Current Affairs

World’s 14 highest peaks in 6 months: Nirmal Purja smashes climbing record

Megan Specia

Nirmal-Purja

A Nepali climber has reached the summit of the world’s 14 highest mountains in just over six months, setting a record for a feat that took other climbers years to complete.

The climber, Nirmal Purja, 36, completed his goal early Tuesday morning when he reached the top of Shishapangma in Tibet along with a Sherpa team.

“Mission Achieved!” was the simple message he relayed in a post on social media.

 

“It has been a grueling but humbling six months, and I hope to have proven that anything is possible with some determination, self-belief and positivity,” Mr. Purja said in a statement.

A spokesman for Seven Summit Treks, a Nepal-based company that helped organize some of Mr. Purja’s expeditions, said by phone that it was in touch with his climbing team and confirmed that he had reached the top of Shishapangma.

The attempt to be the fastest to reach the top of all the world’s known mountains over 8,000 meters, or about 26,350 feet, which Mr. Purja called Project Possible, started in April, when he scaled Annapurna. He then quickly tackled the 13 remaining mountains, all of which are in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges that stretch across China, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

Climbing the world’s 8,000ers, as they are known, requires time in the so-called death zone, an altitude at which reduced oxygen levels make it difficult for humans to breathe effectively and where climbers can die.

The previous speed record for scaling all 14 peaks was held by Kim Chang-ho of South Korea, who completed his climbs in seven years, 10 months and six days. He narrowly broke an earlier record held by Jerzy Kukuczka of Poland, who took seven years, 11 months and 14 days.

Mr. Kim later died in a storm on the Mount Gurja in Nepal, and Mr. Kukuczka died in 1989 while trying to scale the south face of Lhotse in Nepal.

A member of Mr. Purja’s team said she was still awaiting news of a safe descent, and said he would be out of contact for several hours while he made his way back down the mountain.

Mr. Purja drew worldwide attention to his attempt in May, when he posted a photo of a traffic jam of climbers near the summit of Mount Everest.

Mr. Purja managed to reach the top of Everest — a climb he has made several times — but it was an exceptionally deadly season on the world’s tallest peak, with 11 people dying during the window of several weeks with favorable conditions for climbing. At the time, he spoke from Everest base camp about the risks associated with climbing at such high altitudes.

“The mountains draw people, always have and always will,” he said in a message. “Everest is the highest mountain and has the highest draw. You can’t blame climbers for wanting to summit. You can’t blame guides for leading them.”

He said an exceptionally short climbing window also limited the days that climbers could make a final push to the summit.

But he noted that some people were taking unnecessary risks and said that the number of permits, expeditions, guides and climbers needed to be better regulated.

“The most important thing is safety — every person on the mountain, not just your own,” Mr. Purja said.

The government of Nepal is planning new restrictions on permits to climb Mount Everest in an effort to limit traffic on the mountain. Mr. Purja took part in four unplanned rescues during his attempt at the 14 climbs.

He said the idea to try to break the 14-summit record came to him in 2017 when he achieved three speed records on peaks above 8,000 meters.

That year, Mr. Purja achieved the fastest consecutive climbs of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu, in a total of five days; the fastest time from the summit of Everest to the summit of Lhotse, in 10 hours 15 minutes; and he was the first person to reach the summit of Everest twice, Lhotse once and Makalu once in a single push, taking a total of 17 days.

“On completion of these I felt tired, but not completely drained,” he said. “This got me thinking about my physiology and what I could achieve if I really pushed myself.”

High-altitude mountaineering can be expensive, with costs for equipment and guides costing tens of thousands of dollars. Mr. Purja said he had found it difficult early on to obtain sponsorship for his attempt, but eventually the luxury British watchmaker Bremont financed his efforts.

Nick English, a co-founder of the watch brand, offered his “huge congratulations” to Mr. Purja on Tuesday.

“I don’t think we will see it again in our lifetime,” Mr. English wrote in a post on social media.

Mr. Purja credits his endurance to his natural physiology and to his intense military training. He had served in the British armed forces for 16 years before leaving to attempt the record, including 10 years in the special forces. He was a member of the Brigade of Gurkhas — a unit made up of Nepali citizens that has been part of the British military for more than 200 years.

“I looked at the logistical problems that climbing all these peaks posed and worked out they can be achieved in one season,” he said in an earlier message. “Many people have the physiology but I believe my experiences as a member of the U.K. special forces unit — the Special Boat Service — gives me an unequaled edge.”

Source: The New York Times

Published on 29 October 2019

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