Record-chasing Nepali climber wants to inspire next generation

Kathmandu (AFP) –


For pioneering Nepali mountaineer Nirmal Purja, on track to finish climbing the world's 14 highest mountains in a record seven months, reaching the summit of the last peak is part of a broader quest.

The 36-year-old kicked off his ambitious "Project Possible" to scale 14 peaks above 8,000 metres (26,247 feet) in April with Nepal's Annapurna.

As he prepares to climb Mount Shishapangma in China, the last on his list, Purja told AFP he wants to use his feats to inspire the next generation of Nepali climbers to break his records.

Sherpas -- Nepalis who often work as guides for foreign mountaineers -- are the backbone of the country's lucrative climbing industry, but don't attract as much attention or accolades as their international companions.

"Nepal is home to the highest peaks in the world. There are so much better climbers out there who (haven't) got the opportunity," he told AFP in Kathmandu.

"International attention and sponsors rush easily towards foreign climbers but Nepalis don't get such opportunities."

Born in a small village in western Nepal, Purja joined two older brothers in the Gurkhas -- a unit of Nepalis recruited into the British army -- in his late teens, serving in the military for 16 years, including with the elite Special Boat Service.

While in the military, Purja summited Everest, the world's highest peak at 8,848 metres, and Lhotse (8,516 metres) in a record 10 hours and 15 minutes in 2017.

He then turned his sights on conquering the so-called 8,000-ers -- but with a twist. He would attempt the feat in months, not years.

- Seven months, 14 peaks -

Since legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner first completed the 8,000-ers -- without supplementary oxygen -- in 1986, some 39 climbers have achieved the feat.

South Korean Kim Chang-ho holds the record without bottled oxygen, which he achieved in seven years, 10 months and six days.

Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka's seven years, 11 months and 14 days is the fastest with oxygen, and it is this record that Purja is chasing.

Purja faced hurdles from the beginning. When he first told others about his new quest, "everyone was laughing at me and saying 'how it will be possible'?".

Detractors told him each mountain would take two months to summit, and he would need good weather and time to recover.

But confident of his abilities, Purja set out on his quest, working hard to secure the funding needed for the missions.

Purja climbed Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu -- among the highest of peaks -- in just one month in the first part of his record attempt.

The day he summited Everest this year, he also captured a notorious human traffic jam at the peak in a photograph that went around the world.

A month later, he headed to Pakistan for the second part, sprinting up and down five of Pakistan's highest peaks including the treacherous K2 and Nanga Parbat, within a month.

Purja began his final push in September, reaching the tops of Cho Oyu and Manaslu within a week.

He is proud of what he has achieved, which includes setting several speed climbing records.

"It is about trusting your ability," he said.

"You always need to have (a) positive mindset because sometimes things will go wrong, (but)... you can make impossible the possible."