NYT Article Alleges Nirmal Purja Sexually Assaulted Fellow Climbers

Two women have gone on the record to accuse mountaineer Nirmal Purja of serious sexual misbehavior, according to reporting by The New York Times.

The story mentions several cases of women who have suffered from sexual abuse in outdoor sports. But at the core of the article, it presents the allegations against Purja, through the testimonies of experienced climber and former Miss Finland, Lotta Hintsa, and American doctor April Leonardo. Both describe “experiences in recent years in which he [Purja] kissed them without consent, made aggressive advances, or touched them sexually against their wishes,” reported The Times.

Purja denied these accusations in an Instagram post on Friday. (See bottom of story)

Sexual harassment

In the article, Hintsa recounts an episode of sexual aggression during a supposed business meeting at The Marriot in Kathmandu last year. April Leonardo, a client of Purja’s, allegedly suffered constant sexual harassment during a K2 expedition in 2022.

“It’s not only the rock fall or the avalanches that are dangerous for a female climber,” Hintsa told The New York Times.

ExplorersWeb has covered Hintsa in past stories. She started climbing full-time in 2018 and made several summer and winter expeditions, especially to Broad Peak.

Purja responded through his lawyers, denying all accusations as “false and defamatory.” We have emailed Purja’s spokesperson for further comments.

Brand impact

The women claim they have spoken up so that others don’t have to endure similar experiences.

The NYT story impacts not only Purja personally but also his valuable brand. Purja owns a guiding company, Elite Exped, and a clothing brand. He has his name on collections by Grivel and Nike, is one of a very select group of Red Bull athletes, is a member of the prestigious Order of the British Empire, and has an honorary doctorate from Loughborough University.

But recently, Purja and Elite Exped have been the focus of varying controversies on Everest. In the last two weeks, several articles in local Nepali media accused the mountaineer of improper permitting, though Elite Exped substantiated there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

And this week, Purja took to social media to claim that the ropes had been cut on the upper slopes of Everest just as he was about to lead a team to the summit. Fellow outfitters denied the accusation, and an investigation is now ongoing.

More generally, the allegations cast a spotlight on the entire high-altitude climbing community. As Hintsa said, a base camp should be a safe point to return to from the summit, not an added risk.

Purja’s Instagram post:

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.