Listen to Article4-Minute Listen
Though thousands of adventurers have scaled Mount Everest, the highest and most famous of the world's 14 tallest mountains, only 40 climbers have conquered them all. Located in Asia's Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, the "eight-thousanders" each stand over 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) tall, above the so-called "death zone," where the amount of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for an extended period.
On October 29, 2019, Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal "Nims" Purja, joined the elite group of climbers when he reached the 8,028-meter (26,340-foot) peak of China's Mt. Shishapangma. Even more remarkable, Purja accomplished this extraordinary feat in just six months and six days, faster than his own seven-month target and far surpassing late South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho's 2013 record of 7 years, ten months, and six days.
"I am overwhelmed and incredibly proud to have completed this final summit and achieved my goal of climbing the world's 14 tallest mountains in record time," Purja said in a statement. "It has been a grueling but humbling six months, and I hope to have proven that anything is possible with some determination, self-belief, and positivity."
Purja's "Project Possible" started becoming a reality on April 23, 2019, when he successfully peaked Nepal's 8,091 meters (26,545 feet) tall Mt. Annapurna. The climber then rapidly completed the next five mountains, including Mt. Everest, within a short four weeks! Five more peaks were conquered in July and the last three mountains — the Cho Oyu, Manaslu, and Shishapangma — during September and October.
The adventurer, who was joined by teams of Nepalese climbers on each of his quests, encountered numerous memorable and tense moments during his epic journey. On April 23, 2019, while descending Mt. Annapurna, Purja and his team heard about a Malaysian climber who had been separated from his group with no food, water, or supplemental oxygen for over 40 hours. Determined to find him, they trekked back up to 7,500 meters (24,600 feet), where Dr. Chin Wui Kin was last seen. Though the climbers succeeded in locating and getting him airlifted to a hospital, Dr. Chin did not survive his injuries and passed away a few days later in Singapore. On May 15, 2019, Purja's team similarly helped three stranded climbers on Mt. Kanchenjunga by giving them their supplemental oxygen. Purja's viral photo of the "traffic jam" of climbers trying to get to the top of Mt. Everest on May 22, 2019, has sparked extensive discussions to restrict the number of climbers allowed to attempt the peak annually.
In addition to the physical challenges of this unprecedented feat, Purja also had to overcome the financial burden of the expedition. "Climbing eight-thousanders is expensive. Take single expeditions that cost in the region of $65,000 and then multiply that by 14,” Purja told DW.com. The 36-year-old raised the initial funds by taking a second mortgage on his house and the rest through a sponsorship from British watchmaker Bremont, a crowdfunding campaign, and by taking paying customers along on a few of his climbs.
Purja, who hails from a small Nepalese village, said his primary purpose for undertaking this enormous task was to show the world that anyone can attain greatness if they put their minds to it. "By achieving this goal, I knew I could inspire people from all generations across the world," he said.
The mountaineer, who first rose to fame in 2017, when he scaled Mt. Everest and the neighboring Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Makalu in a record-breaking five days, is far from done. On November 18, 2019, the adventurer announced that in 2020, he will be leading climbers along an uncharted Nepalese route to the Cho Oyu, the world's sixth-highest mountain, which is currently accessible only through Tibet.
Resources: projectpossible.co.uk, CNN.com, DW.com, NPR.org