Nirmal Purja climbs all 14 of the world's highest peaks in six months

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 01/11/2019
Nims on Gasherbrum II. Photo: Nirmal Purja Collection

The 36-year-old Nepalese mountaineer and former British Special Forces soldier summited Shishapangma (8,027m) at 08:59 on Tuesday 29 October. Beginning in April, the extraordinary mission had taken him 6 months and 7 days. Sarah Stirling has the whole story.

He called it ‘Project Possible’ but many doubted that he could do it. His employers, the Royal Navy, said the challenge was 'too risky' for them to support. Unperturbed, 'Nims', who was born in Nepal at an altitude of 1600m, quit the forces — his job since the age of 18 — remortgaged his house and began trying to persuade corporate sponsors on board.

As Nicholas Hellen wrote, rather cheekily, in The Times: 'Few were prepared to put their money on the tubby-looking man who set off seven months ago from Hampshire to take on the record for climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks. [His wife] Suchi, a dental hygienist, said fundraising took priority over getting fit. “His belly was popping out when he left. He was not in good shape."'

After struggling to attract enough sponsorship, Nims had turned to Crowdfunding. Hoping to raise £50,000, he wrote on GoFundMe: "I firmly believe that everything in life is possible armed only with a determined approach and positive mindset. Now that my military career is behind me, I will strive to break more boundaries and help others move forward in their lives, realise their dreams and exceed my and their limitations." He struggled to raise enough funds and, at one point, had to put the challenge on hold.

In the end, though, Nims proved himself right. The challenges to his challenge never stopped (see below) but, despite them all, he stood on the summit of the final peak this week. He'd become the 43rd person in the world to tuck all 14 8000m peaks under his belt. His speed, though, was completely new. The previous record, set by the Korean, Kim Chang-Ho, was eight years. Alan Hinkes, the only Brit to achieve the feat so far, took 17 years. When he finished he was a 51-year-old grandfather.

It's worth noting that Chang-Ho completed his challenge without using supplementary oxygen. In an interview with explorer, Ash Routen, Nims explained: "The only reason that I have used oxygen on this current challenge is because of its scale. You cannot plan a single mountain in isolation ... I have to get back down, so that I can reach the next mountain. I listen to my body. You must have humility so that you can get home. You can always go again without oxygen if that is what is so important, but you can’t if you’re dead."

 

 

Nim’s background and achievements to date

Nepalese soldiers have served in the British Army - specifically the legendary Brigade of Gurkhas - for more than 200 years. Following this tradition, Nims joined the Gurkhas in 2003, aged 18, and went on to serve in the Royal Marines in 2009.

It was in 2012, on a trek to Everest Base Camp, that his unusual ability to cope at altitude became apparent and, on a whim, he climbed his first peak. The story is on Nim's website"Instead of sticking to the schedule of returning to Kathmandu, I made a bold choice to summit Lobuche East (6,100m) without any previous climbing experience. At the Lobuche village, I was fortunate enough to be taught to use crampons on grass by the late Sherpa legend, Dorje Khatri."

In 2016, Nims summited Everest for the first time. The next year, he went back, as lead instructor in charge of 13 other Gurkhas. However, when the team arrived, the fixed ropes had not yet been set up on the mountain due to bad weather. Unperturbed, Nims formed a team and took care of the work himself. 

Shortly afterwards, Nims returned to Everest for a third time, and set a number of world records during his seven days leave:

  1. The fastest time ever from the summit of Everest to the summit of Lhotse, 10 hours 15 minutes, beating the previous record of 20 hours
  2. The fastest consecutive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu, five days
  3. The first person to summit Everest twice, Lhotse once and Makalu once, in the same season, 17 days

In August, Nims told the BBC's Colin Murray that he could have climbed Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in three days rather than five back then — had he not stopped for two nights to have some drinks.

Nims was awarded an MBE by the Queen for outstanding achievements in high altitude mountaineering. 

Challenges to Project Possible

Nims then, knew Everest quite well by the time he got there on his challenge, in May this year. Despite waiting in line for hours in the infamous summit queues, the livewire Nepali managed to tag Everest, Lhotse and Makalu within 48 hours, breaking his own record from 2017. He actually tagged Everest and Lhotse in the same day. And when his photo of the queue went viral on social media, he saw it as an opportunity: signed prints, to help fund his challenge.

READ: Kenton Cool: the truth about Everest

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nirmal Purja MBE - Nimsdai (@nimsdai) on

 

During the course of Project Possible, our hero stopped to rescue a total of four climbers. While descending Annapurna, he and his team learned that a Malaysian climber was alone and in distress above 7,500m. Nims organsed the rescue and helped get him off the mountain. Then, while descending Kanchenjunga, he found three climbers who’d run out of oxygen. He and his team gave up their own supply and helped the men down.

The next challenge was heavy snowfall on K2, which put many climbers off. However Nims remained, along with a team led by British Mountain Guide, Adrian Ballinger, who commented in a Men's Journal interview: “To have Nims show up and say, ‘Hell yes, we’re going to try this thing! We deserve a good try! It doesn’t matter what anyone else did,’ it was great motivation.”

Then, in September, a cliffhanger: Nims failed to get a permit for Shishapangma. Following an appeal by the Nepali government, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association decided to provide a special permit. It was granted on 15 October. More in this Himalayan Times article. Success!

In a press release, Nims commented: "It has been a grueling but humbling six months, and I hope to have proven that anything is possible with some determination, self-belief, and positivity.”

 

WATCH Nims: making the impossible possible:

 

In order, the 14 mountains Nims climbed this season were:

  1. Annapurna – 23 April
  2. Dhaulagiri – 12 May
  3. Kanchenjunga – 15 May
  4. Lhotse – 22 May
  5. Everest – 22 May
  6. Makalu – 24 May
  7. Nanga Parbat – 3 July
  8. Gasherbrum I – 15 July
  9. Gasherbrum II – 18 July
  10. K2 – 24 July
  11. Broad Peak – 26 July
  12. Cho Oyu – 23 September
  13. Manaslu – 27 September
  14. Shishapangma - 29 October

What's next?

The next challenge on his list, Nims told Ash Routen, is climbing K2 in winter: "It is the one giant challenge left. There is a team planning to try this year, so I will wait and see how they do. I will do it without supplementary oxygen. I also want to focus on my company, Elite Himalayan Adventures, so I can share my skills with anyone who wants to climb.”

Writing on Instagram, Nims said that he is already thinking about the next challenge, and that this is only the beginning:

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nirmal Purja MBE - Nimsdai (@nimsdai) on

 

More about Nims on his website: www.elitehimalayanadventures.com

 

WATCH One Melanie Windridge's adventure to the top of the world on BMC TV:

 

WATCH Scott Mackenzie on the summit of Everest on BMC TV:


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