Nirmal Purja© Sandro Gromen-Hayes/Nimsdai
Mountaineering
Meet Nirmal Purja: the elite mountaineer making the impossible possible
Following his successful summit of the world's second-highest mountain in the depths of winter, the former Gurkha reflects on tackling the last great mountaineering challenge.
Written by Matt Ogborn
Published on
When it comes to mountaineering, it seems nothing is impossible for Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja MBE. Ever since the former Gurkha and soldier in the UK's Special Boat Service completed his first major climb, reaching the summit of Lobuche East in 2012, he’s conquered every challenge presented to him – breaking numerous records in the process.
In 2019 he set himself the daunting task of summiting all 14 of the world’s 8,000m mountains in seven months. At the time the record for climbing these peaks was just under eight years. He completed in just six months and six days.
This year Nims set out to tackle the last great mountaineering challenge – summiting K2 in winter. Standing 8,611m above sea level, only 280 people had reached the summit during the favourable spring climbing season. On January 16, 2021, at 5pm local time, Nims and his team achieved their goal and became the first climbers to ever reach the summit during the tough winter months.
Following this incredible achievement, we caught up with Nims to find out all about the record-breaking climb and try to discover what his next challenge will be.
What are the main three things that separates a winter climb from a summer one?
The three main elements are: the extreme cold temperatures, weather conditions and the climber’s ability to function in such an environment.
Nirmal Purja is pictured during his ascent of K2 on January 16, 2021.
Nirmal Purja takes his place in the history books
Your story has been embraced by the world as a slice of hope in dark times, so how proud are you that a team of Nepalese climbers could give hope and joy to so many people in need?
This event will always remain as one of the most special moments of my life. What we have achieved and earned wasn’t for any individual gain. I am humbled that we were able to share this moment and reach out to the communities around the world, in the middle of a pandemic. We were able to relay a strong positive message. Pushing the human limits and making the impossible possible as a team showed what can be achieved with solidarity and unity. Nothing is impossible if you put your heart, mind and soul into it.
Which parts of the challenge were you most afraid of before you set off and which parts turned out to be the hardest during it?
I had frost nip on my fingers and hadn’t acclimatised adequately above Camp 2 [6,600m]. The decision to press on summit push was a tough one. There was no such thing as the hardest challenge during the climb, as the entire journey was a challenge of its kind.
Nirmal Purja is pictured during his ascent of K2 in the heart of winter on January 16, 2021.
Achieving the seemingly impossible
What makes K2 such a special, mystical mountain compared to Mount Everest in the winter?
It was the hardest and the last remaining challenge. Mount Everest was already climbed in winter.
I love pushing my limits
How are you feeling mentally and physically right now after completing such an incredible feat?
I feel great. All my team members made it home safe and sound and that what is matters the most.
Tell us about your Nepalese partners for the summit ascent - how did you choose the team, and how important were they in the successful attempt?
K2 in winter was no joke! Selecting team members was not limited to their physical ability but they needed to have a strong mindset too. Everyone needed to have a sheer desire and determination to make this impossible possible for humankind and for the Nepali climbing community, who have always been the frontier of 8,000m but never received their due. I am super proud of all my team members. The success was a joint team effort, a symbol of hardship, selfless effort and unity.
Nirmal Purja at the top of Mount Everest in 2019.
Nims summits Everest in 2019
What did you take away from completing Project Possible that helped you in your K2 quest?
Climbing all 14 of the 8,000ers in six months wasn’t easy of course. There were a lot of ups and downs. I learnt a lot through the experiences and gathered knowledge.
What skills from your time in the UK's Special Boat Service helped you the most on this challenge?
I think the main one is the ability to make decisions in any stressful environment. You have to keep yourself calm and composed despite whatever the situation is and have that positive outlook.
You have been breaking records at an astonishing speed. Are you going to have a rest or have you already got another challenge up your sleeve?
I love pushing my limits. I heard someone saying that Nimsdai is full of surprises. Let’s put it that way, who knows what’s next!
You're known to like a good party after your feats. How long will this one last?
Aha, one needs a good celebration after a feat like this. It’s like recuperation. I feel extremely happy seeing all my team members happy. It may last a few weeks for sure!