Nims Purja climbed the world's 14 highest mountains in just 6 months, smashing the world record by 7.5 years! We spoke to the former soldier to hear more about his incredible story, including near death experiences and daring rescues.
By rights, Nims Purja should be as famous as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. No matter how many goals they’ve scored, nothing can compare to the extraordinary achievement of the 37-year-old former soldier, and Special Forces operative. For most of us, summiting one of the highest mountains in the world would be something we’d dine out on for the rest of our days.
For Nims that was nowhere near enough. In the space of just six months in 2019, the Nepalese-born superman climbed the world’s 14 highest mountains, each one over 8,000m. To put it into context, the last person to achieve that feat took almost eight years! We caught up with Nims to hear how he did it.
So why did you decide to do this?
I came up with this idea to show the world what is humanly possible, and I wanted to raise the name of Nepalese mountaineers. That was quite key because I felt like the climbing community from Nepal didn’t have the right credibility. I also wanted to raise awareness about climate change and global warming.
How do you go about planning a project like this?
I had the operational background, in terms of planning in detail, and going into the mountains. But what I didn’t have was the experience of fundraising. Nobody believed in the vision, it was unimaginable to them. If I managed to convince them because I was so enthusiastic about the project, then they would say that it’s too risky. If you died, they don’t want to be a part of that. So it was really tough.
How much money did you have to raise?
£750,000. And that was a low figure because I wasn’t taking as much support as somebody who planned a significant project like this would usually have. Just climbing one mountain like Everest can cost £60,000, and I was climbing all 14 mountains and there’s all the logistics involved.
Even with remortgaging my house and getting support, when I flew to Nepal from London I only had £125,000. So I wasn’t even close. But I believed that as soon as I reached the summit in the style that I had been saying, and started to tick off more summits, people would believe in me, and start supporting me more as they could see I wasn’t just talking, I was walking the walk.
Did you really think you’d do it in six months?
I knew I could do it. In 2017, I was the lead instructor for the Gurkhas on Everest. I set the fixed lines not only for my team, but the rest of the mountaineers. After I came down, I climbed Everest again, then Lhotse and Makalu, in just five days [he scaled all three in 48 hours during the “14-peak Challenge”]. That’s when I knew that I had much more to give. I actually managed to break the world record for that multiple climb, it’s just that I was still in the Special Forces and undercover, so nobody knew about it.
That’s ridiculous climbing, isn’t it?
I think the way I say my stories, I don’t big it up, I just say it how it is. People say ‘you make it sound so easy, so normal.’ Being brutally honest, of course it’s really tough. I nearly died! I wasn’t just climbing the mountains, I did rescues and saved other’s lives. At the same time, I had to raise money, I had a problem with my family because my mum was super ill. There were bigger political issues, bureaucracy, there was a threat to my life. All these things. I’m just glad to be alive here to be telling my story.
So what was the toughest part of the challenge?
There was a famous terrorist attack in Nanga Parbat in 2013 where 11 people were killed. For me, coming from a Special Forces background, my presence being known to anybody there could be really dangerous to my life. So I didn’t even tell anyone I was in Pakistan. I only told them when I was on K2, which was in a safer area.
In Nanga Parbat, I fell 100m and tried to resurface three times, all of them failed. The whole time I was saying, ‘Nims, not today. I don’t want to die.’ I wanted to be alive, telling my story. But I managed to hold on. Of course, it shook my confidence in terms of being on the mountain.
Wow, any other moments like that?
In Pakistan, I climbed five peaks in 23 days. For 19 days, I didn’t sleep at all. I was just climbing. When you do that, you are mentally drained. Every step you take, you fall asleep. It’s torture, not only physically, but mentally. I used to wish that a big avalanche would come and kill me because that would clear all the pain away forever. But I had to tell myself, ‘Come on, you know what you’re doing this for. You’re representing eight billion humans!’ There are amazing humans, so how could I say I was representing them if I wasn’t good enough out there?
So how did the final peak feel?
I had to go through so many political channels to get the permits for Shishapangma, which we did. I must say that although I was happy on the summit, my happiest moment was when we were leaving camp towards the summit – I knew that we could definitely summit so I knew it was done now. The weather was steady and I was thinking back, especially with my mum being ill, about when everybody didn’t believe in me, when people were saying ‘Nims, why this year? Go next year, when you’ll have the money’. I had tears in my eyes. Imagine what would have happened if I’d waited until this year!
You also took part in several rescues during the challenge – what happened?
For me, I have never left anyone behind in the 16 years with the Gurkhas and the SBS. That’s in my blood. To leave somebody behind and just to go and achieve a mission, that’s a bad human, and not what I’m made of. For that, I risked my mission and committed to the rescue. It costs a lot of money to do those rescues, but we never charged for it, it was just one human supporting one human. And we did a lot of rescues. The first one was in Annapurna where we rescued Dr Chin, and on Kanchenjunga, where me and my team gave away our oxygen at 8,450m.
Is positivity the biggest lesson you learned from this challenge?
Yes. There’s negativity in anything. Even in positivity you can find negativity, if you look for it. You have to look at the positive side; even if there is not one, you have to make one. That’s why you become a different person, because you’re making the circumstances how you want them to be, rather than how they want you to be. Doing what I’ve gone on to do from my humble beginnings shows you that you don’t need to have rich parents, or a well-supported family, to achieve something big. As long as you believe in yourself, you dedicate, and commit, then anything is possible.
Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks – My Life In The Death Zone by Nims Purja is out now.