Scaling Peaks, Saving Souls: Training Search and Rescue Volunteers in Army High Altitude School

Scaling Peaks

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is one of the most disaster-prone areas in Pakistan. The mountainous communities of GB are at high risk because of their geography and lack of access to quality services. Global warming and climatic changes directly impact these areas, causing glaciers to melt and unstable lakes to form, increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Considered to be the frontline areas in global climatic change and increased frequency of natural disasters, a need has been felt to raise awareness of the local populace of GB on disaster mitigation. Disasters like earthquakes, which often trigger devastating landslides, are frequent. Seasonal floods and mudslides are also common, particularly in spring when snow starts to melt. Extreme winter conditions and avalanches are also recurrent, especially in the mountainous areas. As a part of its ongoing efforts to respond to the needs of communities living in areas prone to such hazards, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), Pakistan, invests in community training for men and women to increase their awareness, knowledge, and skills to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

Rattu is one of the century-plus old cantonments of GB. It is located at an altitude of 9000 feet above sea level. This school trains students in skiing, high-altitude, and mountain operations.

Twelve members comprising eight males and four females of SART (Search and Rescue Teams) volunteers from AKAH, Pakistan belonging to various regions including Gilgit, Chitral, and Karachi, attended a seven-day disaster response training course with the support of Pakistan Army in Rattu, District Astore, GB. The course, facilitated by the instructors of Army High Altitude School (AHAS), provided an opportunity for the participants to learn critical lifesaving skills, light search, rope rescue, river crossing use of z-pulley and rescue techniques, and first aid and equipment handling skills. Training local community volunteers in disaster response skills falls under AKAH’s broader community-based disaster risk management program. The most important part of the training was the inclusion of female participants, as during disasters, the worst sufferers are females and young children. Another aspect is that female rescuers can best support families in safe evacuation and emergencies.
AHAS, Rattu, is the premier institution of Pakistan Army for high-altitude training. The school maintains an excellent reputation for training mountaineers of great acclaim, both from national and international fame. AHAS was established at Rattu in December 1987. Rattu is one of the century-plus old cantonments of GB. It is located at an altitude of 9000 feet above sea level. This school trains students in skiing, high-altitude, and mountain operations. Training is imparted in the shape of lectures, demonstrations, and practicals. Tactical exercises ensure professional training at altitudes of 12,000 feet to 16,000 feet at the base of the famous Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi peaks. The school also undertakes several trekking and mountaineering expeditions on famous peaks. The training team consists of highly trained staff in various domains related to mountain craft.


A collaboration was undertaken by Pakistan Army and AKAH to train volunteer rescuers in mountainous areas belonging to the outlying regions of GB. The training was organized with the concept of training youth in disaster management to support their local communities in disaster mitigation. Pakistan Army stands hand-in-hand with the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in times of natural disaster and management. To equip the organizations with the best preparation, Pakistan Army had been at the forefront of sharing and training the teams to make them self-reliant. A constructive role was played in the remote areas of the country through the construction of roads, quick-impact projects, education facilities, water supply schemes, and medical facilities through Combined Military Hospitals (CMHs) and medical camps. Pakistan Army has always helped the local communities in times of disasters and contributed to their development. Such activities reflect Pakistan Army’s commitment to national development.

Considered to be the frontline areas in global climatic change and increased frequency of natural disasters, a need has been felt to raise awareness of the local populace of GB on disaster mitigation.


These volunteers belonging to the northern areas represented different communities. This training will help the team members to respond and support their communities during disasters and climatic challenges. 


The writer is a Disaster Management Consultant (AKAH) and Ph.D. Scholar of Middle Eastern History at Islamic International University Islamabad.
E-mail: Sami.Malik@akdn.org

Courtesy by LT COL SAMI ULLAH MALIK (R) – HILAL English

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An experienced expert well-versed in security, geopolitics, and regional dynamics

Lt Col Sami Ullah Malik (R)

An experienced expert well-versed in security, geopolitics, and regional dynamics

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