Chile to Skardu: Families of missing K2 climbers trek thin line between hope and despair

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Updated 15 February 2021

Chile to Skardu: Families of missing K2 climbers trek thin line between hope and despair

  • Cousin and best friend of Chile’s JP Mohr arrive in Pakistan "to find answers", say waiting for a miracle
  • Sajid Sadpara, son of missing Pakistani climber Ali Sadpara, says mother broken-hearted, hope almost gone

ISLAMABAD: In the lobby of a small downtown hotel in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, a stack of odd-shaped luggage lined along a wall on Saturday morning was nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. On closer inspection, the words “JP Mohr” could be seen scrawled in black on a number of blue porter's drums, a familiar part of treks through Pakistan's high mountains.

The 33-year-old Chilean mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr is one of three climbers who went missing on February 5 during a historic push to summit K2 in winter - one of mountaineering’s last great feats, achieved for only the first time in history this year by a group of Nepali climbers. 

The arrival of Mohr's belongings in the capital over a week after he went missing coincided on Saturday with his two concerned relatives flying into Pakistan from Chile, saying they had been sent by the climber's immediate family to 'bring JP back,' as an arduous helicopter rescue mission continues the search to find him, Pakistan's Ali Sadpara and Iceland's John Snorri. 

"The family told us directly... we must come back with JP," Federico Scheuch, Mohr's manager and cousin, told Arab News in Islamabad.




Federico Scheuch (left), manager and cousin of missing K2 climber JP Mohr, and Mohr's childhood best friend Juan Pablo Diban, speak to Arab News in Islamabad, Pakistan on February 13, 2021 (AN Photo)

"The family has a lot of hope and we are waiting for the miracle," he said, adding that he would be flying to the northern town of Skardu the following morning, Sunday, so he could be "closer" to information about ongoing search and rescue attempts.

Back home, Scheuch described a country paralyzed with news of Mohr’s disappearance, with Chileans hoping against hope that one of the pioneer’s of the nation’s mountaineering culture would be found alive on the treacherous K2, the world's second highest mountain. 

"We're here for the Chilean people... for hope," he said.




In this photo taken on February 13, 2021, the luggage of Chilean mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr can be seen in the lobby of a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan. Mohr is one of three climbers who went missing on February 5 during a historic push to summit K2 in winter (AN photo by Amal Khan)

"The bag just came back from Skardu and I don't want to open it," Scheuch added. "It's scary... it's part of JP... all the things that are in there."

From Skardu, his voice breaking over the phone, Sadpara's son and expedition member Sajid Sadpara told Arab News hope for a positive recovery had all but faded. 

"They're saying the rescue operation is still underway up there... but hope is now close to gone," Sadpara said. "My mother is broken-hearted. She is so sad.”




In this photo taken on February 13, 2021, at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, a porter’s drum can be seen with the words “JP Mohr” written on it - part of the recovered luggage of Chilean mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr. Mohr is one of three climbers who went missing on February 5 during a historic push to summit K2 in winter (AN photo by Amal Khan)

Sajid was the last person to see the three climbers make their final push to the summit on Friday (February 5) morning, at what is considered the most difficult part of the climb: the Bottleneck, a steep and narrow gully just 300 metres shy of the 8,611 metre high K2. 

From there, Sajid, whose oxygen regulator malfunctioned, was asked by his father to climb back down. He made his way to Camp 3 and waited for over 24 hours for the team to descend. They never did.

"We are trying to be the first line of information," Juan Pablo Diban, Mohr's childhood best friend, told Arab News in Islamabad. "We've been watching the news all of last week, talking with anyone who can give us information,” he added, saying him and Scheuch had come to Pakistan "to get more answers."

Diban described Mohr, a father of three, as someone who could never still ever since he was a child and who was always joking and making others around him laugh. He was also hugely respected back home for his social work.

 "The whole of Chile is paralyzed by this news," Diban said. "JP is so much of a giver. He gives happiness to a lot of people."

Speaking about Mohr's decision not to carry supplemental oxygen - the only one in the group not to do so - Diban and Schuech called him a mountaineering purist who just liked doing things the old-fashioned way.

"He preferred to...summit without oxygen. He didn't use sherpas (porters) ... if he can help it, he doesn't use ropes," Schuech said. 

"He just wanted to do it that way for the pureness of the sport," Diban added.

Then he laughed softly: "We also don't want to open his bags... because he is so messy.”


Pakistan PM postpones Ankara visit as Turkiye-Syria quake toll tops 8,300

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan PM postpones Ankara visit as Turkiye-Syria quake toll tops 8,300

  • Pakistan has sent relief goods to the two Middle Eastern states on commercial and military airliners
  • As rescue activities continue, time is running out for the thousands who are trapped in the rubble

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday postponed his visit to Ankara after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 southeastern provinces that were hit by a major earthquake that has so far claimed more than 8,300 lives in Syria and Turkiye.

