Nirmal Purja’s 14x8x7 and the limit of Altitude Tourism

189 days is the time it took Nirmal Purja “Nims” and his team to climb the 14 principal summits above 8000 meters.

Nims, a former Gorka soldier and UK navy special forces, was born near Dhaulagiri, and this was the first 8000m he summited in 2014. 5 years later he announced his Project Possible with the goal of summiting the 14 principal eight-thousander’s in half a year. At that point not many believe in his sucess, but 6 month and a few days after he standed in the top of Shishapangma proving they were wrong.

The project had as many fans as detractors, because the style Nims used to climb the mountains was far from alpine style, using supplemental oxygen, fixed ropes, helicopter transfers and pre-set camps from commercial expeditions. But Nims never claimed the wish to do his project with a particular style but to use all the necesary ressources to achieve it, and he nailed it! Huge congrats to him and his team!!

The “Precedents”?

The first time a eight thousand summit was climbed was in 1950 when the French Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal summited Annapurna. 3 years later Herman Buhl climbed for the first time Nanaga Parbat without supplemental oxygen and in a semi-alpine style. Many of the first ascents to 8000’ers were climbed with supplemental oxygen and an expedition style. In 1978 Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climb Everest without oxygen and in alpine style, showing that it was possible to climb all the summits without the need of PED’s.

It was also Messner the first one to complete the 14×8000 when he reached Lhotse in 1986, 16 years after his first ascent in the rupral face of Nanga Parbat. All without supplemental oxygen, many of them in alpine style. in 7 of the ascents he was setting a new route and 2 of them alone. One year after Jerzy Kukuczka repeat the achievement, spending only seven years, 11 months and 14 days to complete it. 10 of those climbs were new routes, almost all in alpine style, some alone. 4 of them were winter ascents (3 first winter ascents) and one ski descent. Only Everest climbed with supplemental oxygen via a new route in the south-east pillar. Almost 10 years after Erhard Loretan became the 3rd one to set foot in all those mountains. In a strict alpine style and another dozen of new routes.

The faster to climb the 14 8000ers to that point was the korean Kim Chang-ho, in seven years, 10 months and six days. He did-it without using supplementary oxygen, In his approach in mountains like Everest where Kim used 60 days to reach the Base Camp, using “kayak, bicycle and foot” rather than flying to Lukla we can see he wasn’t looking for speed. None of those achievements can be compared, even if Kim climbed one month faster than Kukuczka none were speed oriented. Nims project was. Since the begining he said his goal was to climb those summits in half a year, and the style wasn’t a priority, so trying to compare whith its precedents is apples and oranges.

Why what Nims did is interesting?

I think Nims project was very interesting for different facts, like Kipchoge‘s Breaking 2 or INEOS 159, running the marathon distance under 2 hours. On both projects Eliud run a marathon distance but did-it not following the same rules others (and himself) face during an oficial marathon, as he had a car with a laser marking the pace to follow, an aerodynamic formation of pacers doing relays, a shoe with advanced technology and the choosing of the perfect day. Eliud didn’t want to break a (his) world record (subject to IAAF rules) but explore how fast his body could go in a marathon, using all (except doping) possible external help. Nims Project Possible was on the same direction, the goal of 14/7 was above any style restriction, the use of oxygen, dropping the altitude your body is feeling, decreasing the cold and speeding recovery, fixed ropes and heli transferts was the only way he believe possible to achieve the project. We can say Nims achievement had nothing to do with alpinism but was the top game of altitude tourism. The real fact is that more than the 90% of the ascents to those mountains are made with the use of supplemental oxygen and/or commercial expedirtion style (fixed ropes, pre-set camps, porters…) so what Nims did shows the upper limit of this alpinism tourism. If climbing today a 8000 via the normal route with oxygen and in a expedition style is not interesting for the alpinism, to climb it in only 6 month and a few days requires a exceptional talent in different areas; The logistics to go from mountain to mountain, have teams of strong climbers and staff in each one of them, the gear ready and in place, shedule, financing, permits, Base and mountain camps, and a big etcetera is very complexe and him and the Seven Summits Treks agency did an incredible work. Also to be 6 month “on the zone” climbing, but also thinking logistics, looking weather forecasts, dealing with gouvenrments for permits, going up, down and without any rest go up again in a exposed terrain is hard, physically but mostly mentally, is a very long time managing a huge stress and Nirmal excelled at it.

