The headlines that dominated the Everest climbing season, which lasts from April to the end of May, were very disturbing this year. “The cases of Covid at Everest base camp raise fears of a serious epidemic,” one reads. Another said: “Covid-19 reaches Mount Everest as Nepal faces record infections. ”

For Sirbaz Khan, who had just returned to Pakistan – first to Islamabad then to his hometown, Hunza, in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan – returning to Nepal and then to Everest was going to be a race against time. The 8,000m six-fold summit (Annapurna, K2, Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat, Lhotse and Manaslu) had a very short window to return to Nepal before the country imposed a strict lockdown.

“I was only able to meet my family for five hours before I had to leave,” he told me over the phone from his hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he was stuck waiting for a flight home.

“I barely spent a night at the house and left the house at 5 am. I arrived in Kathmandu on April 29 and flew directly to Lukla, then from there took a helicopter directly to base camp. Nepal imposed its lockdown from the evening of the 29th.

As Sirbaz headed for Everest, there were mountaineers who had abandoned their expeditions and were leaving. “I met a climber at the helipad that I had met at Annapurna,” says Sirbaz. “She had come for the Lhotse [8,516m] but she was leaving. She said: ‘Sirbaz, eight members of the company I came with have tested positive for Covid. How can I stay like this? It’s better that I go abroad and then to Pakistan ”.

But how did the situation at base camp get so bad, given that climbers are technically cut off from the rest of the world?

Two Pakistani climbers share their experience of summit Mount Everest as they overcame their fears and the challenges that befell their way

“Because [at first] people moved around freely, ”says Sirbaz. “Later they got very strict and created limits with ropes and wrote that please don’t move without being careful. This is how it was controlled.

According to Sirbaz, he did not stay at base camp for long. His body had already been acclimatized to the altitude since his summit weeks earlier in Annapurna and his travels to his own high altitude hometown. He was going to go up Everest, and fast.

But not before taking the time to meet the only other Pakistani present at the base camp, the young Shehroze Kashif. Shehroze nicknamed himself “The Broad Boy” because he is currently the youngest person in the world to reach Broad Peak (8,051m) – the 12th highest mountain in the world and his first peak of 8,000m.

Even though he’s only 19 years old, making him the youngest Pakistani (surpassing Samina Baig, who was 21 at the time of his summit) to stand on top of Mount Everest, he has had a career of quite impressive mountaineer – surpassing 3000-6000m peaks in Pakistan. His last major peak (other than Broad Peak) was the Khosar Gang (6400m), which he climbed in alpine style – without fixed ropes and carrying what he needed with him.

Shehroze had been at Everest Base Camp for about a month before Sirbaz showed up. He had heard of the Annapurna summit from Sirbaz while he was still camping here. “I made a lot of friends at base camp, but it’s something nicer when you meet someone from your own country,” he says.

Their paths (sort of) crossed again on the mountain. Shehroze reached the summit on May 11 and Sirbaz on May 12. As a very experienced mountaineer, Sirbaz has climbed Everest (8,849 m) mostly without supplemental oxygen. But at 8,410m, he started to feel a familiar pain – his left toe, which had frozen on its summit in Lhotse in 2019, was acting again. He decided not to take the risk and turned on his oxygen. At dawn on May 12, he was standing at the top, watching the sun begin to rise. Sirbaz plans to return to Everest and climb it again without oxygen.

Sirbaz Khan (right) and Shehroze Kashif at base camp

It doesn’t matter how ‘comfortable’ an Everest expedition is with Sherpa crews fixing ropes ahead of time and providing as much assistance and little luxury as possible on the mountain, due to its altitude and steepness. its terrain, Everest remains a very difficult climb and claims several lives each year.

Did Shehroze ever get scared?

“I wasn’t afraid of the climb, but I was afraid of the mountains. They say a brave climber is a dead climber, ”he says. “The hardest thing for me was seeing a dead body in Hillary Step. ”

How did he feel?

“I didn’t care then,” Shehroze said with brutal honesty. “I just moved on because I was very tired at the time. When I was at the top, I ran out of oxygen. I had to come back within five minutes. It was so difficult to be at this altitude and short of oxygen. You can’t even completely fill your lungs with air. There were two people with me who died on the descent. One of them was American and the other Pakistani-Swiss.

The first two Everest deaths in 2021, Puwei Liu, 55, and Abdul Warraich, 41, died in the first camp and at the southern summit near the current summit on their descent. Both men were experienced climbers who passed out around Mount Everest’s “death zone” – where the air is too thin to sustain life.

Shehroze did not learn of the deaths of his expedition members until he returned to base camp. “I have frostbite on both feet,” he says almost casually. “On my toes. I can’t even feel my fingers. The doctor says to wait and watch.

At the time I spoke to him, he had been locked in his hotel room in Kathmandu for 20 days as one flight after another was canceled. Finally, the Pakistani diplomatic mission in Nepal organized a special flight to bring home Pakistanis stranded in Nepal via a direct flight to Lahore. Sirbaz and Shehroze were both taking this flight home.

What’s in store for you next? I ask Shehroze.

“I just want to go to Pakistan! he said looking exasperated. “And then I’ll think about it. ”

Sirbaz has now officially climbed seven of the world’s fourteen 8,000m peaks. Has he ever planned to take a break? “No! Abhi tau party shuru hui hai [the party has just begun], he laughs. “I’m just getting started.”

Although he kept a low profile, he hinted that this summer he had his eyes on Gasherbrum I (8,080m) and Gasherbrum II (8,034m) in Pakistan.

The writer is a staff member She tweets @madeehasyed

Posted in Dawn, EOS, June 6, 2021