The prime minister called for “tangible and timely material support” for Turkiye a day before while pointing out that Ankara had generously helped Pakistan in the wake of the 2005 earthquake and floods in recent years. He also established a relief fund for quake victims and urged well-off individuals to contribute.

Sharif decided to travel to Turkiye to express solidarity with its people and government while announcing to reschedule a national conference to discuss the security situation in his own country.

“PM visit is postponed due to [the] ongoing relief activities in Turkiye,” federal information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said in a brief message to the media on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, rescue activities continue in Syria and Turkiye after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake jolted the two countries earlier this week. According to World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, time is running out for the thousands injured and those still feared trapped.

Reports emerging from the two countries say thousands have taken refuge from rains, snow and aftershocks in mosques, schools and bus shelters after losing their apartments and houses.

Some estimates suggest that nearly 23 million people have been affected by the quake which will require significant relief and reconstruction activities in the coming days.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has already sent two planeloads of relief goods to Turkiye and Syria.

The country’s air force also said in a statement on Wednesday it had dispatched tents, blankets and other essential items on two C-130s to Turkiye to help its people.


In latest transport tragedy, 22 people killed in bus-car collision in Pakistan

Updated 8 min 39 sec ago

In latest transport tragedy, 22 people killed in bus-car collision in Pakistan

  • Fatal road accidents are common in Pakistan, where traffic rules are rarely followed
  • Bad road infrastructure and use of unfit vehicles are other causes of frequent accidents

PESHAWAR: A speeding bus collided with a car and plunged into a ravine in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 22 passengers and injuring 12 others, police said, the second such deadly accident in less than a week.

The bus was traveling to the garrison city of Rawalpindi from the Ghizer district in the north when the accident happened near Shatial village, 500 kilometers (30 miles) north of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Dildar Khan, an area police chief.

He said rescuers transferred the dead and injured to a hospital, where some of them were listed in critical condition.

Last Friday, 17 people were killed in a head-on collision between a passenger bus and a speeding truck near a tunnel in the Kohat district in northwest Pakistan. On Jan, 29, another deadly accident happened in southern Pakistan where a bus crashed into a pillar and fell off a bridge, killing 40 people.

Deadly accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and a disregard for traffic laws.


Security forces kill 12 militants in joint intelligence-based operation in Pakistan’s northwest

Updated 08 February 2023

Security forces kill 12 militants in joint intelligence-based operation in Pakistan’s northwest

  • The militants were kept under surveillance by intelligence operatives in Lakki Marwat before being ambushed
  • Police officials say the militants belonged to a TTP faction that killed six of their men in the district last December

ISLAMABAD: Security forces have carried out a joint intelligence-based operation in the northwest of Pakistan, said official statements released on Wednesday, killing 12 militants involved in violent activities in the region.

The operation was carried out in Lakki Marwat, an impoverished district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where a proscribed militant network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), carried out more than 15 percent of attacks last year.

According to the military’s media wing, ISPR, the militants killed in the operation also belonged to same network and were kept under surveillance by intelligence operatives for about a week.

“Terrorists were lured in by providing a vehicle for escape that was intercepted and neutralized,” it added. “Weapons, ammunition and Afghan currency were also recovered from the terrorists during the operation.”

In a separate statement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police said the militants belonged to TTP’s Azharuddin Group, adding they were on their way to Tank district when they were ambushed by the security forces.

“The terrorists opened fire but the security personnel remained safe,” the statement said. “The police targeted the vehicle with a rocket launcher.”

“Azharuddin Group was involved in terrorist activities against the police in Lakki Marwat,” it continued. “It also martyred six policemen in December.”

The TTP ended a fragile truce with the government last November before stepping up attacks on security forces and resorting to suicide bombings in different parts of the country.

The network leadership is said to be based in Afghanistan, making Pakistani authorities urge the administration in Kabul not to let armed factions use its territory to target other states.


Pakistani winners of Saudi university fest say event helped them show diversity of local culture

Updated 08 February 2023

Pakistani winners of Saudi university fest say event helped them show diversity of local culture

  • Pakistan’s stall secured 1st position in the festival at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah 
  • The three-day annual event featured stalls and performances by students from 32 countries 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani students, who secured first position at an annual cultural event at the King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, said on Tuesday that the competition helped them present a positive image of Pakistan by showing its cultural diversity to visitors belonging to more than 30 countries. 

The third edition of KAU’s three-day annual cultural festival was held on January 17-19, featuring stalls and performances by university students from 32 countries. 

Teams of students competed with each other in various aspects of culture, such as food, language, art and music. 

“A total of 30 Pakistani students are studying here and all participated in the event with the aim to show the diversity of our culture to the world as students from different countries were participating in the event,” Ghazanfar Ali, who led the Pakistan team in the competition, told Arab News over the phone from Jeddah. 

