Exclusive Interview: Nirmal Purja

Photo: Nirmal Purja

Nirmal Purja, or Nims for short, needs little introduction these days. Over the past few months, he’s summited 11 of the 8000’ers in a mere 94 days. He has also helped in four rescues during this time, including the extraction of Wui Kin Chin from high on Annapurna. The former special forces soldier has just three peaks left on his lofty tick list: Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. ExWeb caught up with Purja during his brief downtime before he tackles the remainder of his Project Possible.

If you succeed, can you pinpoint what factors have allowed you to do this so quickly?

When I finish the challenge! You cannot have any doubt in your mind. Yes, I will always treat every mountain with respect, but I also know that I will finish this.

It has been a combination of mindset, training and my own physiology. I don’t know the science bit but I do know what my body can do and I listen to it. But I can’t listen to it when I am coming down off a summit and I have used every ounce of energy. That is when I focus my mind and I say to myself, “How can I tell my story if I don’t get back?”

Looking over to K2 and Broad Peak from the summit of Gasherbrum II. Photo: Nirmal Purja

Who is the strongest climber you have climbed with this year, and why?

Probably Mingma David Sherpa. He is someone who respects the mountains, has a positive mindset and holds his own records for climbing. He’s a great friend, and we both know that we have each other’s backs, which is very important in the mountains.

Some climbers see your challenge as a test more of physical performance rather than mountaineering skills. How do you respond?

To climb the world’s 14 highest mountains in seven months, you have to have both physical strength and skill; you can’t separate the two. How can I lead climbers up K2 without technical skill? How can I rescue people without physical performance?

If you have mountaineering skills but no stamina, then you can’t expect to reach the summit. If you blindly go up a mountain at speed, then you don’t respect it, and you will waste energy using the wrong bits of equipment or taking the wrong route.

The now-infamous photo Purja took of the queues on Everest this season. Photo: Nirmal Purja

How would you answer those who say that your methods during this project are against the spirit of mountaineering? 

Who decides what “the spirit of mountaineering” is? Everyone has his or her own reason for climbing a mountain. Look at it this way: I have seen people climbing Mount Everest who have spent all their savings. They say they would prefer to die on the mountain because they have spent all their money. Is that in the spirit of mountaineering?

One of the Alpine Club’s websites defines the spirit of mountaineering as unselfishly giving exceptional assistance to those in need of help in the mountains. I have completed four rescues during my challenge. Does that not fit in with the Alpine Club’s Spirit of Mountaineering?

What routes will you choose for your three remaining 8,000’ers, and who will you climb with?
On any of the previous phases, I haven’t told anyone in advance which route I will take. I’ll determine my route once I am there. I rotate the teams, so once I am back in Nepal, I will decide on the personnel based on their fitness and availability.

Reinhold Messner and Purja at Nanga Parbat Base Camp. Photo: Nirmal Purja

You hinted at climbing K2 in winter. All previous attempts have been made without supplementary oxygen. If you go for it, would you do the same?

I will climb 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. 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 consider the whole phase: the weather, the features of the mountain and the conditions. 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.

What are your mountaineering goals after the 8,000’ers?

K2 in winter is high on my list. I also want to focus on my company, Elite Himalayan Adventures, so I can share my skills with anyone who wants to climb. We will have to wait and see. I want to enjoy the last three mountains but first I need to raise the funds to complete it.

About the Author

Ash Routen

Ash Routen

Ash is an outdoor and adventure writer from the UK. He juggles a day job as a public health scientist with a second career in outdoor writing.

His words have featured in national newspapers, international magazines, and various websites. Bylines include Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Outside Magazine, Rock and Ice, and Red Bull.

Read more at www.ashrouten.com

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13 Comments on "Exclusive Interview: Nirmal Purja"

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Thanks for the article on Nims. It’s been a pleasure watching his remarkable Project Possible. Who in the world would question his mountaineering skills? That’s crazy. To do what he has done PLUS rush to the aid of others needing rescue is remarkable. What about an article on Mingma David Sherpa? I’d like to know more about his climbs.

Damien Francois

Good luck for the 3 last peaks, Nims! We all know you will make it!
Please get back to me or Kunda-Nepali Times, since we would like to run a strory about your final challenge! (emails sent via your website contact address)
Dere danyabhat!

Alex A

Good on him. If he climbs K2 in winter with no O2 and noone from his team use O2 to fix ropes for him, he’ll be a real deal.

Not an Everest Climber
Not an Everest Climber

I believe Nims is probably the only chance of summiting K2 in winter. Nims’ capabilities are out of this world. I won’t be surprised if Alex Txikon gets a piggyback ride to the summit of K2 in winter.

Ande Rychter

Luck with weather on K2 in winter is more important than ‘capabilities’. Nims has nothing that, say, Bielecki doesn’t have when it comes to capability.

sven sauer

But shisha pangma is closed this year?! How he can end up his project this year?

Curious Cat

Where’s Mingma David Sherpa for leg 3 of Project Possible? The Cho Oyu reports mention Gesman as lead climbing partner. No mention of strongest climber Mingma David. Why Purja not mention him for Cho Oyu?

baehler pierre-Alain

But how Nim travels from Anna to Kang in so few days. I never heart something as helicopter…


Thanks, Ash Routen for posting the article about REAL HERO Nirmal Purja. He submitted of 14 peaks magically.

David Koenig

Interesting stories, thank you Ash Routen for publishing such an amazing HERO Nirmal Purja. Its still interesting for us to know how he could reach from Annapurna to Kangchenjungha within short span of time. Never heart something like he used helicopter in a lower elevation on trek?. Congratulation for his Project possible complete team