Pakistan pays tribute to Belgian who scaled ‘world’s most dangerous peak’ on Belgium’s national day

Pakistan pays tribute to Belgian who scaled ‘world’s most dangerous peak’ on Belgium’s national day
Paul Hegge at the peak of K2 in Pakistan. The country has 5 out of 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ in the world. Credit: Paul Hegge

Mountaineer Paul Hegge became the first and until now only Belgian to successfully climb K2 in Pakistan in 2018. By coincidence he reached the peak on 21 July, Belgium’s national day.

At a webinar organised by Pakistan’s embassy in Brussels yesterday (20 July), the Embassy paid tribute to Paul Hegge by showcasing a video film from his climbing of K2, and launching a video game about scaling K2 while beating COVID-19.

K2 (8,610 m), also called Dapsang locally, is the second highest peak on earth after Mount Everest (8,848 m) but is considered more difficult to climb. It has a reputation as the “savage mountain” because it is the deadliest of the five highest mountains in the world. Approximately one person dies on the mountain for every four who reach the summit.

Hegge described his adventure as an exercise in tackling challenges in life. “Climbing K2 is the Holy Grail for mountaineers,” he said. After an arduous 4-5 days journey by foot from the nearest village, you reach the first base camp.

Pakistan has a total of 5 out of 14 'eight-thousanders' in the world. At an altitude of 8,000 m, the body needs to get acclimatized to the lack of oxygen which can take some weeks. Every step in the ascent to the peak needs to prepared in advance and the climbing “demystified”. Because of the weather conditions, the ascent is only possible during a few weeks in July and August. The climbing is often done during the night hours and can last for hours.

He underlined the importance of being part of a good team, including carriers of equipment, kitchen staff and not the least the sherpas who are paving the way for the climbers by fixing the ropes, the “lifelines”. Only an extremely experienced mountaineer could cope without them.

Reaching the peak on Belgium’s national day, he planted the Belgian flag on the top. He had not planned to reach the peak on that day and it was a pure coincidence, he told The Brussels Times.

Is it more difficult to descend than to ascend K2? “Physically it’s more difficult to climb the mountain,” Hegge replied, “but it’s more dangerous to descend it when you are more exhausted and most accidents and fatalities also happen when descending.”

Another Belgian mountaineer, Niels Jespers, participated also in the webinar and has like Hegge been passionate about climbing mountains since childhood. “There are 14 peaks in the world above 8,000 m but those in Pakistan attract me the most,” he said. “My nickname already as a boy scout was Nanga Parbat (8,126 m), after one of them.”

He prefers climbing mountains in Pakistan where there are no “traffic jams” and local support is excellent. After climbing other mountains around the world, he also tried his luck on K2 in 2018. After reaching 8,000 m, he had to give up because of a frost bite toe but promised to come back.

Belgium and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1951. Ambassador Zaheer Janjua congratulated Belgium on its national day and described the relations between the two countries as cordial and close. “I’m optimistic that they will continue to develop in the future,” he said.

The Brussels Times

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