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“We destroyed its beauty with our own hands”

Pakistani mountaineer Sajid Ali Sadpara has made history by climbing some of the highest peaks on Earth, but his greatest achievement may be his cleanup of K2 in the summer of 2023.

Last July, Sadpara and his four-person team spent a month collecting ropes, tents and empty oxygen cylinders left behind by other climbers on the world's second-highest mountain, collecting up to 200 kilograms of garbage in a week, according to Agence France-Presse.

“K2 is not as beautiful as it used to be,” Abbas Sadpara, another climber and independent mountaineer, told AFP at K2 base camp. “We have destroyed its beauty with our own hands.”

The mountain, which received its name from British surveyors in 1856 who identified it as the second peak of the Karakoram range, was formed 50 million years ago in what is now the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northeastern Pakistan.

It can withstand wind speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour and temperatures of up to minus 60 degrees Celsius, which makes garbage collection extremely difficult.

Sadpara's cleanup efforts were intended to preserve the natural beauty of K2 while honoring his late father, Ali Sadpara, who died in 2021 while climbing the mountain with his son and two other climbers.

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According to Yasir Abbas, the ecologist at Central Karakoram National Park who removed 1,600 kilograms of garbage from K2 as part of a campaign in 2022, abandoned equipment has become a problem since the explosion of mountain tourism.

“Commercial companies are taking on more equipment,” he told AFP. “When more people climb, more waste is generated.”

The conditions are no different on Mount Everest: even on the highest mountain in the world, climbers are leaving behind more and more equipment and garbage.

Sadpara acknowledged that climbing K2 is challenging and that for many trekkers, cleaning up their waste becomes secondary to mere survival. But he added that part of the appeal of mountaineering is the “mental calm” it brings and that seeing waste can change the experience.

“I do it from the bottom of my heart,” said Sajid Sadpara about his actions. “This is our mountain. We are its guardians.”

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