The extraordinary life of Little Karim
“Little Karim is not someone who gives up. He is a fighter and he will keep fighting like he did while climbing the world’s tallest peaks, snatching life from the jaws of death,”
remarks journalist Muzafar Hussain as he learns that Mohammad Karim has been in critical condition for the past seven days in a hospital in Skardu. Belonging to the small village of Hushe in the Ghangche District of Baltistan, Karim (populalrly known as “Little Karim”) is a veteran high altitude mountain porter who is famous for his decades worth of expeditions, climbing skills and incredible resolve, which truly belie his small stature. But given that Karim’s enduring legacy is do deeply intertwined with the cavernous mountains located in the north of Pakistan, it is perhaps unsurprising that many across the country are unaware of the truly singular life Karim has led.
As a youngster, Karim missed out on a schooling due to the lack of educational institutions located in his valley, but a love for climbing the hills which encompassed him from all sides possessed him at an early age. Hence, the mountains became his school. In 1976, Karim made his way to Skardu city, adamant to get work as a porter for the mountain climbing groups which had arrived in the region. Perhaps the most famous story of his grit and determination is when mountaineer Chris Bonington refused to let Karim be a part of his expedition because he felt Karim was too small and lacked the physical strength needed to make the climb. Unperturbed, Karim, as Obaid Ur Rehman Abbasi narrates, quickly,
“snuck his head between the big man’s (Bonington) legs, hoisted the two-metre-tall Brit on his shoulders and ran the length of an open ground. The assembled porters broke into fits of laughter, but Bonington was impressed by the audition. Karim was granted his wish, he would be part of the expedition to K2.”
Karim’s adventurous life is not only filled with a bevy of such delightful anecdotes but is also overflowing with stories of valour and heroism which the humble Karim would be quick to dismiss. For instance, in 1981, Karim was leading a group of high altitude porters accompanying a Japanese expedition which was led by the famous Pakistani climber Nazir Sabir. But at 7,100 metres the expedition ran out of oxygen and food supplies. This was when Karim came to the rescue. He travelled down to the lower camps alone and single-handedly transported food supplies and oxygen tanks to the stranded Japanese expedition. Karim also made a name for himself when he climbed the 8,035 metre-high Gasherbrum 2 without supplementary oxygen and set a world record in the process. But apart from being a daring porter, Karim has also been a diligent social worker committed to uplifting his community. As his son Hanif, who is Karim’s eldest son and has three brothers and four sisters, says,
“My father is a social worker by default. He thinks and cares for his people more than he does for his family.”
“My father said that he wanted to meet the famous footballer Christiano Ronaldo. To our surprise, the organisers arranged a meeting with Ronaldo the very next day and we met the Portuguese star! Ronaldo gifted my father his signed shirt, which we still have, even though many people have offered to by it from us.”
“He (Karim) is here, sick and on the hospital bed, but he keeps telling me that we need to go on another expedition. And not just to any nearby peak, he wants to scale the Broad Peak in the Karakoram Range.”
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