K2 and the Invisible Footmen

Located on the border between Pakistan and China, K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth. For many climbers, it is an even greater prize than Everest, with limited routes, a steeper ascent, and a harder push to its summit. Nicknamed the 'Savage Mountain,' K2's peak juts unprotected into the atmosphere, regularly exposing climbers and porters to life-threatening weather conditions. Despite being paid at rates far below those received by international expedition leaders, such porters – whether they provide critical supplies to expedition base camps or take on higher-altitude tasks in support of ascending climbers – do some of the most difficult and dangerous work and these efforts make them worthy of recognition as the true heroes of mountaineering.

24 Jun, 2020

sensitive, rich in detail, well crafted and covering a lot of angles. excellent film that gives things a perspective. valuable viewing for anyone thinking about these places.

27 Jun, 2020

An important climbing film, I think. It shows the extent to which the colonial past still shapes the present reality of Himalayan climbing - particularly in Pakistan. These high-altitude ascents and elite forms of tourism are produced through the extreme exploitation of post-colonial populations. It also feels to me that the film was shot in a sensitive and inclusive way, which gave its subjects a lot of space to speak and to decide how to interact with the camera - rather than being voyeuristic or imposing a frame upon the narrative that unfolds. The exception to this being the unfortunate switch to a "Visit Pakistan"-type montage near the end, where the typical neoliberal false promise of "prosperity through development through tourism" is briefly toyed with, despite the weight of the film being against such trite "solutions". I wonder how these porters can gain more power over their labour; how they can demand better pay and conditions; and how these communities can help their children escape the trap of portering. I also wonder how we can celebrate Himalayan climbing until these injustices are ameliorated, because there is nothing glorious about ascents that are underpinned by treating people as though they were animals.

27 Jun, 2020

You haven't spent much time in Gilgit-Baltistan have you?

If you want to help, you could start here

28 Jun, 2020

I'm not quite sure of the point of your first question, but no - I've never been. I'm talking about the film and what it shows. The Juniper Trust and Askole School project look like good initiatives.

28 Jun, 2020

I don't think my Balti friends, who are mountain guides, high altitude porters and also 'ordinary' people who just supplement their income with a bit of portering during the season, feel they are victims of "extreme exploitation of post-colonial populations". Apart from tourism, all they have to look forward to is subsistence living, growing and selling apricots. The extra money gives them a chance to give their kids a better education and, hopefully, a better future.

I assume when you talk of animals, you mean porters being used to carry loads? There are fairly strict rules governing how much weight per load and how much distance a porter can cover in a day. Abusing porters leads to strikes and worse; it's wise to keep them on your side.

It is disappointing that very few 'rich' westerners give Askole (or the Hushe Valley, for that matter), a second glance as they pass through. Luckily, there are some who take notice.

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