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11 of the best mountaineers on the planet right now
Mountaineering is as extreme as it gets – but tackling perilous ridges in ‘the death zone’ is just another day at the office for these world-class climbers.
Making a mark in mountaineering is getting tougher. The highest and most remote peaks on the planet have long been reached but that doesn’t mean there are fewer challenges for modern mountaineers. Far from it in fact.
From multiple summits of Mount Everest to high-speed traverses across the towering spires of Patagonia, there is always a new achievement or a new record to be had.
The sport means different things to different people. It’s about style, independence, small groups, good lines, single pushes and – for some – doing it all without oxygen. There are hidden heroes everywhere pushing the boundaries all around the world and there are also legends that have been taken away too early by the sport they love.
That makes it tough to list the top mountaineers right now – but here are some of those with the most impressive or most famous achievements...
1. Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja
- Nationality: Nepali
- Born: 1983
- Instagram: nimsdai
This 36-year-old blasted through the world’s 14 highest mountains in little more than six months in 2019 – which certainly gives him some pretty high credentials in the world of mountaineering.
The former Gurkha and soldier of the Special Boat Service (SBS) climbed Everest, Lhotse and Makalu within 2 days and 30 minutes and smashed the previous 14 summits record of seven years, 11 months and 14 days.
“International attention and sponsors rush easily towards foreign climbers but Nepalis don’t get such opportunities. I hope my climbs put a spotlight on the talented climbers here.”
2. Andrzej Bargiel
- Nationality: Polish
- Born: 1988
- Instagram: andrzejbargiel
Not only does this headline-hitting alpinist scale the toughest mountains at super-fast speed, Bargiel often skis back down them. In 2018 he became the first to ski down from the 8,611m high summit of K2 without removing his skis.
Before that, he'd done the same on Manaslu (8,163m), Broad Peak (8,051m) and Shishapangma (8,027m) and won the ‘Snow Leopard’ award for climbing the five highest peaks of the former Soviet Union.
Andrzej Bargiel's first descent of K2 on skis
He abandoned his attempt to climb and ski Everest in 2019 but will no doubt go again. “Today, I know that I’m able to compete with the best, break all records and ascend every summit.”
3. Denis Urubko
- Nationality: Russian/Polish
- Born: 1973
- Facebook: denisurubko
This speed climber has made 22 climbs on 8,000m high mountains in the last 20 years – and he’s not done ticking off new routes, starting the new decade with a winter attempt on the world’s 12th highest summit, Broad Peak.
He’s one of only eight climbers to have reached the top of all the world’s 8,000m mountains with no supplementary oxygen and has set countless new routes around the world including the Himalayas, Tien Shan and Patagonia.
His aim, according to a report on Twitter account @russianclimb, is to finish his career with a winter climb of the world’s second highest summit, K2.
4. Conrad Anker
- Nationality: American
- Born: 1962
- Facebook: Conrad Anker Official
Famous for finding George Mallory’s body on Mount Everest in 1999, Anker has achieved several alpine firsts including Meru, Vinson Massif, Ulvettana and El Capitan and has climbed summits from Alaska to Antarctica.
He led The North Face climbing team for 26 years, survived an avalanche in 1999 and overcame a heart attack while climbing Lunag Ri in 2016. That year, he also won Climbing Magazine’s Golden Pitons Lifetime Achievement.
“[In life] the first 20 years you’re getting taken care of, the next 20 define what you’re going to do, the next 20 is what you’re doing, the next 20 is: ‘what do you take that you’ve learned and turn that into something?’”
5. Colin Haley
- Nationality: American
- Born: 1984
- Instagram: colinhaley1
Haley specializes in fast ascents of technical routes and has so far made his biggest mark in the towering spires of Patagonia, with 16 trips to the region and two traverses of Torres del Paine, one in 24 hours with Alex Honnold.
He has also achieved notable new routes in North America, particularly in Alaska where he has set several record-slashing speed records up some of the region’s most impressive peaks.
