THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMIR MEHDI 'THE HUNZAI TIGER': BETRAYED AND LEFT TO DIE ON K2
Amir Mehdi - also known as 'Mahdi' was a climber and a high altitude porter from Hassnabad, Hunza, Pakistan. Born in 1913 in the Hunza Valley, the only dream the Hunza tiger dreamt was to have a Pakistani flag on top of the world's highest mountains. 'My father wanted to be the first Pakistani to put his country's flag on top of K2,' Mehdi’s son, Sultan Ali, told the BBC. 'But in 1954, he was let down by the people he was trying to help.'
Amir was the best porter to be known at that time - carrying loads for the big expeditions that used to set upon the high peaks of the Karakoram in the early 1950's. He joined the German-Austrian expedition to Nanga Parbat and proved his strength as a high-altitude porter in 1953. The ninth highest mountain in the world at 8,126 meters, had earned the name of 'the killer mountain' for its high number of climber fatalities. Amir Mehdi was given the title of 'Hunza Tiger' for the assistance during the ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953.
The 1953 climb is best remembered for Hermann Buhl’s legendary summit push. He was the first man among his group to reach the summit. Unfortunately, Bahl was alone on the top and was forced to spend the night on the mountain without any shelter. In the morning, he continued down the mount - but Bahl could barely move because of the frostbites and needed help, Mehdi and Haji Baig were the ones who took turns carrying him on their backs - bringing him back to the base-camp.
The Italian Expedition team at K2 Base Camp in 1954. Photo: Photo: Wiki Commons
A year later, in 1954, an Italian expedition led by Ardito Desio set out to climb K2. A team of 11 Italian climbers including, Achille Compagnoni, Lino Lacedelli, and Walter Bonatti, and 10 Hunza high-altitude porters plus Amir Mehdi, reached the Base Camp on 28 May.
On July 28, the final camp was set for the k2 summit at the height of 7627m. Compagnoni and Lacedelli climbed higher. But, realized that they need supplementary oxygen for the summit push. Later on, it was agreed that Bonatti would descend and get more oxygen. Walter Bonatti asked Mehdi to help him. 'Other high altitude porters refused. My father agreed to the mission because he was offered a chance to get to the top," said Amir's son, Sultan Ali, in an interview with BBC.
Walter Bonatti, left, and Compagnoni and Lacedelli, right. Photo: Wiki Commons
However, when Bonatti and Mehdi came back with the supplementary oxygen - the camp that was supposed to be on 7900m or 8000m - was nowhere to be seen. In all that act, Bonatti and Mehdi were forced to spend the night without any shelter - both were ready to die, but somehow they survived. Later it was revealed that Compagnoni and Lacedelli established the camp at 8150m - to stop Bonatti and Mehdi from joining the summit attempt.
The miracle is that Mehdi survived the unfortunate event. He suffered several injuries and frostbites. By the time he reached the camp - Amir was unable to walk and was carried on a stretcher to a hospital in the town of Skardu. Doctors had no option but to remove all his toes to stop the infection from spreading. He was only released from hospital eight months later. No one spoke about k2 1954, until the release 'K2: The Price of Conquest', a book written by Lacedelli in 2004.