Reflections While Waiting for News from Shishapangma

More than 12 hours have passed since Nirmal Purja, Mingma Gyabu (David) Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang reached the summit of Shishapangma. The incredible feat of summiting all 14 8,000m peaks in six months and six days has captured worldwide attention. Purja and Mingma David now occupy positions 43 and 44 on this elite summit list, with Purja by far the fastest, and Mingma the youngest, at 30 years old.

At ExplorersWeb, we are anxiously awaiting word that the climbers have safely returned to Base Camp, or at least to some higher camp. As every mountaineer knows, the summit is only half-way home. The high winds and heavy snows of recent days have may have created difficult conditions, especially in their isolated circumstances.

Soon enough, there will be time to check details and reflect on this new page in the history of high-altitude climbing. The mountaineer’s ultimate tick list, which not long ago was itself barely more than a fantasy, has been accomplished within 189 days of a single climbing year.

In many ways, of course, comparing Purja’s effort with previous times is unfair. Kim Chang Ho of South Korea and Jerzy Kukuczka were not racing when they took seven-years-plus to complete the feat. Kukuczka’s climbs, in particular, included three winter firsts, and he did not use supplementary O2 except on Everest. The resources, technology and equipment that this child of the Cold War had at his disposal cannot be compared either to the logistical machinery that Purja employed.

On the other hand, Purja has actually never tried to compare himself with anyone or claim that he was “faster than”. His has been a strictly personal quest.

From a climbing purist’s perspective, Purja’s achievement possibly relies too much on logistics — custom helicopter shuttles, a strong team and plenty of O2 when needed. He also had good luck with weather and conditions. But applying a strict climbing perspective wouldn’t be fair to Purja either, because it ignores the enormity of his accomplishment. He needed not only determination, fitness and skill, but good use of risk management and even diplomatic clout to score that final, elusive permit for Shishapangma. Finally, the Nepali climber showed great leadership and an endless capacity for suffering. As he successfully notched each peak and the end goal came into sight, the pressure must have been tremendous.

He has made people around the world, including mountaineers, think twice about what is possible. And he fulfilled the promise that he laid out in his seemingly insane proposal. Glorious dreams made real always give light and hope.

Now let’s wait till he is back in a safer place, ready to tell us his story.

Related article:

Breaking: Purja Summits Shishapangma

Edited 10/30 to reflect Kukuczka’s use of O2 on Everest.