Gilgit Baltistan

Amir Mehdi: The sad story of a porter from Hunza

Amir Mehdi was a porter from Hunza, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan known for being part of the team that managed Nanga Parbat’s first successful ascent in 1953 and K2 expedition in 1954.

60 years ago, when two Italian climbers climbed Pakistan’s highest peak, K2, they became famous all over the world overnight.

But the name of the Pakistani high altitude porter, who was with them step by step and without his hard work and help their success would not have been possible.

Amir Mehdi was ignored not only in the world but also in Pakistan itself

There is a small village called Hasanabad in the middle of the mountains on the Karakoram Highway in the Hunza Valley. Once upon a time, there lived a great mountaineer of that time. His name was Amir Mehdi. His job was to carry the climber’s heavy loads up and down in the mountains.

A year before the K2 mission, Amir Mehdi had shown the essence of his courage and bravery with the Austrian team heading to Nanga Parbat.

The following year, the Italian mountaineering team contacted Mir Jamal Khan, the ruler of Hunza state, and asked for his strongest man for the K2 mission.

The dark side of the K2 summit

Mehdi fully supported the Italian climbers in their mission. The climbers themselves later wrote that there were several hundred Pakistani porters carrying their luggage on that summit, but Mehdi was different.

He was one of the most courageous, hardworking and reliable local climbers.

The day before the summit, Amir Mehdi and fellow climber Walter Bonati were asked to carry an oxygen cylinder from below to an altitude of 8,000 meters for two companions near the summit.

Sultan Ali (Son of Amir Mehdi) explains

“Most of the local workers refused. But my father agreed because it was a question of Hunza’s honor and he was getting a chance to go to the top of K2.

But in the evening, when Mehdi and his companion Bonatti reached their destination, they did not see any encampment there.

The two gave a lot of shouts to their companions Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, but in the freezing cold and growing darkness.

The only thing they heard from them was “Put the oxygen cylinder here and go back down.” And then they lost contact with each other

By this time night had fallen, Amir Mehdi and Walter Bonatti were exhausted and it was not possible for them to return under such circumstances. The two were forced to spend the night without a tent, in the freezing cold of minus 50 degrees Celsius.

Put the oxygen cylinder here and go back down

Decades later, it was discovered that two Italian climbers near the summit had deliberately moved their tent from place to place and placed it on top of a difficult place where their two companions from below could not reach.

The goal was to keep Bonatti and Mehdi from climbing to the top so that not only four but only two could achieve historic honors.

As soon as the first rays of the sun came out the next morning, Mehdi and Bonatti left the oxygen cylinder there and began their downward journey.

On the other hand, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli came out of their tents, picked up the oxygen cylinders and climbed to the top a few hours later with the help of the same cylinders.

Mehdi was suppressed at the official level

Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli won the award for Italy and became national heroes. But what they did to Bonatti and Mehdi was suppressed at the official level.

The Italian climbers themselves had climbed with full preparation and necessary equipment. But Amir Mehdi did not even have the right shoes to walk on a high snowy mountain. Mehdi suffered the most from this successful K2 mission.

Mehdi’s hands and feet were badly affected by spending the night under the open sky on an icy rock. By the time they walked back to base camp, his legs stopped moving.

Amir Mehdi was carried on a stretcher to Skardu Hospital after several days of walking. He was later shifted to CMH Rawalpindi.

The doctors had no choice but to cut off all their toes

By then, significant damage had been done. Mehdi’s toes were rotten and gangrene was feared to spread further. The doctors had no choice but to cut off all their toes.

His Italian companions returned to Italy, where they made a name for themselves in mountaineering, wrote books, and made money.

But, Amir Mehdi was never able to climb the mountain again. Amir Mehdi spent the next 50 years of his life in a state of compulsion.

Initially, he was unable to walk and work and he faced economic hardship. Later he slowly learned to walk again. He was awarded a certificate by the Italian government, according to which he was honored.

Lino Lacedelli ‘s memoirs

From time to time they received letters and books but they could not read them and their economic problems were not solved by them. Foreign climbers would occasionally visit him after hearing stories of Mehdi’s bravery

“Talking to him often brought tears to his eyes. He would tell them that he risked his life for the honor of his country but justice was not served to him.”

For a long time in Italy, the true nature of K2 has been shrouded in secrecy. Finally, in 2004, a book based on Lino Lacedelli ‘s memoirs ( K2: The Price of Conquest) came out in which he confessed the real events.

Then in 2007 Italy officially acknowledged that the success of their K2 climbers might not have been possible without the sacrifices of Mehdi and Bonati.

It was too late because Amir Mehdi passed away in 1999 at the age of 86.

His son, because of the language barrier, tried to help him translate his conversations with the visitors; he can’t share all his pain with others.

All the sufferers were kept deep within themselves until he died, during the 1954 K-2 ascension till 2007 he did not get any recognition of the significant help.

Read also: K2 Winter Summit 2021

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