Early yesterday morning, 36-year-old Nirmal “Nims” Purja and his team reached the summit of Tibet’s 26,289-foot-tall Shishapangma mountain, setting a new speed record for climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks. The feat took the former soldier six months and six days—an astounding seven years faster than the previous recordholder’s time.
“I am overwhelmed and incredibly proud to have completed this final summit and achieved my goal of climbing the world’s 14 tallest mountains in record time,” the climber says in a statement. “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. I could not have made it happen without the unending support of my friends and family who have been in my heart this entire time. We started with nothing, but look how far we’ve come.”
As Outside’s Anna Callaghan reports, Purja grew up in Narayanghat, a Nepalese town less than 1,000 feet above sea level. Comparatively, most elite Nepalese and Sherpa mountaineers hail from the high Himalayas.
Purja joined the Gurkha Brigade, a unique unit of the British Army, at age 18. He spent six years with the unit and another 10 with the British special forces.
It wasn’t until 2012, however, that he grew interested in mountaineering. Tired of telling people he had never seen Mount Everest, Purja decided to visit the Everest base camp. Upon reaching the site, he was so impressed that he convinced a guide to take him up the nearby 20,000-foot-tall Lobuche East. Hooked, the burgeoning climber scaled Himalayan mountains whenever he had free time, taking on more and more challenging peaks every year.
After retiring from the military last March, Purja remortgaged his house and funneled all of his savings toward the so-called Project Possible campaign, an ambitious attempt to climb all 14 of Earth’s 8,000-meter mountains in record-breaking time.
“When I joined the special forces it was never for the money,” Purja tells Callaghan. “It was for pure desire to serve in an elite unit. It’s the same principle now. I’m following my heart.”
According to NPR’s Merrit Kennedy, Purja summited the 14 peaks with a rotating support team of experienced Nepalese climbers. He climbed Annapurna, the world’s 10th tallest mountain, in April and took on five Nepalese peaks in May. While at Mount Everest, he even snapped a viral photograph of a long line of climbers waiting to ascend the over-trafficked mountain’s final summit.
In July, Purja tackled five peaks in Pakistan, including K2, the world’s second highest mountain—and its deadliest. In September, he successfully climbed Cho Oyu and Manaslu.
Per BBC News, Purja’s final climb was delayed by a month while he waited for permission to climb Tibet’s sacred Mount Shishapangma. Thanks to a push by the Nepalese government, he received his permit on October 15.
Purja claims a title previously held by South Korean climber Kim Chang-Ho, who completed a nearly eight-year campaign in 2013. The mountaineer was one of nine climbers killed when a freak snow storm hit Nepal’s Mount Gurja in October 2018.
In addition to breaking the speed record, Purja and his team set records for most 8,000-meter peaks climbed in one spring and most climbed in one summer, as well as fastest climb of the three highest and five highest mountains in the world. The team also rescued four distressed climbers encountered on various mountains.
Alan Hinkes, the first British person to climb all 14 “Death Zone” mountains, tells the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont that Purja’s achievement is remarkable.
“Even getting up Everest is a big challenge, and it is very well set up,” Hinkes says. “Doing the others is far more challenging. You have to be able to suffer to climb an 8,000er. It’s almost beyond description how difficult it is. Your head feels like it’s bursting and you are gasping for air.”
He adds, “Nims is superbly fit, both physically and mentally—the right man at the right time. There is a little bit of luck. He had a good spell of weather in the [notoriously unsettled] Karakoram. But you make your own luck as well.”
According to the New York Times’ Megan Specia, Purja credits the feat to his natural physique and military experience, explaining that his time in the military taught him the skills needed to tackle the logistical challenge of setting up 14 major climbs in just six months.
Purja is taking a little time off to celebrate, but he won’t have long to savor his triumph. As the Associated Press reports, the mountaineer—who is planning on writing a book about his experiences—is scheduled to guide clients through the Himalayas later this week.