Summer 2016 | Climbers ‘Blacklisted’, Deported from Pakistan

Climbers face a set of odd bureaucratic issues – some often repeated, others entirely novel – each year, when they come to Pakistan. The strategic location of Karakoram peaks makes the situation further adverse. These issues usually cost time and resources, but not the entire expedition. However, there has been an unprecedented development this year.

Some of summer 2016 climbers have been denied entry into Pakistan. They’re said to be unofficially banned, since late last year. As often is the case with Pakistani bureaucracy, rationale behind this move remains uncertain. Interestingly, aforementioned climbers were issued climbing permits and visas over past few months.

While, no reason for the ban has been officially communicated, climbers were told under the table that it is in someway related to use of Sherpa support, last summer.


No Entry
Australian-New Zealander Chris Jensen Burke, who as per ACP expeditions list is leader of a Broad Peak team, was one amongst the affected climbers. She decided to make the details public. “I find myself back in Kathmandu less than 12 hours after I landed in Islamabad. The reasons why are stranger than fiction and I won't put the detail here. But, I had a valid visa. I had a climbing permit and the lovely lady at immigration did give me an ‘entry’ stamp in my passport, but then the visa was soon cancelled.  The department issuing the visas and climbing permits was now turning people around?  (With visas, the immigration officers at the point of entry can still deny entry but, in this case, they explained to me that their hands were tied). Then, you start to hear of another climber’s story, and then another…” she wrote.

Chris Burke has been a regular visitor to Karakoram, since past few years. In 2013, she had just arrived in Pakistan when horrendous murder of 11 climbers took place at Diamir BC. While some climbers cancelled their expeditions, Chris went forth and climbed Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II. She attempted Broad Peak/K2 double header in 2014, and was successful on K2. Chris returned to Broad Peak in 2015, but it was difficult year and majority of teams remained unsuccessful.

I feel like I have climbed an 8000m peak without climbing an 8000m peak,” Chris commented about amount of work (paperwork, logistics etc) done for this year’s expedition and then being denied to enter Pakistan.

‘Sherpa Support’ in Pakistan
Banning mountaineers due to use of Sherpa support, if true as stated, will not help the cause of attracting more climbers and development of tourism industry in the country. As mentioned in summer 2016 kickoff post, Sherpa presence have been on the rise in Pakistan since past few years. Nepalese operators and high altitude workers have a fair market share in Pakistan. Sherpa’s role has, in fact, been transformed from high altitude porters to high altitude mountain guides. Contrarily, the quantity and quality of Pakistani HAPs – the traditional counterparts of Sherpa in Karakoram and Western Himalaya – dwindled over the years.

Senior members of Pakistani HAP community has been quite vocal about lack of government support. It has been hoped that the locals might actually learn technical skills and mental strength from Sherpa, and regain the market, like Nepalese are ousting Western operators today.

"I would love to help the high altitude porters (HAPs) of Pakistan receive technical skills and knowledge for high altitude mountaineering beyond what is currently available to them in Pakistan. My climbing partner and I have raised this in Pakistan over the last 3 years. It is sad that our suggestions have not been taken up. If this happened, the HAPs would likely be sharing the world mountaineering stage in the same way that the Nepali Sherpas already do.

The service that Nepalese Sherpas provide to Pakistan, and world mountaineering industry, is huge. Their knowledge, skills and experience, plus their genetic adaptation that makes them superior performers at high altitude, make them obvious choices as climbing partners and to support teams on any mountain." Chris Burke has climbed nine eight thousanders so far; three of them in Pakistan.

"In my opinion, the Pakistan mountaineering industry has so much potential. But, I would recommend that those within Pakistan draw on outside support for skills, knowledge and regular mountaineering courses to help it grow and develop. I don't know how many UIAGM / IFMGA guides there are in or from Pakistan, but I suspect the numbers could be far greater given the strong base from which candidates could be drawn." She added.
Chris and Lakpa at Annapurna summit on May 1st, 2016. Photo: Chris Burke

Climbing Partner from Nepal
Talking about Chris Burke, her case is particularly different from an orthodox client-Sherpa relationship. She has climbed all of her nine 8000m peaks with Lakpa Sherpa. The two train and climb together, and are more like climbing partners than client-Sherpa.

"If I am climbing on some of the most dangerous mountains in the world, I want to climb with someone I have a history with, we don't second guess each other, we know what the other is going to do, we trust each other's judgment and we speak the same language. It just so happens that my climbing partner of the last 5 years (and prior to that, my mentor) is a Nepalese Sherpa, one who also happens to be one of the best mountaineers in the world. But, if you tell me to partner with someone from any country, be it Pakistan or anywhere else, where we do not have this past experience together and we don't even speak the same language, I won't do it. I won't risk my life or theirs. This is life and death stuff." she emphasizes.
Sharing a laugh together, before heading to Lhotse in 2013.

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