Interview: Nirmal Purja’s Winter Ascent Of K2 Makes Him A Mountaineering Superstar

Nepali mountaineer Nirmal Purja looks on after arriving in Tribhuvan airport in Nepal’s capital … [+]

Nirmal “Nims” Purja, 37, stunned the mountaineering world in 2019 when he summited all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter [above 26,000 feet] peaks in just six months and six days. It was a speed-climbing feat almost unimaginable, and one which may never be duplicated. Then, on January 16th of this year, Purja one-upped himself, leading the first successful winter ascent of K2, the world’s second highest peak and one of its most deadly, himself climbing to the top without supplemental oxygen. Five climbers (Ali Sadpara, John Snorri, Atanas Skatov, Juan Pablo Mohr, Sergi Mingote) perished on the mountain this winter. We caught up with Purja to discuss those deaths and his own K2 success. Following is Part 1 of edited excerpts from our recent phone conversation.

Jim Clash: When you knew the summit of K2 was within reach, what did you do?

Nirmal Purja: My mission was to make all 10 team members stand on the summit at the same time. With a few steps to go, I told them to turn off their radios because this was our moment. We started hugging and, as we walked the final steps, sang the [Nepalese] National Anthem. That was something emotional, brother. Of course, I was super-happy, but that happiness didn’t only come from myself, but from the team’s success. Once we started taking pictures, though, I got super cold having climbed without oxygen, and left after 15 minutes. Normally I’ll stay on top for two hours, thanking all the sponsors and everything, but it was just too cold.

K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen, Chogori or Dapsang (8609 metres), Karakoram, Himalayas, on … [+]


Clash: Of the two projects, K2 in winter or 14 8,000-meter peaks in six months, which was more special to you?

Purja: They both have their own dynamics. The 14-8,000-meter-peaks-in-six-months project was something nobody could imagine was ever possible. It’s tough just to climb one 8,000-meter peak, let alone 14 in such a short period of time. K-2 in winter is something people had thought about for a long time, but had never accomplished. For me, more satisfaction came from winter K2 because it was done in a different manner and style, a message of team unification rather than just me climbing for myself.

Clash: There were five deaths this winter season on K2. How do you react when people you know die up there?

Purja: When I first saw the news of missing climbers, I wanted to believe they would come back, but deep inside I knew they wouldn’t. It’s unfortunate – they were my friends and among the 50 top mountaineers in the world. But this is as extreme as high-altitude mountaineering gets. I know they passed doing what they loved doing. It’s only a matter of time, to be honest, and one day could be my day. Who knows? Death is always a sobering reminder.

Clash: With all of your recent mountaineering success, you must have met some interesting people.

Purja: I wasn’t looking too much into my social media when I was on K2, but overall it’s been really humbling to see all of the appreciation. We got to meet the President of Pakistan [Arif Alvi], and the Chief Of The Army Staff [General Bajwa], one of the top 70 most influential men in the world [Forbes, 2018]. The mountaineers, like Conrad [Anker] and Jimmy Chin, have always been supportive, but this time it’s people from other areas. [Formula 1 superstar] Lewis Hamilton started following me on Instagram [laughs]. I mean, how humbling is that? Extreme high-altitude mountaineering deserves its place among the world’s most extreme sports. To be able to help bring awareness to it, let alone to K2 – most people don’t even know what K2 is [laughs] – is very satisfying.

I write about extreme adventure and those who do it. I’ve bobsledded with the Olympic team; piloted a super-boat at 140 mph; flown to 84,000 feet at Mach 2.6 in a MiG;