Amongst mountain climbers, the '8,000ers' – the 14 peaks above 8,000 m (26,246 ft) - are regarded as the ultimate challenge.
Prior to 2019, the fastest ascent of all mountains over 8,000 m was 7 years 310 days, set by Kim Chang-Ho (South Korea).
Then along came Nirmal “Nims” Purja (Nepal), who did it in less than 7 months.
Netflix’s new documentary, 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, gives us an incredible look into Nims’ unprecedented expeditions.
Here are all the Guinness World Records titles Nims achieved during his epic mountain climbing quest.
Fastest ascent of all mountains over 8,000 m
Part of the challenge of climbing the 8,000ers is that they take climbers into the so-called ‘death zone’.
Above 8,000 m, the oxygen pressure in the atmosphere is insufficient to sustain human life for an extended time span. Our bodies can no longer acclimatize to the altitude and our cells begin to die.
The conditions are so extreme that when a climber gets into trouble up there, they are usually left to perish.
But the death zone is where Nims comes alive.
For ordinary people, a single 8,000er is a major endeavour that can take months to complete. So when the ex-Gurkha soldier declared that he would summit all 14 of these mountains in seven months, almost everyone thought he was crazy.
“I was told that my plan was impossible. So I decided to name it Project Possible.” Nims explained in the documentary.
“This is about inspiring the human race.”
Nims went on to set the fastest time to climb all mountains over 8,000 m at 6 months 6 days.
He was supported by a team of fellow Nepalese mountaineers who climbed with him on different mountains throughout the expedition.
On 23 April 2019, Nims scaled the first peak; Annapurna I (8,091 m; 26,545 ft) in Nepal. For every three climbers that make it to the summit of this mountain, one dies trying.
Nims' awe-inspiring adventure ended 189 days later, on 29 October, atop Shisha Pangma (8,027 m; 26,335 ft) in Tibet.
Nims used bottled oxygen in all of his ascents. Impressively, previous record holder Kim Chang Ho didn’t use any and he still holds the record for the fastest ascent of all mountains over 8,000 m without supplementary oxygen.
Fastest time to climb the top five 8,000ers
The five highest 8,000ers are considered significant because the height jump between the sixth and the fifth-highest peaks is greater than any of the others. Makalu (5th) is 284 m (931 ft) higher than Cho Oyu (6th).
Nims climbed to the top of all five 8,000ers in just 70 days:
- Kangchenjunga (8,586 m; 28,169 ft) – 15 May 2019
- Everest (8,849 m; 29,032 ft) – 22 May 2019
- Lhotse (8,516 m; 27,940 ft) – 22 May 2019
- Makalu (8,463 m; 27,766 feet) – 24 May 2019
- K2 (8,611 m; 28,251 ft) – 24 July 2019
“Giving up isn’t in the blood.” - Nims Purja
The fastest time to climb the top five 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen was achieved by Basque brothers Alberto and Félix Iñurrategi, who took 4 years 219 days between 1991 and 1996.
Fastest triple-header of the higher 8,000ers
On 22 May 2019, Nims started crossing from the top of Everest, the world’s highest mountain, to the top of Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain. From there, he proceeded to Makalu’s peak, arriving on 24 May – a total time of just 2 days 30 min.
All three mountains are located near each other, on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
“When you are in the mountains, you find out who you really are. Any mistake I make, it could be death. When it comes to that moment, you want to survive. You want to live. I climb so I can live every moment of my life.” – Nims Purja
Nims broke his own record of 5 days 3 hours 35 minutes, achieved in May 2017.
Most ascents of Everest in one day
The most people to reach the peak of Everest in a single day is 354, as recorded on 23 May 2019.
That’s a significant increase from the previous record of 266 people, set on 19 May 2013.
The alarming number of climbers queueing to reach the top was captured in a viral photograph taken by Nims (scroll right on the above Instagram post).
It shows a solid line of climbers all the way along the Hillary Step, with around 100 people attempting to descend whilst 150 others pushed forward up the narrow ridge.
At least three people died during this day.
This “traffic jam” on Everest was attributed to a narrow window of opportunity as the weather cleared on 22–23 May, forcing hundreds of climbers to tackle the last part of the ascent.
Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto (Chile) was amongst those atop Mount Everest on that day. He summited the mountain 6 days 20 hours after reaching the peak of Lhotse, achieving the record for the fastest double-header of the higher 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen.
Nims set a variation of that record with bottled oxygen in 2017, after summiting both Everest and Lhotse in 10 hr 15 min altogether. However, it was beaten on 27 May 2019 by Mingma Dorchi Sherpa (6 hr 1 min).
Soon I realise that, when you come out of nowhere saying you will climb all 14X8000m peaks within 7 months, almost all mountaineers of the modern age thought I was a joke. This man, Sir #ReinholdMessner was different, after speaking for only 2 mins, he said - Nims you will do it. pic.twitter.com/tRWXALEWUD— Nirmal Purja MBE (@nimsdai) August 2, 2019
At the beginning of this article we mentioned that almost everyone thought Nims was crazy. Well, one of the only people to believe in him was Reinhold Messner (Italy); the first person to climb all 8,000 m mountains.
He achieved this trailblazing feat in 1986 without using any supplementary oxygen. To date, only 19 others have done the same. Reinhold is widely considered the greatest climber of all time.
“In such a concentrated situation, climbing and meditation is the same. When the pain is really forcing you to go down, you keep going up. You are really on the edge of possibilities. The edge of life and death.” – Reinhold Messner
Whilst Nims was the only member of Project Possible to summit each of the 14 peaks in 2019, he wasn’t the only one to break a record.
Mingma Gyabu "David" Sherpa became the youngest person to climb all 8,000 m mountains, aged 30 years 166 days. He began by scaling Everest over 10 years ago and ended by summiting Shisha Pangma alongside Nims.
David already held the record for the fastest time to climb Everest and K2 at 61 days 55 minutes, achieved in 2018.
By successfully completing Project Possible, Nims wanted to make a statement that Nepalese climbers are the best in the world.
“The climbing community of Nepal have always been the pioneers of 8,000ers, but they never got the respect they deserve. I want to represent the Nepalese climbing community.” – Nims Purja
On 16 January 2021, 10 Nepalese climbers - including Nims - made the first winter ascent of K2 ever.
“You know what? Next, we go even bigger. Just wait and see.”
Explore more 8,000er records on p122 of Guinness World Records 2022
Header image credit: Red Bull (Left); Shutterstock (right)