“Mission achieved!” Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja reported from the summit of Shishapangma with his teammates Mingma David Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang back in October 2019.
The Nepalese mountaineer and former British soldier had just completed his goal of climbing all 14 8,000-metre mountains in only six months and six days. He broke six mountaineering world records in the process.
“It was an incredible feeling – and it was a victory for everyone,” Purja said. “For everyone that has a dream, for everyone that wants to go above and beyond. I wanted my 14 Peaks Challenge to inspire people with the love of the Big Mountains, but more than that, I want everyone to know that if you set your mind to something you can achieve it – no matter who you are and where you come from.”
This week, a new film called 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible was released on Netflix that documents Purja’s epic achievement. Directed by Torquil Jones, the film explores “Nepal’s deep connection to high-altitude mountaineering,” as seen through the eyes of Purja. But the film does much more than that, as it focuses on what is possibly the greatest Himalayan climbing feat ever accomplished.
Shortly after the film’s release, climbers and audiences around the world gave their praises to the documentary. The IMBD score runs as high as 8.6, 99 per cent of Google users liked it, and the critics at Rotten Tomatoes have rated it at 83 per cent. It quickly jumped to fifth on the list of top 10 documentaries on Netflix.
Purja’s record-breaking 189-day effort to climb the world’s highest mountains, which often takes other climbers many years, even decades, was summed up by legendary Himalayan climber Reinhold Messner as a “unique statement in the history of mountaineers.” Messner added, “He has all my respect.”
Messner was the first climber to ascend the 14 8,000-metre peaks over 16 years, a goal he completed in 1986. He climbed them without supplemental oxygen. Purja used supplementary oxygen for his ascents. “I have to get back down, so that I can reach the next mountain,” said Purja. “I listen to my body. You must have humility so that you can get home. You can always go again without oxygen if that is what is so important, but you can’t if you’re dead.”
To capture footage for the film, Purja and his team used GoPros, camcorders, drones and phones. They filled six or seven hard drives. The director had to go through over 100 hours of climbing footage. “The biggest challenge was how do you combine 14 climbs into one film?” said Purja.
How 14 Peaks the film plays out
The film starts with climbers talking about the world’s 14 highest mountains, along with some visually pleasing graphics of the peaks. We then meet Purja’s Nepalese climbing team and his supportive wife Suchi Purja.
We jump to April 2019, when Purja is going to attempt Annapurna. Canadian Don Bowie, one of Canada’s only climbers to reach the summit of K2, joined Purja. Bowie had attempted the mountain a number of times without success. “This guy believed they were gonna do it, and they pushed thru,” said Bowie.
It’s at this point that we learn Purja’s ascents are often the first of the season up the mountains, which means that he and his team are carrying and fixing ropes for other climbers to haul themselves up on.
Bowie and Purja awake the next day in camp four to the news that a climber is stranded high on Annapurna. In the morning, Purja, Bowie and others take a helicopter up and find the climber is still alive. So, they go into rescue mode and save the climber’s life.
The ascent of Annapurna and the rescue would make an amazing short film. The footage, strong climbing and near-death experience sets up what the next hour will bring.
The film then jumps to Purja’s childhood, growing up with three older brothers, his need for activity and being beat by teachers because he couldn’t control himself.
From there Purja heads to Dhaulagiri, the seventh-highest mountain at 8,167 metres, and his second mountain of 14. Purja had partied in Kathmandu and was hungover for this climb, which he talks about. But not only does he climb it, he climbs it in a single push, passing all four camps above base camp.
On the descent, he started to suffer from high altitude pulmonary edema (HACE) and started to trip out. The illustrations fit his description of losing control perfectly. He stumbles into a missing climber and rescues them.
We then head to an altitude training facility where we here that scientifically speaking, Purja is unlike most climbers. The specialists tell him that he has the best blood oxygen levels they’ve ever seen. Purja said that he has a natural gift for climbing and that he can just keep going with no sleep or rest.
