Purja Back Home; the Debate Begins

Purja and the Project Possible team parade through Kathmandu doing their best Apollo astronauts impression. Photo: Skanda Gautam/ THT

Returning home with the same speed and efficiency that he climbed all 14 8,000’ers, Nirmal Purja is back in Kathmandu. The triumphant Nepali and teammates Mingma David Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang were greeted by members of Seven Summit Treks this afternoon. Purja will enjoy just a few days of down time before jetting off to guide on Ama Dablam.

Well-known climbers have heaped praise on Purja, and the world press has raved about him “smashing'” records and “conquering” mountains. Meanwhile, the adventure community begins the process of contextualizing his achievement and scrutinizing his claims. Some will see this as an unnecessarily negative exercise, in light of what has been an extraordinary display of mental, physical and logistical prowess.

But as with Colin O’Brady in Antarctica last year, beyond the mainstream media — so critical and discerning in politics, so superficial in anything to do with the outdoors — there is already debate about Project Possible. This comes with the territory of any self-governing community such as mountaineering, a community that holds style and originality dear.

Precisely where did Purja and company define their summits on Manaslu and Dhaulagiri? Is the rampant use of helicopters between Base Camps ethical? Does his reliance of supplementary oxygen diminish the achievement? Can we fairly compare what Purja did with the seven-plus years taken by Kim Chang-Ho and Jerzy Kukuczka, who were, after all, not climbing on the clock? These are the elephants in the room.

Indeed, Krzysztof Wielicki, the great Polish mountaineer and the fifth man to climb all the 8,000’ers, has already said of Purja’s effort, “It’s a performance and organizational feat, but without much importance.”

Wielicki’s gifted compatriot, Piotr Pustelnik, the 20th man to climb the 8,000’ers, adds, “Physically and conditionally the guy is a giant, but I have no pious attitude towards this feat.”

Leszek Cichy, who made the first winter ascent of Everest with Wielicki, fears that exploits such as Purja’s may lead to a decline of Himalayan alpinism. Climbs with real value, he states, should be “new, difficult roads, for example on 6,000’ers, overcoming new walls, exploration of virgin mountain regions, ascent of unconquered, though lower peaks, alpine style, lonely passages, winter.”

Collectively, the Polish trio have defined Purja’s feat as “record-breaking, but not historical. From the point of view of alpinism, he is light years behind Kukuczka, Messner, Loretan.”

These uncomfortable discussions can’t dismiss Purja’s extraordinary achievement, but  they give it context within the specialized world of alpine climbing, in which a talented outsider has crashed the party.

Purja, Mingma David Sherpa and the Seven Summit Treks team.

About the Author

Ash Routen

Ash Routen

Ash is a postdoctoral scientist, globally published outdoor writer and arctic traveller. Ash's next expedition is a 700km trek along the coast of Baffin Island in 2020.

Read more at www.ashrouten.com

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14 Comments on "Purja Back Home; the Debate Begins"

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Sid
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The legacy of this feat is going to be the commercialization for future collectors of 8000ers. Why spend 8 years when you can do it in 2 or 1? Guiding companies will start offering this option to their (fitter and richer) clients.

Drewbach
Guest

You are crazy to think anyone normal can do this in 1-2 years.

Damien Francois
Guest

Not gonna happen. The physical strength, the mental focus this feat involved are unique. I don’t think it will be done again soon. Nirmal Himal has been touched by the hand of Shia himself!

Damien Francois
Guest

…Shiva himself…

Kevin
Guest

I can’t say that I understand all of the negative connotation surrounding this. Any 2 or 3 of these mountains in a season would be a great accomplishment. In many cases, he led rescues and was the primary trailblazer. I appreciate the scrutiny in some ways, but it needs to be more fairly counterbalanced with positive input too.

Damien Francois
Guest

This sums it up: “extraordinary display of mental, physical and logistical prowess”.
All the rest is just pissing in the wind.
Incredible, the mental and physical strength! It IS a first!
Congratulations, Nirmal Himal!

Skeptics
Guest

Doubts on MN (where did he exactly stopped?), BP (no picture released) and SH (did he stopped on the Fore summit or went all the way to the main summit)?

Trish
Guest

LOL. “A talented outsider has crashed the party.”
That’s perfectly said.

OldHikerDude
Guest
This has been a exciting time for mountaineering junkies from around the world routing for Nims to complete the “Impossible”. Remember all of the doubts when he first proposed his quest? It’s understandable, it IS an immense undertaking. But when he started ticking off 8,000’ers one after another…bing….bing….bing, we all woke up and thought it might be possible, he just might do it. He ticked off the Karakoram leg of his quest like clockwork, his team leading the way on K2, and even participating in a rescue. His bravery, tenacity, and motivation, is an example to us all………BUT, ya gotta… Read more »
damiengildea
Editor

It’s very clear from his ‘summit photo’ from Manaslu that he did not go to the true summit. Whether that matters is another issue…

And to be clear, on K2 other teams fixed all the way past C4 and Nims team ‘just’ did the final part. A significant accomplishment, but built on the work of others. Likewise on Nanga Parbat, other climber(s) summited before his team.

Tim brook
Guest

So negative – just celebrate excellence when you see it

Damien Francois
Guest

Come on, even the hyper critical Messner reckons Nirmal pused limits. Do you have his stamina? His focus? I don’t, but maybe you, another Damien, has…
Dujmovits criticizes the use of O2 and himseklf was NEVER able to summit Everest without. Bonington said it’s not mountaineering; so I guess ALL climbs which do not involve new routes are fake mountaineering?
It’s ridiculous!

Alejandro Marangoni
Guest

I think the comments are fair and do not belittle the accomplishment. Different approaches, different results.

Rabi Pradhan
Guest

Well done Nirmal bhai you achieved what you went out to do and that is all that matters. You make us proud.