Nims Purja fans react to criticism of climb

Fans of Nirmal Purja, who this week completed his goal of climbing all the world’s 14 highest mountains in a record-shattering 6 months, have reacted strongly to those belittling his feat.

Purja climbed Mt Xixapangma (8,027m) in China on Monday, his last eight thousander in a record-shattering 190 days. The last record was by Korean climber Kim Chang-ho, who took nearly 8 years to perform the same feat. He was killed in an avalanche in Gurja Himal in Nepal last year.

Yet some mountaineering experts and climbers have downplayed the achievement, saying he used supplemental oxygen above 7,500m on all his climbs, had a team to fix ropes, and also that he did not give members of his team enough credit.

The Times newspaper quoted Chris Bonington, the noted British climber famous for the first ascent in 1975 of the southwest face of Mt Everest, as saying: ‘What he has done is quite extraordinary, but it isn’t mountaineering. Real mountaineering is exploratory – finding new routes up to big peaks … I don’t see this as a major event.’

Nims Purja and two team members on the summit of Mt Xixapangma (8,027m) on 28 October, after shattering the world record to climb 14 of the world's highest peaks in 6 months. Photo: Nims Purja / Facebook

The German mountaineer Ralf Dujmovits told an adventure magazine: ‘It is completely ignored that Nirmal Purja is using bottled oxygen. It’s a performance that looks spectacular, but is not spectacular.’

The first Briton to climb Mt Everest without oxygen, Stephen Venables, also told the paper: ‘The fact that he used supplementary oxygen detracts from the feat. I know he also used fixed ropes. It isn’t exactly alpinism as I understand it ... It will certainly make it into the Guinness Book of Records, but in the history of mountaineering it will only be a footnote.’

The unkindest cut of all came from Amit Chowdhuary, the head of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in New Delhi, who called the climbs ‘mindless sensationalism’. He told The Times: ‘We don’t support this kind of gimmick. If you have 20 people supporting you, of course you can achieve this. But you are putting so many people’s lives at risk, including your own. What for? We want people to climb safely.’

Reacting in a Facebook post, retired general from British Army, Sam Cowan wrote: ‘The quoted reaction from some of “mountaineering’s old guard” is no real surprise but the remarks of the vice-president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation are particularly crass – and wrong!’

Hindi paper Dainik Bhaskar

The Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi newspaper in India chose to headline that Purja was educated in India, and highlighted the fact that his family had taken him to India when he was five and he got his early schooling there. 

Critics have said that Korean climber Kim Chang-ho deserves more acclaim because he climbed all 14 peaks without bottled oxygen, even though he took 7 years and 11 months to complete all the climbs.

There was sharp and swift reaction in social media from Nims Purja’s fans who said the criticism of his feat reeked of ‘colonialism’, and that ‘westerners could not bear to see Nepalis succeed’. Others said that Nepalis were now setting the bar in Himalayan mountaineering, and were ‘finally getting the recognition they deserve’. Another post said that Nepal’s mountain guides and porters had never got the credit for putting western on the tops of the world’s highest mountains., and Purja’s feat had changed that forever.

However, there has also been much praise for Purja’s climbs from other Western climbers and mountaineering journals. In a report titled ‘Climber Nims Purja Didn’t Break Anyone’s Record—He Smashed a Barrier’, the Adventure Journal wrote this week:  ‘It was a barrier-breaking testament to human potential, and a powerful demonstration of teamwork.’

Tyrolean Reinhld Messener, 75, who first climbed Mt Everest without oxygen and went on to climb all 14 eight thousanders over a period of 16 years, said Purja’s climbs a ‘unique mountaineering achievement’.  

Purja has been consistently thanking his team of guides from Nepal saying his feat would not have been possible without them. Members of his team themselves broke climbing records left and right: 30-year-old Mingma David Sherpa climbed nine peaks above 8,000m with Purja this year. Another team member Gesman Tamang summited seven of the world highest mountains with Purja this spring.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Purja wrote: ‘United we conquer ! Here is to The A-team: Mingma David Sherpa , Gesman Tamang, Galjen Sherpa, Lakpa Dendi Sherpa and Halung Dorchi Sherpa. The journey of 14/7 has tested us all the way though at many levels. Together we have been through so much, we climbed not only as a team but as brothers with one sole goal to make the impossible possible pushing the human limitations to next level. Now, the BROTHERHOOD that we share between us is even STRONGER!’ 

Writing in Purja’s support, many social media posts said his team was not given enough credit for rescuing stranded mountaineers on Annapurna and Kangchenjunga, even if it meant it would slow down their expeditions. Purja’s team made heroic rescues in April and May at high altitude in poor weather.

Reacting in The Times this week, British multiple Everest summiteers Kenton Cool said: ‘I’m eating a lot of humble pie because what Purja has done is super, super-impressive. I’m the first to say I didn’t think he was going to do it. His ambition was so high, I thought he needed a dollop of realism.’ 

This week Mark Horell wrote in his blog: 'These men are being churlish, surely – why do they have such a problem with what Nirmal Purja did?'

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