Nirmal Purja and the Giant Flag on Ama Dablam

8000ers Himalaya
The giant Kuwaiti flag hangs from Ama Dablam.

In the last seven months, Nirmal Purja copped headlines as he sped from one 8,000’er to the next, finally completing all 14 in just over half a year. Despite some criticism over style, no one doubts that this was a physical, logistical and mental feat unprecedented in mountaineering history. But when he helped a Middle Eastern team drape Ama Dablam’s summit with a giant Kuwaiti flag, he crossed a line and now faces an unfamiliar reaction: disappointment.

One might think that, after finishing his project, a detailed report would top his agenda. In order to fully credit his accomplishment, we still need to see his summit photos, especially on Manaslu, where Purja and his team may have stopped some 20m — and a difficult ridge — short of the real summit.

Nirmal Purja on Ama Dablam. Photo: Facebook

Instead, immediately after Shishapangma, he hustled to Ama Dablam on a guiding gig. Among his clients, a team from Kuwait had a creative idea to honour their country’s national day: Under Purba’s leadership, they carried a 100m-by-30m flag weighing 150kgs, divided into six pieces, up to the summit and let it hang down from the otherwise sacred mountain. The highly visible display stunned climbers, trekkers and locals in the Khumbu Valley below.

Later, Purja’s team reported he had just accomplished “probably one of the most challenging and high-risk mission I have ever taken on the mountains.” As rumors spread, he confirmed his role in the giant flag affair, and posted some aerial footage on Twitter:

But when Alan Arnette reported the stunt and the comments piled up, Purja was forced to write an explanatory – and rather angry – post on Facebook yesterday. He said that they hung the flag only after all other climbers had descended, so no one’s summit was affected. They also carried the flag back down with them.

Purja claimed that the Kuwaitis — known by their Instagram handle, KFLAG Heroes — had hired 17 Sherpa guides, 4 kitchen staff and 20 porters, thus contributing to Nepal’s economy. He further argued that “everyone takes flags to the summit…Our flag was definitely bigger, but unlike many, we didn’t leave any traces up there.”

He concluded with a plea for people to focus on the positive aspect of things, to avoid drowning in negative energy.

In the last 24 hours, his post has solicited almost 200 comments. Interestingly enough, the first dozens were all positive — until someone noted that the negative ones were being deleted. Then criticism began to appear. Most of them decried putting politics and money over ethics, the lack of respect for locally revered mountains and that Nepal had not been asked for permission to hold such an event. Most potent, however, was the comment posted by Alexander Hillary (grandson of Sir Edmund), who happened to be in Base Camp at the time:

The Mani Rimdu Festival, celebrated at the Tengboche, Thame and Chiwong monasteries during the November full moon, is one of the most important religious festivities of Solukhumbu’s Sherpas.

The controversy seems to have caught Purja by surprise. It overshadowed his announcement that next spring, he intends to scout a new route up the Nepalese side of Cho Oyu. Allegedly, he wants to give future climbers a chance to climb the peak without having to wrangle with China’s demands, closures and deadlines, as he did. He is currently looking for potential clients (with one previous 8,000’er on their CVs) interested in joining the expedition.

Debate is open

Dangling a flag this size down a mountain face is in bad taste, but is it wrong? Is it reasonable to expect a business operator such as Purja, currently launching his Himalayan Elite guiding company, to refuse a juicy offer? How many others would have refused on ethical grounds? Was Nepal’s government unaware? Did the operation affected other teams on the mountain? Exactly how dangerous was this “high-risk mission” to the overloaded porters? Comments from climbers and trekkers who were at Ama Dablam at the time, as well as from other readers, would be most welcome.

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges.

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15 Comments on "Nirmal Purja and the Giant Flag on Ama Dablam"

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Sheeny
Guest

It seems if you do anything big there will be ridicule. He just helped and the Kuwait team were going to do it anyway. Haven’t heard of any hard and fast rules been broken. Video was cool to show scale of the mountain.

Trish
Guest
I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The Kuwaiti team had planned it and wanted to do this for their country. They took it down. The porters were paid to carry it up and back. What’s the problem? I think it’s more disrespectful for everyone to go to the top and place their flag there, get their picture, and then leave their flag at the top. Only flags that should be left is the country in which the mountain is located. The only people who have a right to complain is the Nepalese. As far as I know… Read more »
Sheila
Guest
Good Grief!!! How many Nepalese (Napalese as typed in comment) have cell phones? How many have access to internet? Are you aware that most people in Nepal are very poor, extremely poor. To use the internet, they have to walk many miles, by foot, no local transportation, to a local “cafe” that has internet that costs alot of money, they don’t have, just to make a comment, because someone like you feels they are the only one’s who have a voice? The wouldn’t do it. The Hillary family knows the culture, they have created foundations to help the community, like… Read more »
Sheila
Guest
Did anyone notice that someone in this KFLAG group wrote a comment to Alan Arnette and used a FIST emoji, to indicate wishing to punch him, for his concern on this matter? The KFLAG group is not respectful to people, people they pay peanuts to be their slaves and risk their lives, people who voice their opinion, b/c this country often suppresses public opinion… but I found it wrong, giving that emoji to Mr. Arnette, a respected member of the mountaineering, as well as journalism community. Who was this guy giving the punching emoji? Well known only in his country,… Read more »
Blabla
Guest

Sheila, you need to cut Shakespeare for a bit, things are not quite that dramatic.

Trish
Guest

There were plenty of Nepalese present that have Internet, and even twitter accounts. I think it’s a shame this has been blown out of proportion mainly by outsiders. Jumping on this band wagon is turning a mole hill into a mountain.

amitava chatterjee
Guest

purja beware,you are running too fast

Jon California
Guest

Maybe I’m missing something, but:
1. Ama Dablam is in Nepal
2. Nirmal is Nepali
3. Not really any non-Nepali’s business what’s going on in Nepal
4. Non-Nepalis should probably devote their outrage elsewhere (Hong Kong?)

Not an Everest Climber
Guest
Not an Everest Climber

And you should post your comment elsewhere (Hong Kong?)

Damien Francois
Guest

This flag, this size, has nothing to do up there. Period.
I took a photo of myself on the summit of Everest last May 23rd, with a… flag, the NEPAL FLAG!

Farman Ali
Guest

It’s indeed a bad taste. a cheap publicity stunt and shouldn’t be encouraged to deface the beauty of nature for corporate greed and profit.

Farman Ali
Guest

It’s a bad taste indeed and a cheap publicity stunt; It shouldn’t be encouraged. I think it is tantamount to deface the beauty of nature for corporate greed and profit.

Not an Everest Climber
Guest
Not an Everest Climber

Nirmal is a narcissistic ego-driven individual. So he has climbed all 14 in record time but his ego is just too big. He should shut up and keep it quiet.

Paul Tompkins
Guest

Take the scenario one hypothetical step further. Climbers in sponsored expeditions often decorate their down suits with the logos of their chief sponsoring organizations, on par with the scale of compact national flags flown at the summit. What if a sponsored expedition wished to unfurl a giant corporate logo over the summit? Are there permit regulations forbidding advertising on such a scale? Such an act would seem the lowest low of distastefulness. Is it allowed under current rules?

ronald
Guest

Was it bad taste and a bad publicity stunt, i guess it was. If i can guess i think the Kuwaiti paid him a large amount for this, which he accepted. He is an inspiration for a lot of climbers and he will probably have learned from this experience and not do a stunt like this again. Dont be to hard on the man, we all do stupid things one time or another.