Mixed Reviews: Himalayan Climbers Assess Purja’s Feat

Simone Moro and Reinhold Messner.

As Nirmal Purja does his well-earned round of media interviews, prominent mountaineers have stuck their heads above the parapet to voice their thoughts on the man of the moment.

One of contemporary Himalayan alpinism’s most revered practitioners, Italian climber Simone Moro, has said that although he considers such climbing “high-altitiude tourism,” Purja has eliminated “all those who consider themselves heroes for accumulating 8000’ers with good weather, oxygen, fixed ropes and guides.”

The Italian added that such a “clear worldwide reference” may spell the end of “false heroes” and climbers claiming superficial mountain records.

Moro said that from his own vast Himalayan experience, he could “make a list with less than ten names who, with the same means, could repeat this milestone of climbing the 8,000’ers in six months and six days.”

On the emerging debate around Purja’s style, Moro criticized those purists who dismiss his achievement. Instead, he said, mountaineers should focus on repeating Purja’s project without oxygen or fixed ropes, doing the 8,000’ers in winter, tackling unrepeated routes, high altitude-link ups, or hunting out “exclusive and virgin peaks, or pristine regions.”

Simone Moro and Nirmal Purja. Photo: Nirmal Purja

Moro suggested that future mountaineers should not “waste” their career collecting 8,000’ers if they wished to become an “adventurer or explorer”.

“Until yesterday, you could have an alibi [for doing] the normal route on the 14 8,000m peaks.” he said. “Now, at least when it comes to sponsors and media attention, Nirmal Purja has put a virtuous and healthy end to this show.”

Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb all the 8,000’ers, has expressed surprise at how fast Purja completed all 14. Purja demonstrated, he said, “a great capacity for economic management, leadership, logistics organization. And obviously, exceptional physical resistance.”

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

Messner agreed that while Purja’s style has “nothing to do with the Jerzy Kukuczka’s,” Purja did not set out to “do better than the great Pole. He has never hidden the use of bottles above 7,500m, or helicopters to accelerate travel [on the mountain itself].”

Laying down the gauntlet to purist mountaineers, Messner wonders when other climbers will “be as fast as he is, and so resistant, without using oxygen cylinders.”

Messner believes that Purja has shown that Nepali climbers, and not just Sherpas (Purja is not ethnically Sherpa, nor was he born at high altitude), can independently lead Himalayan expeditions, much as local guides did in the Alps from the late 19th century onward.

Moro and Messner have sought out a silver lining in Purja’s achievement. Other Himalayan giants have not.

Chris Bonington said, “What he has done is quite extraordinary, but it isn’t mountaineering. Real mountaineering is exploratory –- finding new routes up to big peaks…I don’t see this as a major event.”

Everest new-router Stephen Venables added, “The fact that he used supplementary oxygen detracts from the feat. I know he also used fixed ropes. It isn’t exactly alpinism, as I understand it … It will certainly make it into the Guinness Book of Records, but in the history of mountaineering, it will only be a footnote.’

But the most stinging criticism came from the head of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, Amit Chowdhuary, who said, “We don’t support this kind of gimmick. If you have 20 people supporting you, of course you can achieve this.”

Such widespread commentary in the mountaineering world is expected when such a project as Purja’s leapfrogs the alpine journals to achieve global attention.

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

Leave a Reply

14 Comments on "Mixed Reviews: Himalayan Climbers Assess Purja’s Feat"

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Drewbach
Guest

I’d like to see the Indian Mountaineering guy do it.

Delwyne L Trefz
Guest

Agreed! Absurd and irresponsible to suggest that anybody with 20 supporters could repeat Nims’ accomplishment!

Adrian Cornescian
Guest

There aren’t any heroes nowadays.
Unless you climb Everest solo, without suplemental oxygen, fixed lines, sherpas support, blind (Erik Weihenmeyer did it) without legs( a few did it), at 80 years old, during the winter months, it’s just tourism.

Come climb a new route in the Canadian Rockies, zig-zaging through avalanches during the 8 months of winter or cross fierce rivers, while encountering bears and become one!

Dave Mycroft
Guest
It won’t only be a footnote to either the people who rescued on 4 of the ascents and their families. Nor will it be a footnote for those who followed when the fixed lines were the ones he broke trail to lay down, those who wouldn’t have achieved their summits either without those lines. The arguments over style will no doubt give others a cause to quote when seeking the massive levels of sponsorship needed for such a project. Of course there’s also the issue of the record being 6 months and 6 days but also it could be classed… Read more »
Delwyne L Trefz
Guest

Great points. The real controversy, in my mind, is what are we to do now with all the “real” mountaineers who have for decades rationalized their failures to attempt rescues in the death zone by explaining that to attempt such a rescue is almost certain suicide? We are each entitled to define “mountaineering” however we choose, but It is hard for me to imagine how setting the route on Annapurna, and the top, most dangerous portion of the route on K2–both under atrocious conditions–don’t qualify as mountaineering.

Petya
Guest

Nirmal is just an extraordinary man, it is a huge achievement, I am wondering Who can repeat the climbs in such short term 😀 congrats Nims! You are a hero, and thanks for the efforts, you proved that person can achieve the impossible following a dream!

Petya
Guest

Exceptional physical resistance MESSNER said!

Ande Rychter
Guest

An air of acrobatic exploit waffts from Nims’ achievement. You know this when the elapsed time of the race is given to the nearest minute. The Brits have characterized it well. Kukuczka and Messner in my opinion remain examples to follow.

Christopher Cameron
Guest
Love how these God’s of the mountains clam not pure, not Alpinism, Gimmicks. Everyone has a way to do mountain adventures. Don’t claim your way is better. Just because you climbed with or without Oxygen isn’t the point. Being in the mountains is the thing. I’m tired of these Gods of the mountains acting like they own the place or have a higher standing then others..shame on you blow hards. When you climbed it was novel, just because others come along and do a great act behind you yet with Oxygen and a guide don’t think that your better because… Read more »
Snowbelle
Guest

Bonington and his ilk do themselves no favours with their sour grapes.
Who can truly take seriously, the words of someone who claimed and got the glory that should have belonged to Don Whillans?