Nepalese adventurer, Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja, achieved the unbelievable feat of climbing all of the world’s 14 highest mountains in just over six months, beating the existing speed record by more than seven years.
Purja said that he hoped Project Possible “could inspire people from all generations, across the world”.
The previous record was set at seven years and 10 months by the South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho. But Purja says that the climbing was “the easy part”.
After overcoming so many barriers, he stated that the hardest part of his record-breaking feat was, in fact, solving a diplomatic impasse with China.
Purja was born in the Myagdi district of Nepal, growing up nearby in Chitwan.
He was a member of the Brigade of Gurkhas and the Special Boat Service, later serving in the elite special forces as a cold-weather warfare specialist.
He made his first major climb in 2012, reaching the summit of Lobuche East without any previous experience as a mountaineer.
He was the first Gurkha to climb Everest while serving and the Queen awarded him an MBE in 2018 for his achievement in extreme high-altitude mountaineering.
However, that same year he threw in the towel to focus on his mountaineering career.
Preparing to break the record was not an easy road.
Purja was forced to resign from his job in the Special Boat Service, after the Royal Navy said his ambitions were “too risky” and sell his house to fund the expedition.
Purja already held three Guinness World Records for being the first to summit Everest twice, Lhotse once and Makalu once, all in the same season, as well as the fastest consecutive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in five days, and the fastest time from the summit of Everest to the summit of Lhotse.
But despite a long career of successful mountain climbs, there was a widespread disbelief that he could really do it.
When comparing his goal to the recent successful sub-two hour marathon attempt he noted:.No one believed it could be done. Some people made a joke out of it. The main thing is to believe in it. That you can give 100%Nirmal 'Nims' Purja
However, he would have the last laugh.
Nims completed the final ascent of his gruelling challenge in late 2019, along the way assisting several dangerous rescues of stricken climbers, risking his own project.
On Annapurna, Purja and his team halted their efforts, heading back up the mountain to take oxygen to an accomplished mountaineer who had been stranded alone for more than 36 hours, later taking him down to camp where he was air-lifted to hospital.For me it’s not about ego, It’s about principles. You can’t call yourself a climber and not help in that situationNirmal 'Nims' Purja
Reinhold Messner, one of the world’s all-time-greats in mountaineering and the first person to climb all 14 of the 8,000-metre peaks, described it as a “unique mountaineering achievement”.
Nirmal Purja’s mission, dubbed ‘Project Possible’, took him from Annapurna on 23 April to Shishapangma, in the Himalayas, 29th October.
In order, the 14 mountains climbed were:
- Annapurna, Nepal, summit reached 23 April
- Dhaulagiri, Nepal, 12 May
- Kanchenjunga, Nepal, 15 May
- Everest, Nepal, 22 May
- Lhotse, Nepal, 22 May
- Makalu, Nepal, 24 May
- Nanga Parbat, Pakistan, 3 July
- Gasherbrum 1, Pakistan, 15 July
- Gasherbrum 2, Pakistan, 18 July
- K2, Pakistan, 24 July
- Broad Peak, Pakistan, 26 July
- Cho Oyu, China, 23 September
- Manaslu, Nepal, 27 September
- Shishapangma, China, 29 October
During his ascent of Everest in May he also took the now famous ‘traffic jam’ photo of crowds snaking up the ridge to the summit.
It went viral around the world, became front page news and sparked a worldwide debate about the numbers of climbers attempting the world’s tallest mountain and what risks they were taking to do so.
After his Pakistan climbs, Purja flew to Nepal and went to work on persuading the Chinese to let him climb Shishapangma – the final puzzle piece. The challenge was held up while he waited for permission to climb in the Tibetan autonomous region of China.
Climbers from around the world supported his case and after a lengthy political battle, he succeeded.
His permit was granted on 15 October after the Nepali government approached the Chinese government on his behalf.
En route he achieved another six world records, including the most 8,000ers scaled in a spring/summer season, and one of his Sherpa guides, Mingma David, was credited with becoming the youngest person on Earth to have scaled all of the 14 tallest mountains.
He hopes that some of the international attention attracted by his feat will help to raise the profile of Nepalese mountaineers whose efforts are regularly eclipsed by media coverage of western climbers.
Although gruelling from the outset, it wasn’t non-stop work.
In August, he told the BBC that whilst he climbed Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in five days, it could have been three, had he not stopped for two nights “to have a drink”!
There is some criticism of Purja, with controversy around his use of supplementary oxygen above 7,500 metre and fixed ropes.
Influential climber Chris Bonnington suggested that Nims’ achievement will eventually be seen as a “footnote” in mountaineering history.
Whether that comes true somewhere down the line remains to be seen.
For now, he is a mountaineering legend and has set his sights on his next challenge.
As of yet there has been no successful winter ascent of the world’s second highest mountain, Pakistan’s K2.
But Nims said he would not be surprised if someone climbs the 14 mountains faster.Records are made to be broken. Someone one day will come along and be stronger. People are only limited by their imagination. If you don’t dream then you won’t do it. Human beings are capable of doing amazing things.Nirmal 'Nims' Purja
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