“The mountains have always been my priority. I feel that every year I am improving as a climber, and I think that every year I become more dedicated and disciplined.”
6. Paul Ramsden
- Nationality: British
- Born: 1971
Winning one of France’s Piolet d’Or alpinism accolades is impressive, but Britain's Paul Ramsden has achieved FOUR – only, he prefers to stay under the radar and let his partners take the limelight.
His first three, with Mick Fowler, were on the North Face of Siguniang in China, the Prow of Shiva in India and Gave Ding in a remote region of Nepal. His fourth, with Nick Bullock, was a first ascent of a 7,000m peak in Tibet.
“As a mountaineer, when you are at your fittest you are at your least experienced and vice versa. It’s a balancing act. To succeed on unclimbed 7,000m peaks I think you need a lot of experience.”
7. Will Gadd
- Nationality: Canadian
- Born: 1967
- Instagram: realwillgadd
A specialist on ice, Gadd is a United Nations ‘Mountain Hero’ and is recognised for his spectacular icefall ascents on Helmcken Falls and Niagara Falls as well as his exploits in the mountains.
He achieved the first one-day ascent of the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mt Robson, doing it solo, and he continues to explore new rock, ice and alpine routes all over the world.
Will Gadd explores inside a glacier
“Everyone who is lucky enough to spend time in the mountains comes to feel a sense of ownership and investment in wild places. It’s pretty hard not to care about wild places after you’ve visited them.”
8. Kami Rita
- Nationality: Nepali
- Born: 1970
This legendary Sherpa is a Himalayan record breaker. He has scaled Mount Everest more times than anyone – 24 ascents, including two in one week in 2019 - and has also summated K2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu, Annapurna and Lhotse.
He was born in the same village as Tenzing Norgay and made his first ascent in 1994. Climbing is in the family – his father was one of the first pro Sherpa guides and his brother has also reached the summit 17 times.
“I treat every climb with the same sincerity as the first. Whenever a client is successful, it makes my day. I believe breaking records is just a by-product.”
9. Robert Jasper
- Nationality: German
- Born: 1968
- Instagram: robertjasper_official
Jasper describes himself as an “extreme alpinist” and has raised the level in his native Europe, Patagonia, the Himalayas and most recently Greenland, focusing on mixed terrain and ice and often going solo.
He first hit the headlines three decades ago when he climbed the three largest north faces in the Alps in record time and has since completed 17 different routes up the legendary Eiger – including a new one just last year.
“I practice various disciplines of alpinism and am therefore more like a decathlete. In climbing, you have to try to minimize risk but nevertheless step towards your passion, your adventures. That’s my philosophy.”
10. Simone Moro
- Nationality: Italian
- Born: 1967
- Facebook: SimoneMoroOfficial
Moro is the only alpinist to have reached four 8,000m peaks entirely in the winter season - Shisha Pangma, Makalu, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat. He also gets his kicks as a high altitude helicopter pilot and Wingsuit skydiver.
On his 16th winter expedition in 2019/20 he had a lucky escape when he fell into a half-metre wide bottomless crevasse while attempting a Gasherbrum traverse. Luckily, he was roped to partner Tamara Lunger and was rescued.
“Impossible doesn’t exist exactly as a limit. Something that was impossible some years ago represents the limits of that time. Now it is not impossible and the limit gets higher… dream high.”
11. Ed Viesturs
- Nationality: American
- Born: 1959
- Instagram: ed_viesturs
The master of high altitude, Viesturs is the only American to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. In fact, only four other climbers in the world (all Sherpas) have achieved more high-altitude ascents.
As well as his Himalayan climbs he has made three Denali ascents, seven Volcano climbs in Ecuador and Mexico, summated mountains in Antarctica and Russia and made more than 200 successful summits of Mount Rainier.
“Really ‘pushing it’ means relatively small teams and climbing without oxygen. Ultimately, though, most of us as mountaineers don’t really look to be placed on lists as ‘the greatest’ or ‘the best’...”