‘Hunza Mehdi’: The story of a forgotten hero
Amir Mehdi was not a soldier but a porter whose job was to assist climbers in summiting some of the glorious mountains of Himalayas and Karakoram like many of his fellow villagers.
Hailing from Hassanabad, Hunza, Amir was also known as “Hunza Mehdi”. He got prominence in 1953 when a German-Austrian team went for expedition to Nanga Parbat and there he assisted Austrian climber, Hermann Buhl in summiting the 8,126-meter high mountain (the first to reach the summit).
Mehdi along with his fellow potter, had helped the ailing Buhl in descending from the mountain by carrying him on their backs while taking turns.
One year later in 1954, Mehdi witnessed the most crucial event of his life. Accompanied by Italian mountaineers aspiring to summit K2 (World’s second highest peak), he had started climbing up the dangerous peak with an Italian climber Walter Bonatti when Mehdi was called to provide oxygen cylinders to already succeeding climbers, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, at about 8,000 meter above on K2.
But to their surprise, Compagnoni and Lacedelli were not there to receive the coming climbers at the designated spotted.
From that moment everything had gone wrong. Out of curiosity, Mehdi and his Italian counterpart Bonatti had continued climbing further until the Bonatti’s call was responded.
They were then informed that Compagnoni and Lacedelli had shifted their camp somewhere else in the mountain where Mehdi and his fellow climber could not have reached now.
Mehdi and Bonatti were forced to spend the whole night at 8,100 meters altitude while enduring the temperature of -50 degree Celsius. Adding more woes to Mehdi’s fortune, he had not been provided with snow boots like his Italian companion as he was wearing regular army boots.
Countering the ready-to-die situation, Mehdi and Bonatti had started descending as the morning arrived, leaving the oxygen cylinders there. Later Compagnoni and Lacedelli picked up the cylinders from there and successfully became the first claimants of the K2’s summit.
Mehdi and Bonatti became survivors but Mehdi had to be operated as all his toes were removed in a severe case of frostbite, leading to tissues death. Mehdi had been hospitalised for eight months before leaving his profession as a devoted mountaineer forever.
It was later revealed that Compagnoni had deliberately moved the camp because he wanted to prevent Bonatti and Mehdi from joining the summit bid. Compagnoni apparently feared that Bonatti, who was younger and fitter, would steal the limelight.
However, the Italian government later claimed to award Mehdi a pension which was denied by his son. 45 years later Mehdi took his last breath in 1999 at the age of 86.
“My father wanted to be the first Pakistani to put his country’s flag on top of K2…..but in 1954 he was let down by the people he was trying to help,” said Amir Mehdi’s son Sultan Ali, as quoted by BBC in 2014.
It is undebated that Amir Mehdi has contributed a lot to two first successful attempts to reach the summits of Nanga Parbat (in 1953) and K2 (in 1954),
As the Pakistani nation is reacting strongly to the news of the three climbers who recently went missing during their expedition to K2, the Mehdi of Hunza is still a forgotten national hero.