Mingma G and Nirmal Purja Race to Complete All 8,000’ers No-O2

Nirmal Purja and Mingma G are both vying to become the first Nepali to summit all 14×8,000’ers without oxygen.

So when the weather turned poor on Cho Oyu on Monday, neither Mingma G of Imagine Nepal nor Nirmal Purja of EliteExped turned back.

Both currently have 13, as they now head toward their final peak, Shishapangma. They’ll reach Base Camp today. If the weather improves by Friday, as predicted, they could top out this weekend.

A team outfitted by Seven Summit Treks has been on Shishapangma since last week.  (Some Chinese expeditions may also be there.) Given the earlier good weather, the normal route should be at least partly fixed by now. In any case, Shishapangma’s normal route traditionally only needs fixed ropes on some short sections.

Below, EliteExped’s Cho Oyu summit video.

While Mingma G has often gone without supplemental oxygen during his 17-year career as a guide, Purja only started climbing that way after he completed his first 14 8,000’ers (all with O2).

After the long COVID break, Purja claimed that his first no-O2 8,000’er was winter K2, in January 2021. Since then, he has climbed most of the 8,000’ers on which he guides without bottled gas. In May 2022, he summited Kangchenjunga, Everest, and Lhotse without O2 in 8 days, 23 hours, and 10 minutes, according to Wikipedia.

In the last 14 days, Purja has chain-climbed Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, and Cho Oyu, all without oxygen.

Mingma G

Below, Mingma G’s no-O2 Manaslu summit on September 21:

Yesterday, Mingma G shared his thoughts with ExplorersWeb.
“I only had Shishapangma [which China closed to foreigners for years] left to complete the challenge. Otherwise, I would have finished long ago, because I summited nearly all the 8,000’ers without O2 before 2018,” Mingma G said.
But he then noted an important factor. “I used O2 on Everest in 2018 and on other peaks after. This was because I realized that continuously climbing 8,000m peaks without O2 damaged brain cells. I started quickly forgetting things; someone had to remind me where I had left my keys minutes before, etc.”
Mingma G also said that the altitude exposure effect on 8,000m guides is different from that on clients. Professionals climb three or more peaks annually, working every year. Clients typically climb one or two peaks a year and very few climb without O2, so they have plenty of time to recover. In the Cho Oyu team, besides Mingma G and Purja, only Pakistani Sirbaz Khan climbed without O2.

Sirbaz Khan also summited Manaslu no-O2 11 days earlier. He hopes to finish the trio on Shishapangma. That would make him the first Pakistani to complete the 14×8,000’ers. However, Khan did use oxygen on three of them.

Women’ category

Dawa on an unidentified summit.

Dawa Yangzum Sherpa. Photo: Imagine Nepal


The week could also see the first female Nepali on the 14×8,000’ers list: Dawa Yangzum Sherpa. A resident of the U.S. but born in Rolwaling, she will try to finish her quest on Shishapangma. Also with 13, and trying to become the first American women to join the 14×8,000’ers club, are Anna Gutu, a client with EliteExped, and Gina Rzucidlo with 8K Expeditions.

Han-Lee on Cho Oyu summit in a clear but progressively cloudier day.

Gina Marie Han-Lee summited Cho Oyu on October 1, one day earlier than Anna Gutu. Photo: 8K Expeditions


Sherpas in the no-O2 race

In a strict sense, both Nirmal Purja and Mingma G were leading their teams and guiding when they summited without O2. Besides their endurance, they could afford to go without gas because their bigger teams had enough personnel so that other sherpas on oxygen could fully support the clients.

Since the sherpas’ job is to ensure their clients’ safety as much as possible, they usually all use supplementary O2, the better to help if something goes wrong.

At the same time, they know that a no-O2 climb looks good on a resumé. Many just want to try, especially on familiar mountains. In this case, they first need their client’s agreement and to take extra precautions. They typically carry a backup mask and bottle in case of unforeseen trouble. Neither Purja nor Mingma G has shared details about whether they (or someone in their team) carried backup oxygen.

Close shot (selfie) of Pemba with down jacket and sunglases, other climbers behind him.

File image of Pemba Gelje Sherpa, who climbed Manaslu in 12 hours last week. Photo: Pemba Gelje/Instagram


More sherpas are seizing the opportunity to stretch their limits. On Manaslu, for instance, several guides climbed without O2, including Mingtemba Sherpa and Pasang Nurbu Sherpa.

A young generation of sherpas are improving their skills with international accreditations. This new generation will eventually showcase the sherpas’ full potential. For instance, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa also summited Manaslu last week without O2 and smashed the previous speed record on the mountain by a whole hour.

Finally, Mingma G and Nirmal Purja, as expedition leaders, may have another advantage compared to other sherpas or independent climbers who go without O2 or personal sherpa support: weight. Leaders don’t need to carry any gear. Meanwhile, rank-and-file sherpas usually climb heavily loaded. On a no-O2 effort, every gram counts.

Records and new lists debate

As a final note, here is an interesting point for those following the debate about Guinness World Records, 8,000’ers.com, and the “real summit” lists it compiled. If Purja and Mingma summit Shishapangma, they would enter the 8000ers.com list as only the third and fourth people to summit all 14 without oxygen, after Ed Viesturs and Veikka Gustafsson. The list only considers whether O2 was used or not, and whether they reached the true summit.No other factors, such as style or support, are included.

When Reinhold Messner, the original first no-O2 summiter of the 14×8,000’ers, climbed, he did so without any support, fixed ropes, or packed trail — and definitely no backup oxygen.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.