From there, Purja heads to Everest where he summits on May 22, a day where hundreds of others were clipped to fixed ropes. He took a photo that went viral.
Peppered throughout the film are truth bombs from Purja telling the audience that Sherpas “work so hard to support westerners,” and that western climbers will say “my Sherpa helped” without every identifying who their Sherpa was. “He has a name,” Purja said.
Purja links Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in 48 hours, something that had never been done. He then says, “In the death zone, I come alive.” Once again, the film takes us off the mountain and back to Purja’s personal life where he’s spending time with his ailing mother.
Around this point in the film, Purja starts to talk about his time as a Gurkha and special forces soldier for the SBS (Special Boat Service). He said that how he deals with fear in the mountains was likely affected by years fighting in war zones. On one mission in Afghanistan, he was lying on a rooftop when he was shot. He then fell from the top of a building to the ground. A sniper had been aiming for his neck, but the bullet hit the butt of his gun instead. “A couple of centimetres either way and I would have been dead.”
Without giving too much away, Purja takes us with him on more of the world’s highest mountains, including K2, which he and his team fixed the ropes on after all other expedition leaders gave up.
Five Nepalese climbers summited K2 after fixing ropes through the Bottleneck section at 1 a.m. Over the next two days, 24 more climbers hauled themselves up the fixed lines and summited, thanks to Purja. Just over one year later, he took part in the first winter ascent of K2 with nine other Nepalese climbers. Read the story here.
Within 36 hours, Purja climbed K2 and Broad Peak, which ended a 23-day push to climb the five highest peaks in Pakistan.
That’s when Purja’s mom has a heart attack, and we head to the hospital. Purja pushed on climbing Cho Oyu and Manaslu, which left only Shishapangma in Tibet. The mountain was closed to climbers at the time, but after meeting with politicians and reaching out to the global climbing community, China agreed to let Purja and his team make and attempt. Purja left Nepal for Tibet on Oct. 18 leading a five-member expedition to ascend the final of the 14 peaks he set out to climb. They reached the summit on Oct. 29.
From the summit, Purja called his mom. A few scenes later, she arrives in a helicopter, recovered from her heart attack, to meet Purja and many other climbers for a celebration.
“We all have personal mountains to climb in life,” said Purja, “and maybe your mountain isn’t an 8000er – but whatever it is, know that you can do it.”
There’s a lot more to this film, including a near-death fall, more rescues and history, more family moments and some of the best high-altitude footage that you’ll ever see.
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is just one of the many great films that’s hit the big screen this year, with others being The Alpinist, Torn, Them/They and Not Alone. It’s likely the most important film about high-altitude mountaineering ever made, and it documents one of the greatest Himalayan climbing feats ever accomplished.
I highly recommend that you watch 14 Peaks, whether alone or with your family. This one is made for everyone, and if you’re going to get your non-climbing family members to sit for one climbing film over the holidays, make it this one.
Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja is certainly one of the most inspiring, positive and strong climbers who’s active in 2021. We can’t wait to see what he gets up to next, which as he said at the end of the movie will be “even bigger.”
Annapurna on April 23
Dhaulagiri on May 12
Kanchenjunga on May 15
Everest on Many 22
Lhotse on May 22
Makalu on May 24
Nanga Parbat on July 3
Gasherbrum I on July 15
Gasherbrum II on July 18
K2 on July 24
Broad Peak on July 26
Cho Oyu on Sept. 3
Manaslu on Sept. 27
Shishapangma on Oct. 29
Other than the fastest ascent with supplemental oxygen of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, Purja broke the following records: most 8,000-metre mountains in the Spring season, climbing six; most 8,000-metre mountains in the Summer season, climbing five; fastest summit of the three highest mountains in the world, Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga; fastest summit of the five highest mountains in the world, Everest, K2, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu; fastest lower 8000ers, Gasherbrum I, II and Broad Peak; fastest higher 8000ers, consecutive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in 48 hours (beats his own previous record of five days).