Shehroze Kashif
Shehroze Kashif, in 2022, is the youngest mountaineer in the world to summit the four highest peaks of the world. Image Credit: Supplied

Shehroze Kashif, at twenty, is the youngest human being to summit mountains that are higher than the loftiest of dreams. Those who conquer the tallest mountains are so superhumanly brave, most of the mundane laudatory words fail to encapsulate their achievements. Kashif continues to climb them, one after the other.

Kashif, in 2022, is the youngest mountaineer in the world to summit the four highest peaks of the world. Driven by a passion that no one else in his family and circle of friends shared, Kashif, a resident of Lahore, studied school textbooks and fantasized about climbing mountains, a dream that seemed impossible in a city where not many people were and are interested in something so far away, so clearly difficult. Once the young Kashif, encouraged by his father, stepped on a mountain, he never faltered. Despite the absence of any governmental and any substantial private or corporate support, Kashif didn’t let lack of resources impede his love for climbing the highest mountains on earth.

Fourteen of the world’s highest peaks are situated in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, bordering across Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet. All these peaks are 8,000 meters and more. On May 6, 2021, Kashif summited the Mount Everest, at 8,849, the world’s highest mountain. On July 27, 2021, he summitted K2, at 8,611 metres, the second highest mountain in the world. On May 5, 2022, Kashif summitted the Kanchenjunga, at 8,586 meters, the third highest mountain in the world. On May 16, 2022, Kashif summitted the Lhotse, at 8,516, the fourth highest mountain in the world.

Shehroze Kashif
Image Credit: Supplied

Mountaineering. There’re fewer sports—labelling it a sport is a major understatement—more fascinating, more surreal than summiting mountains that stand tall and proud, encircling countries like unconquerable eternity. Impossible height, complete alienation from the world of man, nature the ally and the foe, your equipment your lifeline, your companions your only human connection, silence that is absolute, the unknown curves and turns that require decisions made in seconds, fear of losing direction, blind spots, unexpected avalanches, no guarantee of returning to the base. It is a feat that is like no other. A solo act that takes place with the help of a few without seeking the applause of an audience. Surmounting fear in a manner so disciplined it teaches you a lifelong lesson that being afraid is perfectly human as long as it compels you forward into a positive direction. Loneliness of mountaineering is a masterclass in becoming self-sufficient while setting into motion a newfound appreciation for the essentiality of human bonds. Kashif, at an age so young, has summited the highest mountains and acquired the wisdom of an ancient soul.

For Gulf News, I asked Shehroze Kashif a few questions:

You’re the only one in your family with a passion for mountaineering. Being a resident of Lahore, and geographically, so distant from Pakistan’s high mountains, how did you become interested in climbing the world’s highest mountains?

It all started when I was almost twelve years old. My father took me with him on his office trip to the Shogran Valley in northern Pakistan. One day, I saw a few people going towards the Makra peak, which is 3,000 plus meters high. Out of curiosity, I asked my father what was up there, and that I wanted to go with them. Of course, my father refused, saying that I did not have the proper gear, and that there was nothing up on the mountains.

That night we were camping, and the whole night I tried to imagine what was on the top of that mountain. My mind conjured a hut, people, and goats living there. On our journey back to Lahore, I asked my father a lot of questions, trying to convince him that I really wanted to go up that mountain. My father finally succumbed to my emotional pressure! Next week, after a twelve-hour drive, he brought me to the same place and hired a guide who could accompany me to the top. He thought that I’d get tired and come back after going halfway. But after a few hours I returned smiling, “Papa, I went to the top!” Although it was not how I anticipated it—as there was nothing on the top—the sense of achievement was worth it. That’s how my journey of climbing started.

You’re the world’s youngest mountaineer to summit the world’s highest and second highest mountains, Mount Everest and K2. How’d you describe the journey from your first climb to summiting Everest and K2?

On May 11, 2021, I summited the world’s highest mountain Everest and became the youngest Pakistani to do so. On July 27, 2021, I summited K2, and became, at the age of nineteen, the youngest climber of the world to reach there.

I was back from Nepal after summiting the Everest. One day I dreamed that people were gathering at K2 and asking me, “Where are you, Shehroze? We’re all waiting for you.” I woke up and started packing my stuff. My father was surprised to see what I was doing and said, “K2 is not a child’s play; how could you make such a quick decision?” I called a few companies and found out that some climbers had been at K2 for a month. They had already installed two camps, so the time for preparation was very limited. But the feeling I had was too strong, and I was not giving it up.

