Netflix star Nirmal Purja on how he conquered 14 Peaks

See Nims' journey on the Netflix documentary, 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible

See Nims' journey on the Netflix documentary, 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible - Credit: Netflix

It was whilst conquering the world's deadly 'Death Zone' peaks that Hampshire mountaineer Nirmal Purja came alive; his documentary, 14 Peaks, inspiring millions. Here he shares the story behind the screens with Rebecca Fletcher

‘Nothing is impossible’ is the mantra Nepal-born naturalised British mountaineer and 14 Peaks, Netflix documentary climbing phenomenon, Nirmal Purja MBE (Nims), lives by. It’s also the response Nims gave when announcing his plan to break the record for summiting fourteen of the world’s tallest mountains, much to the chagrin of his doubters. 

Climbing in the ‘death zone’, 8,000 metres above sea level where the altitude is punishing on the brain and body and potentially fatal, is challenging enough. However, when the only world record that stands took experienced climber Reinhold Messner nearly eight years, it’s not inconceivable heavy scepticism came into play when relative newcomer Nims vowed to complete all fourteen in just seven months. Anyone who has met Nims or worked alongside him will attest to his ability to defy belief and expectation. He’s been doing it all his life.   

Nims filmed his own footage whilst completing the climbs 

Nims filmed his own footage whilst completing the climbs - Credit: Netflix

Achieving three world records before he even started planning ‘Project Possible’, one would be forgiven for thinking Nims had always been a climber. In fact, he only started climbing aged 29. Whilst on leave from active duty, he set out to trek to Everest Base camp and the rest, as they say, is history. 

‘When I was a kid, I only wanted to be a Gurkha and I trained so hard for that. Then I got into Special Forces and the training was mental. What people do in a week, I did in a day, every day. That was me following my path. When I turned 30, I decided to go to Everest and it changed my whole life.’ 

After six years in the British Army with the Brigade of Gurkhas followed by ten years in the Special Boat Service, the Special Forces unit of the Royal Navy, Nims gave up his career and pension and focused his mind on the epic road to achieving Project Possible. Two goals were in his sights – to smash mountaineering barriers and win recognition for the tireless dedication of Nepalese Sherpas, working in the shadows aiding Westerners chasing fame and fortune above the clouds. 

‘It wasn’t about individuals. It wasn’t about me. You need to have a purpose in life to do bigger things and I wanted to show the world that it doesn’t matter where you come from, your financials, burdens. You can still show the world that nothing is impossible,’ explains Nims. ‘Secondly, I wanted to raise awareness of Nepalese climbers who’ve been in the saddle for so long. It was important. I was in the right place to do it. I had knowledge of the bigger picture, understood the politics. I felt like I had to do it.’ 

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Getting things off the ground was tough. Convincing sponsors, raising awareness and asking others to part with cash for what seemed like a pipe dream to many, became a full-time job with little joy. Nims didn’t falter from the task he’d set himself – not even when he and his wife, Suchi, put everything on the line, remortgaging their home in order to fund the expedition.  

Nims during Project Possible

Nims during Project Possible - Credit: Netflix

‘Climbing was the easiest part,’ Nims smiles. ‘The funding, managing a bit of social media, the logistics – when you’re on top of one mountain you have to start planning the next one, dealing with bureaucracy, the stress of being away from family. All the emotional and mental challenges.’   

The logistics involved in just getting to the start line were hard enough but when you consider that Nims and his team of Sherpas also decided to film their endeavours, it makes what they achieved with 14 Peaks, now a cult watch on Netflix, beyond impressive.   

‘People don’t realise. There wasn’t a big production team. It was just me and my team. That’s it. At some points I was flying the drone at the same time I was climbing. I just knew I had to do this. I wanted to make a film for the whole world to watch.’ 

Filming with GoPros and drones in extreme weather, life and death hanging in the balance simultaneously, the documentary shows it was never just about the climbing. Building morale at base camps, setting lines and trailblazing for other climbers and even saving those stranded in horrendous conditions, Nims’ indefatigable spirit shines. His incredible ability to lead and motivate combined with an ironclad positive mindset and determination to succeed are nothing short of inspirational. 

‘If you want to be number one in the world, you have to work harder than anyone else out there. That’s the logic. There’s no shortcut to success. It’s as simple as I’m true to my word. Whatever I say, I have to do it.’ 

Discovering early on in his climbing career that he was able to acclimatise quicker and seemingly with more ease than others only served to encourage him to push himself to the very extremes of human endurance. As he says, giving up is not in his blood. 

Nims at just one of the 14 summits he reached

Nims at just one of the 14 summits he reached - Credit: Netflix

‘You have to believe in the cause and that was my god. My mission statement was my god. I wanted to show what humans could do. It’s about preparing the mind. I had to find the way to break down every doubt. Rather than finding excuses, I was thinking about what I could do to enable my brain to push myself further. I represent the Gurkhas, UK Special Forces, the mountaineering communities, the Nepalese. There’s no way I’m letting them down.’ 

As Nims states himself in his Sunday Times bestseller, Beyond Possible, he came alive in the death zone. Completing Project Possible had not only proven that he was up to the job but it gave power to something much bigger. Conquering the impossible wasn’t just something to aim for, it was a declaration of intent. 

‘Records are made to be broken. This one will be broken and that’s why humans are so amazing. Otherwise, we as a human race won’t advance. As long as you’re open minded you can achieve so much. Being closed minded you’re limiting others as well as yourself. For me, I follow my heart. I always try to do what’s right. History will tell what I’ll do. One step at a time.’ 

Achieving another dream, Nims founded his own guiding company, Elite Exped, with fellow Project Possible team members Mingma David Sherpa and Mingma Tenzi Sherpa. He wanted to help others achieve their impossible by leading, sharing knowledge and skills as well as the approach needed to tackle big mountain expeditions and succeed. It all starts with mindset. 

‘We all have our own mountains to climb in life but how we do that is you have to commit. After that it’s the training. Practice makes perfect. Being disciplined. Planning how you’re going to get there. You have to have self-motivation.’

Nims represents the Gurkhas, UK Special Forces, the mountaineering communities and the Nepalese

Nims represents the Gurkhas, UK Special Forces, the mountaineering communities and the Nepalese and there was no way he was letting them down - Credit: Nimsdai

It’s hard to imagine with Nims’ hectic life climbing and leading expeditions all around the world that he has any time to relax at home. When he’s back in Hampshire though, one of the ways he likes to decompress is going to his local leisure centre to train or walking his dog. St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester is a favourite.   

‘I used to train there. Running up and down. For me, there are so many beautiful places in Hampshire. My family are there. It’s home.’   

From humble beginnings to mountaineering legend and inspirational influencer, one would be forgiven for thinking that this modern-day hero’s biggest goals have already been ticked off the list. His answer is trademark Nimsdai - always aiming for more.  

‘It hasn’t come yet,’ he tells. ‘There’s a lot more to achieve. I’m not done.’