends and a brother but mountains always will be and have been a part of my soul.”
Soft spoken, humble, kind-hearted and a nature lover, this is Pakistan’s legendary mountaineer Nazir Sabir. Born and brought up in Hunza, Nazir Sabir was fascinated by mountains at a very early age, probably, when he was 7 or 8 and was left in Central Hunza in his sister’s home to study in school as there was no school in the village where he was born. There, this little child used to listen to the stories of expeditions from high altitude porters which fascinated him. This fascination soon turned into a passion for Karakoram which took Nazir Sabir to the Passu Peak (7284m) with a Japanese expedition in 1974. In fact, this was his first step as a mountaineer. Then in 1975 he joined a German Expedition to Nanga Parbat but unfortunately it wasn’t successful. In 1976, the passionate mountaineer, Nazir Sabir, finally made his first ascent of Paiyu Peak (6660m) with fellow mountaineers most of whom were from the Pakistan Army Expedition. Canadian Guide Allen Steck, after the successful expedition, praised Nazir a lot as he was the youngest member of the team. This success made his passion even stronger and in 1977 in the Pak-Japan joint expedition he attempted to climb K2 (8616m) but he had to abandon his expedition at the height of 8300 m. with fellows due to a heavy blizzard and zero visibility. In 1978, he attempted Khusar Gung (6401m) solo and then in 1979 in the company of Yamaguchi M. Fujita but both attempts were unsuccessful due to bad weather conditions.
The unsuccessful attempts didn’t cause ambitious Nazir Sabir to quit his dream of becoming a great mountaineer. In his quest to make his dream come true, he joined Waseda University Alpine Club Expedition in 1981, to K2. Fortunately, this time the weather favored him and along with the Eiho Otani of Japan, Waseda University Alpine Club, he reached the summit of mighty K2 on August 7, 1981 via West Ridge after a historic bivouac (camp stay) at 8510m. In fact this was one of his greatest achievement as a mountaineer because many of mountaineers consider K2 the most difficult peak to climb. They even call it the ‘Savage Mountain’ although its breath-taking beauty invites them too. In Nazir Sabir’s own words in an interview to The Buzz:
“Everest in definitely more dangerous but K2 is technically more difficult to climb. The success rate of scaling K2 is less but I would say they both have their own challenges.”
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In the same year, he made winter ascent of Mt. Fuji (Japan) in just two hours which is surely an appreciable feat by this Pakistani legend. Not merely this, amazingly he also climbed Gasher Brum II (8035m) and Broad Peak (8047m) in pure alpine style as a member of Pakistan-Messner Expedition in the company of the famous Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner and fellow Sher Khan in just one week in 1982. These golden achievements surely had to be appreciated and realizing this, Pakistan’s government awarded him the President’s Medal for Pride of Performance for outstanding achievements in mountaineering.
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This great mountaineer also attempted Nanga Parbat (The Killer Mountain 8125m) via Rupal Face whose base camp is one of the most beautiful base camps in the Himalayas in 1983 and survived a fatal fall of 400 meters down the face of the mountain during an avalanche while his fellow Shimura fell 2000 meters never to be found again.
In 1984, he attempted Broad Peak in alpine style but abandoned due to rock fall and also attempted Nanga Parbat again with Tsuneo Hasegawa---Japan’s renowned mountaineer but was unsuccessful.
In 1988, he became a mountaineer-turned-entrepreneur with adventure outfitting company ‘Nazir Sabir Expeditions’ (NSE) which is surely one of the most reliable tourism companies today, offering the best to their customers. In his company’s brochure he has written:
“We deliver what we promise and do not promise what we cannot deliver. This makes NSE a synonym for reliability.”
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He climbed solo in upper reaches of Shimshal in Hunza and made the first ascent to Mingling Sar (6210m) and an unnamed 6000m peak above Shimshal Pass in late October 1989. He also climbed the Canadian Rockies in 1990.
In 1991, this legend escaped another close call on Ultar (7388m) while his companions Hasegawa and Hoshino were killed in an avalanche. In 1992, he launched an expedition to Hidden Peak (8068m) with Otani of TV Ashi Japan and reached the summit from base camp in two days. In 1994, he tried to attempt Diran Peak but abandoned it due to an avalanche. The same year he was elected to the Northern Areas Legislative Council from Hunza and in 1995, he was appointed the Advisor for Education in the Northern Areas.
Beside all these achievements, on 17th May 2000, he made the greatest achievement of his life by reaching the summit of Mount Everest (8848m) from Nepal Side at 7:30 local time, which made him not only famous among Pakistanis but also among other countries too as he was the first Pakistani to scale Everest. This attempt brought him everlasting fame and made him dwell in the hearts of many Pakistanis because climbing the Everest is something mountaineers dream of. In his interview to ‘Liberty International’, he said:
“Somewhat like women no two mountains can be compared. K2 has been described as a mountaineer’s mountain because of its beauty as a perfect prism and its very steep climb. But Everest has its own treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall which poses a unique danger to climbers. It’s staggered with crevasses over which walls of ice keep collapsing.”
Surely, he is the first person in Pakistan who has set up the trend for mountaineering and inspired thousands of people in Pakistan.
For this achievement, he was awarded ‘Sitar-e-Imtiaz’ (Star of Distinction) by the President of Pakistan.
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Currently, he is working as an environmentalist involved in conserving activities in Northern Areas and also delivers lectures on Mountaineering and Pakistan Tourism at International forums and in International Alpine Clubs. As a photojournalist, he has more than 5000 slides of mountains and culture around him which are fabulous.
I must say that despite his awesome achievements and being an inspiring mountaineer, Nazir Sabir is a very humble and down to earth man and according to him this is quite common for a person who has seen the Himalayan Heights. His words reflect how much he owes to the vast snow lands:
“Mountains attract your very soul. Mountains always have something to offer you. They are the purest places on the entire planet: spiritual, magnificent, inspiring and very generous.”
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No doubt, this proud son of Pakistan opened the door for Pakistani people which was previously unknown to many of them. Whatever he is doing to promote tourism in Pakistan on the international forum is quite admirable and this legend surely deserves love and respect from the core of our hearts!