I left for K2 fully determined that I’d summit it. When I reached the K2 basecamp after eight days and started the journey towards camp one for acclimatization, my porter fell sick and left the basecamp. It was a major blow, and my family urged me to come back. I told them that I planned to go ahead. I spoke to a Nepalese team if they could help me and take my oxygen bottle, and they agreed. In just thirteen days, I was on the top of K2, which was unbelievable for most of the people. K2 was tough, and that is why it’s called the Savage Mountain, but I realized that my passion and commitment are more savage!

You’re known as the “Broad Boy” for summiting, at the age of seventeen, the Broad Peak on the Pakistan-China border. In 2022, you became the youngest ever mountaineer to summit world’s top four highest peaks. Reportedly, you’re the fourth Pakistani ever to have successfully scaled six out of the world’s fourteen highest mountains. And you’re only twenty years old. What is your next dream?

At the age of seventeen in 2019, I became the youngest climber of the world to summit the Broad Peak, the twelfth highest mountain and my first 8000er. My mentor Zaheer Chaudhry made a documentary and called me “The Broadboy”. I will carry this name my whole life. I’ve to check, but I believe I’m the third Pakistani to summit seven of the highest peaks of the world, I’m the youngest climber of the world to have summited top five mountains of the world, and seven in total.

My dream is to summit all fourteen peaks and become the youngest climber of the world to do so by next year. I’m going to climb Nanga Parbat in a few days [On July 5, Kashif successfully summited the Nanga Parbat, at 8,126 meters, the world’s ninth highest mountain]. And if I get some sponsors, I will also attempt G1 and G2. Then I’d have climbed ten peaks in total, and all five peaks of Pakistan, leaving only four mountains in Nepal and China.

Shehroze Kashif
Image Credit: Supplied

What are the suggestions you’ve for the present and next governments to promote and support high-peak mountaineering in Pakistan?

I’ve been very unfortunate in terms of getting sponsors. If it wasn’t for my father, I’d have never been able to achieve what I’ve so far. For covering the cost of climbing the Everest, my father sold some of his land and a car; not a single private or government entity helped me. For K2, there were a few sponsors, and that covered the cost of the climb. I did not have a sponsor when I went to Manaslu. My last project 345 to summit the world’s third, fourth and fifth highest peaks were partially sponsored by two companies. Again, my father chipped in, but to date, I owe a Nepalese company twenty thousand dollars. They were kind enough to treat that amount as a loan that I could pay off later.

I’d not like to suggest anything to any government since I’ve already tried hard to convince them to support me, but all in vain. They talk about tourism, they talk about tourists, but they ignore mountaineers who are a soft image of Pakistan. I feel sad to see private sectors not encouraging and financing mountaineering. Every sport is overshadowed by cricket. Every sponsor wants to contribute to cricket, or even TikTok influencers, but people like me who put their life in danger and raise their country’s flag on top of the world’s highest peaks are ignored. People like me who’re achieving so much are crowd funding on GoFundMe to reach my goal.

As a young man, you’ve literally climbed some of the highest mountains on planet Earth. What do you feel during and after each expedition? Summit climbing is a sport that is extremely difficult, harder than most things most human beings do. If you had to, would you be able to describe the different emotions you experience during a climb?

Above 8,000 meters, your body literally dies. The energy level becomes so low it really challenges your mental health, and you slowly discover your inner strength. People often ask me if I feel scared when I see a dead body on my way to the top. I always tell them that I don’t go to conquer mountains; I always go to conquer the tiny thing called fear. Once you’ve conquered fear, you can do wonders. I love climbing, and this is what I’ve been doing the last eight years.

To be very honest, if I were to make dramatic statements that during a climb there’s a high level of excitement, you’re thinking about your country, your home, you’re making your nation proud, and you’re crying on the top of a mountain, I’d be exaggerating. Climbers are so tired, so restless with low energy, all we think about is when we’re going to reach the top, and when on top, we only think about when we’re going to reach the basecamp.

Yes, there’s a definite sense of achievement, especially when you look around from the top, you feel blessed and thank your Creator that He has chosen you out of billions of people to see such an amazing sight. Yes, it’s always a proud moment to raise your country’s flag on the top. There’s a special kind of feeling up on the top, but you leave it on the top for other climbers to enjoy it.