It is very interesting also Simone Moro thoughts that what Nims did will put on great prespective other “achivements” on the same style:

And most important of all, Nims set a very positive precedent for Nepali climbers.

Until today, with few exceptions, Nepali climbers climbed mountains working, mostly for occidentals, and media attention and glory was not focusing on them. Talking with a few nepali mountain guide’s freinds they show the enthusiasm and proud of Nims project, because they saw that is also possible for them to have the media attention, the financing from sponsors and to make their own projects. I believe Nims will open a door to those climbers like him, Tenji Sherpa (Everest without O2, Cholatse NF in alpine style) Nima Tenji Sherpa, Tashi Sherpa, Dawa Gyalje Sherpa ( new routes in 6000ers in Rolwaling)… to do more projects, because they have the knowledge of those mountains like nobody else, they acclimatize so good and after many years at the shadow of occidental climbers and clients its their time, and hopefully that inspiration makes them the wish to climb also in alpine style. For the moment Nims announced that his winter he will go to K2, this time without O2. Time to Punk!

Nims 14 summits and the date on which he reached the summit:

  1. Annapurna – April 23
  2. Dhaulagiri – May 12
  3. Kangchenjunga – May 15
  4. Lhotse – May 22
  5. Everest – May 22
  6. Makalu – May 24
  7. Nanga Parbat – July 3
  8. Gasherbrum I – July 15
  9. Gasherbrum II – July 18
  10. K2 – July 24
  11. Broad Peak – July 26
  12. Cho Oyu – September 23
  13. Manaslu – September 27
  14. Shishapangma – October 29

The Eight-thousander’s

All lists are arbitrary, and isn’t different about the 14x8000m. This altitude (8000m or 26246.72 ft) isn’t a physiological bareer, the effort of climbing Gyachung Kang, Annapurna II or Gashebrum’s III and IV is probably the same as Shishapangma, but it is true that climbing around 8000 meters and higher puts the body into a environment that is physiologically very interesting, and nowere else you can feel that. This mountaisn are located all in the Hymalayan-Karakoram massif. From east to west we find Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma, Manaslu, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri in the Hymalaya and Gashebrum I, II, Broad Peak, K2 and Nanga Parbat in the Karakoram. It is interesting that when we talk about 8000ers we talk about 14 summits. Technically it is 14 ranges with summits higher than 8000 meters, but taking this logic, in the Alps we would count 39-40 summits over 4000 meters, but everybody counts up to 82 four thousanders, taking in consideration not only the main summits of each range but all the summits with a prominence of at least 30m (some even less like the Aiguilles du Diable, the pointe Croz…). The classic list of 14 summits of 8000m takes in consideration only the main summit of each mountain range, but in reality there are 36 summits over eight thousand meters, and 8 of them are still unclimbed!!

Broad Peak Central8011
Kangchenjunga W-Peak(Yalung Kang)8505
Kangchenjunga S-Peak8476
Kangchenjunga C-Peak8473
Lhotse C-Peak I8410
Lhotse Shar8382
K2 SW-Peak8580
Lhotse C-Peak II (u)8372
Everest W-Peak8296
Yalung Kang Shoulder (u)8200
Kangchenjunga SE-Peak (u)8150
K2 P. 8134 (SW-Ridge) (u)8134
Annapurna C-Peak8013
Nanga Parbat S-Peak8042
Annapurna E-Peak7986
Shisha Pangma C-Peak8008
Everest NE-Shoulder (u)8423
Everest NE-Pinnacle III8383
Lhotse N-Pinnacle III (u)8327
Lhotse N-Pinnacle II (u)8307
Lhotse N-Pinnacle I (u)8290
Everest NE-Pinnacle II8282