CLOSINGS: View Closings

As he scaled world's 14 highest peaks, Nepalese climber shocked by climate change effects

There are 14 8,000m peaks in the world -- "death zone" mountains. Nirmal 'Nims' Purja. set a world record by climbing them all in six months and six days.

Posted: Dec 6, 2019 3:10 PM
Updated: Dec 6, 2019 3:10 PM

A former special forces soldier has taken the notion that "records are meant to be broken" to a whole new level.

Nepalese climber Nirmal "Nims" Purja smashed the record for taking the shortest time to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter-high mountains (about 26,300 feet).

The previous mark was just under eight years, but Purja took six months and six days, even finding time to rescue several fellow climbers. He also had to contend with having his oxygen stolen while on Lhotse, a neighboring peak to Mt. Everest.

Earlier this year, Purja shot to prominence when he photographed the "traffic jam" on the upper slopes of Everest (8,848m/29,029 feet) -- bringing global attention to the mountain's overcrowding.

But during his expeditions, the 36-year-old Purja says has also became acutely aware of the environmental changes the world is undergoing.

Over the space of a few years, the Nepalese has climbed several mountains in the Himalayas more than once. In doing so, Purja says he has seen the damaging effect of global warming.

"I climbed Dhaulagiri (8,167m) in 2014 and I went back again this year, the glacier is melting," Purja told CNN Sport. "You can see a huge difference. And even on Everest as well, the Khumbu glacier.

"In 2014, I climbed Ama Dablam (6,812m). In 2018, I was there again to climb Ama Dablam but the difference was that in 2014 we had snow at camp one, which we could melt and obviously cook food and drink.

"But in 2018, it was completely different. We had to carry gallons and gallons of water from the base camp. It was so hard. At that point, I realized this is really not on, and I have been raising awareness about it. The Earth is our home and we should look after it."

READ: Everest deaths: 'Corners are being massively cut'

Bigger than him

Purja scaled the first peak of his record attempt -- the notoriously treacherous Annapurna 1 (8,091m) -- on April 23 and his last -- Tibet's Shishapangma (8,027m) -- on October 29.

With the help of his team, whom he now calls "brothers," Purja broke another seven world records during "Project Possible."

"The whole project, and I've said from day one, wasn't about me," he said.

"It's about showing the world, our generation and the generation that comes ahead that anything in life is possible. The project was to establish a paradigm shift in perception of human potential."

He also wanted to highlight the skills of Nepal's Sherpa people and the homegrown climbing community.

"Even though they were top climbers, they didn't get the right recognition," he added. "Hopefully, I thought I could uplift their names."

READ: 'If he slips, he falls. If he falls, he dies' -- Climbing 3,000 feet without ropes

The importance of the mind

Previously, the fastest-known time for conquering the "8,000ers" was seven years, 10 months and six days, a record set by South Korean Kim Chang-ho in 2013.

Kim broke the first known record -- set by Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka in 1987 -- by a month and eight days.

Climbing just one "8,000er," let alone all 14, is challenging enough given climbers are exposed to the "death zone" -- a mountaineering term that describes altitudes over about 8,000m where the human body is exposed to insufficient levels of oxygen.

In the build-up to Purja's attempt -- which he describes as an "extremely, horrendously good experience" -- he found he couldn't do much psychological preparation.

"I don't think you can really mentally prepare," he said. "There's not really set goals to it. In bigger missions like this, there will be so many obstacles, hurdles. There will be situations where you're like, 'OK, it's enough.' But if you just work around it, you need to have a positive mindset.

"My oxygen was stolen on Lhotse (8,516m) when I was going for the world record. If I would have gotten mad and said, 'Oh, somebody stole my oxygen,' and [been] just blaming people and just losing control of my mind, that would have a negative effect.

"But what I thought was I had to physically and positively inject in my mind for me to believe, 'Hey, that oxygen could have been used to save someone's life.'

"That's the positive message I had to feed through in my brain by myself in order to mitigate the negatives."

READ: Swiss climbs 1,800-foot vertical rock face in record time... without a safety rope

Helping others

Purja is a relatively inexperienced climber in comparison with his peers, having only completed his first major climb in 2012.

Previously a Gurkha soldier -- a Nepalese contingent of the British Army -- Purja progressed to the Special Boat Service (SBS), a British special forces unit under the auspices of the UK's Royal Navy, eventually quitting the military in 2018 as a Lance Corporal.

Since focusing on climbing completely, Purja admits that he's become "addicted," partly because it has helped put things into perspective. Such was his love for the expedition, he's also had the 14 "8,000ers" tattooed across his back.

"When I was in the Special Forces, you do really high value tasks," he recalls. "But the joy and the stuff and the pride that you do in that point was still the same, but nobody knew about it then.

"I still had three world records when I was in the Special Forces. Nobody knew, but now it's out and everybody kind of knew about it. Being completely honest, I don't really like this kind of popular life, but hey, I think it's part of life now."

Whilst speed was obviously of the essence during Purja's effort, the safety of the other climbers was always his priority.

The former soldier and his team also carried out a number of daring rescues, often putting their own lives in danger.

READ: The world's first ski descent of K2

Just days into his journey, Purja and his team rescued Malaysian climber Chin Wui Kin after he had been reported missing on Annapurna.

"We opened the route that has never been climbed since 1970, summitted, got back to base camp and it was only three hours," he remembers. "We made the decision that we're not going to go to our next mountain, even though for this project, I had sacrificed my job, my pension, sold my house, everything.

