Rakaposhi always holds a great place in my heart. Growing up in Hunza, it was the backdrop of most of my life. Moreover, my late father M Shah Khan was one of the Pakistani members of the Pak/British Services Rakaposhi Expedition 1958. Even though he could not reach the summit, I was deeply impacted and made it my mission to fulfil my father’s dream. Shah Khan’s first ascent was well known in mountaineering circles and so was my passion for climbing. It is for this reason that I was selected to lead the Pak/Polish expedition in 1979. The expedition consisted of 14 climbers, seven climbers from each country. We wanted to do the best of our abilities and were highly motivated and thus decided to take on a more challenging unclimbed route, the South West Ridge. My father, a veteran mountaineer, advised against it and warned me of the hazards of the South West Ridge. But I was determined and had made up my mind.

During the start of the expedition, one sunny day, as we were taking a break at the base camp, a mighty avalanche and ice wall broke off and descended from the mountain. We were all completely buried under the powdered snow, this was enough to shake the confidence of the Pakistani climbers and made them reluctant to climb.

The entire climb took us twenty-one days from the day we reached basecamp. At the time of the final ascent, the eight of us were divided into three groups. My group consisted of Kowalewski and Piotrowski. The second group consisted of Datura, Gronczewski and Tillak. The last group deserves special attention since it consisted of two Polish female climbers, Anna Scarlet and Krystina Palmowska.

On July 1, on the day of the final ascent, we set out early morning. The snow conditions were perfect for our final climb. We made great progress and we reached the summit at about 4.30 pm. For a brief moment I was at the summit all alone and as I looked down from the summit, my entire childhood and teenage years spread out in front of me in the Hunza valley. It was an indescribable feeling. All my life, I looked up at this grand mountain in awe, humbled by its beauty and sheer size, and here I was, standing at the top of its summit, with my face bathed in the glorious sunlight.

Our success can be attributed to the sense of camaraderie in our group. Our friendship was bound by immense passion and an insatiable thirst for adventure. We were able to overcome all obstacles and created a new and more difficult route. However, reaching the summit was only winning half of the battle. We still had a long way before reaching the basecamp.

The plan for our descent was that all three of us in our group were to come down to our tent at Camp Five (C5) for a short break and proceed to Camp Four (C4) for the night. As planned, we reached C5 and were greeted by the second summit team; after a quick cup of tea, I took off for C4. En route C4, I was met with a sudden onset of bad weather. The thick heavy snowfall made it difficult to locate the camp. Moreover, there was no sign of my teammates who were most probably tired and had decided to stay on in C5.

I had two options, sit and freeze to death or keep searching and screaming for my teammates. It was at this point that the adrenalin kicked in and I started searching for the camp frantically. The camp was supposed to be just under the ‘Nun’s Head’. However, the thick blanket of snow made it impossible to see the Nun’s Head or anything else. I kept telling myself to keep moving; at that altitude if I sat or closed my eyes, they would be closed forever. It was at this point that I took the drastic decision of going back up to C5. This was the greatest test of mental and physical endurance, I mustered up whatever energy I had left and made my way back up to C5. My group mates were completely baffled to see me and shocked that I had made it back alive.

A day after my Rakaposhi climb’s 40th anniversary, I would like to say that Rakaposhi, my backyard mountain will always be my most memorable climb!