Why is this interesting? - The Mountaineering Edition

On climbing, weather, and an amazing human feat

Colin here. One of the most astounding feats of modern athleticism and mountaineering just happened and it was somewhat lost in the sauce. A Nepalese former Gurkha and British Special Boat Service soldier has climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter-high mountains in 189 days—a feat that has taken other climbers years to achieve. It is a record that will be incredibly hard to beat. 

Despite his mountaineering prowess, Nirmal “Nims” Purja was propelled into wider culture when one of his photos (below) from the Hilary Step on Everest, showed a complete logjam of climbers, reinforcing the fears about congestion creating a death trap on the world’s highest mountain and forcing policy changes from Nepal. 

His feat, dubbed Project Possible, included taking down some of the world’s most fearsome summits. These included more technical climbs than Everest itself, such as K2, where some of the most dangerous and technical climbing comes near the summit, in the death zone

According to the Guardian

Climbing all of the Himalayan giants has long been one of mountaineering’s most sought-after prizes, and was first achieved by Reinhold Messner in 1986, who was also was the first to climb all the 8,000ers without supplemental oxygen. In 2010, Edurne Pasaban became the first woman to complete all the 8,000ers.

Purja opted to use supplementary oxygen for his ascents, justifying his choice by the huge size of the challenge he had set himself.

Why is this interesting? 

This challenge here is perhaps more than just shattering the speed record for a marathon (which is obviously an insane feat). There were a lot of moving pieces to this particular achievement. 

First, having the endurance and ability to do technical climbs at high altitude, and turn around and do another one on short notice is astounding. High-altitude climbing like this takes a major toll on the respiratory system and musculature. 

Second, for any of this to actually happen the climate had to cooperate. Weather is often one of the mitigating factors of mountaineering, and if you don’t hit the window, the summit doesn’t happen. 

Finally, you have the dangers of climbing itself. Bad things happen, often. Everest’s Khumbu Icefall was described to me by a mountaineering friend as an “ice cube tray held upside down.” There’s no knowing when it's going to unleash an avalanche or deadly shards of ice. Extrapolate this danger to thirteen other mountains over almost seven months and you get a sense of what kind of chaos could ensue. 

According to the BBC, last month "his challenge was held up while he waited for permission to climb the final mountain, Shishapangma, in the Tibetan autonomous region of China." That permission eventually came through after Nepal's government requested help from China. Mingma David Sherpa, who accompanied Purja on nine of the climbs, also became the youngest person to summit all 14 of these peaks.

When you double click on his career, Nims Purja succeeded in one of the most difficult selection courses on the face of the earth: The British special operations selection. This is a gut check that highlights endurance and a never quit attitude. Many people with similar credentials couldn’t pull off what he did. The intangibles, specifically bravery and fortitude, got him over the line. It is a record that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon. (CJN)

Recommendation of the Day:

I mentioned this a few months ago, but it was down in the quick links and worth re-surfacing. Stoop Inbox is a service just for reading all the great newsletters you subscribe to. They give you a special email address to subscribe with and a clean interface to read everything. They’ve even got a web view now. It might sound kind of weird to have a separate app, but I find myself opening it every day. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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