"But for me, nothing is more important than life. We went and conducted the rescue. From where we're dropping down to where he was, on the summit day, it had taken us 18 hours to reach there, but actually when we did the rescue, we took only four hours.

"We were giving 100% of everything we had. We brought him down alive."

Tragically, after initially being treated in a hospital in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, Chin was airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, where he eventually succumbed to his injuries.

A band of brothers

Purja has been assisted during the remarkable 189-day feat by his all-Nepalese team, comprised of some of his most trusted climbing companions.

On top of helping Purja, his team have also been able to break their own records. One of his colleagues, Mingma David Sherpa, became the youngest person to complete all 14 peaks at the age of 30.

But after spending so much time together, Purja believes they are more than a team now.

"We started as a team, but now we are like brothers, we are like a family," he explains. "The bond and the relationship we have is unique.

"We kind of have a similar mortal mindset and aim. Everybody didn't really think that it was 'Nims' project', everybody thought that this is 'our project.'

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features, and videos

"Some of the guys have climbed eight 8,000-meter peaks with me and that's an opportunity for them as well. Soon I think most of my team should finish all the 14 highest mountains."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 333626

Reported Deaths: 3843
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin700691145
Ramsey29459521
Dakota23564198
Anoka23541236
Washington14864125
Stearns14564125
St. Louis9549121
Scott896460
Wright847548
Olmsted714637
Sherburne618746
Clay529960
Carver509715
Kandiyohi440828
Rice432338
Blue Earth431217
Crow Wing383339
Otter Tail338925
Chisago334516
Benton322753
Nobles316032
Winona297832
Douglas283040
Mower274823
Polk271527
Morrison246731
McLeod233721
Lyon232812
Beltrami230718
Goodhue222932
Becker221521
Steele21038
Itasca206324
Isanti203917
Carlton201417
Todd190314
Nicollet172126
Mille Lacs164632
Freeborn16227
Le Sueur157012
Brown156115
Cass153511
Pine14498
Meeker144812
Waseca143411
Roseau13035
Martin124721
Hubbard119729
Wabasha11301
Redwood104620
Chippewa9808
Renville95530
Cottonwood9454
Dodge9311
Watonwan8944
Wadena8637
Sibley8404
Rock8249
Houston8004
Aitkin79930
Fillmore7690
Pipestone76518
Pennington7058
Yellow Medicine69612
Kanabec68614
Swift63610
Murray6124
Faribault6093
Pope5721
Clearwater55410
Marshall5459
Stevens5403
Jackson5321
Lake4518
Koochiching4216
Wilkin4175
Lac qui Parle4124
Lincoln3811
Unassigned38159
Norman3718
Big Stone3392
Mahnomen3225
Grant2986
Kittson2518
Red Lake2303
Traverse1531
Lake of the Woods1071
Cook800

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 237371

Reported Deaths: 2571
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk34873347
Linn14787169
Scott1184692
Black Hawk11288147
Woodbury10763137
Johnson985939
Dubuque947999
Story701924
Pottawattamie682474
Dallas661260
Sioux383829
Webster378339
Cerro Gordo373252
Marshall360950
Clinton345645
Buena Vista316614
Muscatine305172
Des Moines300623
Warren294115
Plymouth287044
Wapello265072
Jones237118
Jasper231546
Lee228719
Marion211922
Carroll204325
Bremer202713
Henry19367
Crawford183116
Benton175423
Tama157442
Jackson151117
Washington150216
Delaware147621
Dickinson145812
Boone144912
Mahaska133928
Wright13107
Clay12505
Buchanan123410
Hardin122812
Hamilton119514
Page11925
Kossuth11768
Clayton115510
Cedar114614
Harrison113432
Floyd111921
Mills11129
Calhoun10987
Fayette109812
Lyon10769
Butler10748
Winneshiek105513
Poweshiek103714
Iowa101414
Cherokee9674
Winnebago96325
Chickasaw9195
Hancock9138
Sac9068
Louisa90122
Grundy89514
Allamakee88413
Cass84725
Union8437
Mitchell8429
Appanoose81613
Humboldt8125
Shelby80511
Emmet79026
Guthrie78315
Franklin76421
Jefferson7635
Madison7265
Unassigned7090
Palo Alto6744
Keokuk6567
Pocahontas6024
Howard5859
Ida54915
Osceola5461
Greene5422
Montgomery51411
Clarke5064
Davis4839
Taylor4833
Monona4567
Adair4539
Monroe45113
Worth3881
Fremont3823
Van Buren3815
Decatur3410
Lucas3416
Audubon3112
Wayne3087
Ringgold2432
Adams1812
Rochester
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 33°
Mason City
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 28°
Albert Lea
Clear
34° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 30°
Austin
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 37°
Charles City
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 30°
A Quiet Weekend Ahead
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Red Kettle Challenge

Image

Gun Deer season starts in Iowa

Image

Albert Lea church taking in displaced residents

Image

Rochester Area Foundation Virtual Event

Image

Path for economic recovery

Image

Sean's Weather 12/4

Image

13 homes evacuated due to Albert Lea blaze

Image

Property Taxes to Decrease for Most Olmsted County Homeowners

Image

Property Tax Decrease in Olmsted County

Image

MSHSL announces return to participation plan for winter, spring sports

Community Events