Every year, dozens of adventurers and thrill-seekers summit K2, the second-highest peak in the world. Though Pakistan’s mountaineering industry can be a boon to local economies, it also presents various social challenges, including environmental concerns like waste disposal and conflicts between various stakeholders in the tourism industry.
Expeditions would be impossible without the skilled Balti porters who provide support and expertise throughout the dangerous climb. Despite their essential role in K2 mountaineering, however, Pakistani porters often receive pay far lower than their Western counterparts. Whether they carry critical supplies to base camp or take on high-altitude tasks, these porters do some of the most difficult work of mountaineering.
They regularly carry loads of 35kg on wooden frames over rock slopes and glaciers, walking for up to eight hours a day on a diet of little more than tea and chappati for the duration of the trek. While foreign climbers who employ them enjoy hi-tech outdoor gear and clothing, porters often wear cheap socks and plastic boots that disintegrate during the trek. Health risks among porters include corneal ulcers, chronic lacerations, hernia, high altitude pulmonary and cerebral edema, hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory ailments—yet they often lack adequate workplace protections and access to sufficient medical care.
The groups below play a direct role in addressing the unique concerns of local porters and alpinists in Pakistan and elsewhere.
(Cover image and right image photo stills: Cultures of Resistance Films.)