“This success will further highlight Pakistan’s positive image among Saudi people as well as other nationalities who visited our stall.” 


In this photo, Pakistani students who secured first position in King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival can be seen with their winning shields and prizes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali) 

Pakistan has very good historical places, variety of food and different cultural dresses, and the event provided an opportunity to show the richness of Pakistani culture to the world, according to Ali. 

“We worked very hard as a team to pull this off and that was why we got the first position,” he added. 

Another Pakistani student, Abdullah Zai, said it took them more than a month’s hard work to prepare for the performances and stall. 

“We prepared all food items ourselves and assigned this responsibility to different students based on their region in Pakistan,” he said. 

“In the morning sessions, we used to display stall and brief visitors about the unique aspects of different items there, and show Pakistani culture through traditional dance performances during the evening sessions.” 

A group of Pakistani students poses for a picture with their stall at King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali)

Zai said their stall presented food from different parts of Pakistan, traditional dresses, paintings of scenic places and artifacts. 

Both visitors from within the university and the outside guests loved the Pakistani cuisine and culture, he said. 

“It gave a good representation to Pakistan in the Kingdom and after the event, many international as well as Saudi students told us they did not know that Pakistani culture was so rich, colorful and diverse,” Zai said. 

The Pakistani consulate in Jeddah helped these expat students arrange items of cultural significance, especially paintings. 

A Pakistani stall is pictured at King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali)

Hamzah Gilani, a press counselor with Pakistan’s consulate in Jeddah, said such events enabled people from different backgrounds to come together and appreciate each other’s culture, thus strengthening diplomatic ties between nations. 

“The norms of diplomacy are changing; cultural activities have become the most effective tool of public diplomacy,” Gilani told Arab News. 

He said events such as the one held at the KAU provided a great opportunity to promote a “soft image” of Pakistan as countries could showcase the best of their heritage and traditions through art and culture. 

“I am immensely thankful to the Saudi government for providing us an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of Pakistan which has been buried under negative stereotypes for far too long,” Gilani added. 


Pakistan among most vulnerable nations as glacial lake floods threaten communities

Updated 08 February 2023

Pakistan among most vulnerable nations as glacial lake floods threaten communities

  • Melting mountain glaciers pose a growing flood risk to some 15 million people around the world
  • Collectively, the world’s glaciers lost about 332 gigatons of ice a year between 2006 and 2016

Melting mountain glaciers pose a growing flood risk to some 15 million people around the world, researchers said in a report published on Tuesday, with communities in Asia facing the biggest danger.

Runoff from melting glaciers often pools in shallow lakes, held back by rocks and debris. The risk comes when a lake overfills, bursting through its natural barrier and sending a torrent of water rushing down mountain valleys.

Scientists have assessed for the first time how many people globally are at risk from these floods, finding that more than half of vulnerable populations live in India, Pakistan, China, and Peru.

Danger is highest, they report in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, when a large number of people live near a lake.

“Our work does not just focus on the size or number of glacier lakes — no disaster is natural — it is the presence of people, especially vulnerable people, in the landscape that causes a disaster,” said Stuart Dunning, a physical geographer at Britain’s Newcastle University, and a co-author of the study.

Collectively, the world’s glaciers lost about 332 gigatons of ice a year between 2006 and 2016. Since 1990, the number and volume of glacial lakes worldwide have each increased by about 50 percent.

In the high mountains of Asia, some 9 million people live near more than 2,000 glacial lakes. In 2021, more than 100 people were killed in India in an outburst flood in its northern mountains.

HEATING UP THE HIMALAYAS

Compared with mountain glaciers in the Alps and North America, Asia’s icy places are not as well monitored — most lack long-term observations of how they have changed over time.

The best-studied glacier in the Himalayas is north India’s Chhota Shigri, which has 20 years of mass balance measurements — the difference between how much ice a glacier gains and loses in a year.

In 2022, India suffered blistering temperatures and near the end of the year, scientists headed into the Himalayas to measure Chhota Shigri’s mass.

Their findings, shared with Reuters, revealed the best-studied glacier in the Himalayas had experienced its worst year on record; Chhota Shigri lost three times as much mass in 2022 compared with its 2002 to 2022 yearly average.

“The impacts are already visible as the glacier is thinning and retreating,” said Farooq Azam, a glaciologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Indore who monitors Chhota Shigri. This will be “impactful to downstream water availability in near future,” he said.

Satellite observations also show that the glaciers in the Himalayas are in a state of overall decline.

“The ice is really melting significantly during the last decades — mass loss is accelerating,” said Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist with Graz University of Technology in Austria.

From 1990 to 2015, glacier coverage in the Himalayas shrank by about 11 percent, according to July 2022 study.

During the same time period, Himalayan glacial lakes increased by about 9 percent in number, and 14 percent in area. More than 200 lakes now pose a very high hazard to Himalayan communities, according to 2022 research.