Special forces soldier scales K2 – the world’s second highest mountain – in depth of winter with NO supplementary oxygen and reveals he was going to PARAGLIDE off 28,251ft peak (until 100mph winds swept all his gear away)
- Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja and nine Nepalese climbers were the first to summit K2 during winter this January
- The former British Special Forces soldier wanted to claim a first for the Nepalese mountaineering community
- K2 is known as one of the deadliest mountains on the planet with a fatality rate of 29 per cent
- Nims had planned to paraglide from the peak but ‘nasty winds’ blew away all of his gear halfway up
Making the impossible possible is somewhat of an addiction for former British Special Forces soldier Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja.
In 2019, he smashed the world record for climbing the 14 highest mountains in just six months and six days and this January, he accomplished one of the greatest mountaineering feats by returning to K2 on the China-Pakistan border and scaling it in the depths of winter, with no supplementary oxygen.
He has now revealed, following numerous reports, that he had also planned to ‘fly from K2 in style’ using a glider but winds of more than 100mph/ 160 km swept all of his gear away halfway up the peak and he made the descent on two feet instead.
Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja and nine Nepalese climbers were the first to summit K2 during winter this January. The former British Special Forces soldier wanted to claim a first for the Nepalese mountaineering community
In winter, all of the challenges K2 throws up are magnified with temperatures hovering around minus 65 degrees Celsius / minus 85 Fahrenheit, treacherous stretches of blue ice and winds over 100mph/ 160km
Nims (third from left, bottom row) planned the expedition in just two months, from getting sponsors on board to forming a solid team of climbers
The charismatic, straight-talking 37-year-old told DailyMail.com from the safer and warmer confines of his presidential suite in Kathmandu: ‘I had always thought about paragliding off K2, and I was training significantly for this over around 90 days. I was ready, my instructors can vouch for how hard I was working.
‘I had all of my gear with me on the mountain but the winds were nasty. At Camp 2, gusts took all of my flying gear, all my summit gear and cooking equipment.
‘Otherwise my plan was to fly from K2 in style. But hey, you can’t do everything in one go I guess!’
Despite his scuppered paragliding plans, Nims can’t take the smile off his face as he talks about his extraordinary mountaineering feat over Skype.
K2, which stands at 8,611m (28,251ft) high, is known as one of the deadliest mountains on the planet with a fatality rate of 29 per cent due to its complex terrain and unpredictable weather.
A highly-publicised climbing disaster in August 2008 underscored the mountain’s volatile character, when an avalanche killed 11 climbers.
In winter, all of the challenges K2 throws up are magnified with temperatures hovering around minus 65 degrees Celsius / minus 85 Fahrenheit, treacherous stretches of blue ice and winds over 100mph/ 160km.
Nims, who took up mountaineering in 2012 while still in the military, explains: ‘When I was at K2 in the summer of 2019, I could get to the summit from basecamp directly.
‘But this time around we were just struggling to make the journey to basecamp.
K2, which stands at 8,611m (28,251ft) high, is known as one of the deadliest mountains on the planet with a fatality rate of 29 per cent due to its complex terrain and unpredictable weather. A highly-publicised climbing disaster in August 2008 underscored the mountain’s volatile character, with an avalanche killing 11 climbers
Nims had planned to paraglide from the summit of K2 and had been practising for several months before his expedition. Above, pictured training on the slopes of Chamonix in France
A shot of Nims on his way to the K2 basecamp with a team of Pakistani porters, who helped carry the heavy loads
Reaching the K2 summit was an ‘extremely emotional’ experience for Nims and he saw many of his team members in tears
‘It was so cold your body felt completely drained. Our backpacks were really heavy too with all of the gear, weighing in at around 35kg.’
So, what inspired Nims to take on such a perilous expedition?
He says it was born out of a determination to claim a first for the Nepalese mountaineering community and demonstrate the country’s climbing talent.
All of the other winter summits of the world’s highest peaks had been completed by international teams and K2 was the final one left to conquer.
It was time to show ‘the Nepalese strength’.
Nims planned to get some extra money on board before his K2 winter attempt as his 2019 mountaineering tour had required him to remortgage his house in Hampshire, UK.
But when he learned some international teams were going for the same K2 goal at the back end of 2020, he moved his plans forward.
In just two months, Nims managed to get sponsors on board – including luggage brand Osprey and Red Bull – plan the logistics amid a pandemic and get a team together.
He had never climbed with any of the five Nepalese men he recruited – all Sherpas – and picked them purely for their mindset and ambition.
The record-setter explains: ‘A lot of climbers are strong in Nepal as we grow up with mountains as our playground but for this mission I chose team members with a similar kind of mindset to myself.
‘We had to be doing this for the same reason and like anything, if you’re doing it for money you won’t be successful. It has to come from really deep inside.’
Nims and his team, which included Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Pem Chiri Sherpa and Dawa Temba Sherpa, reached K2 Basecamp (5,117m/16,785 ft) on December 26, 2020 and from there, they went about prepping the route they would take to the summit.
Everything was running fairly smoothly for the climbers but then disaster struck at Camp 2 (6,699m / 21,980ft) when ‘nasty winds’ took hold and blew their tents away.
Luckily, Nims had a back-up plan and they were able to team up with two other Nepalese groups to share supplies and develop a summit strategy.
The climbers went about fixing lines from the five different camps on K2 to enable them to get to the top.
On January 16, ten of the climbers made history as the first to conquer the world’s second-highest mountain in winter.
Nims describes it as an ‘amazing’ experience, as he trudged to the top of the mountain with nine other men, singing the Nepalese national anthem as they went.
He adds: ‘It was extremely emotional. As we hugged, sang and walked together I could see some of my team members were in tears and that was a really powerful thing you know. That’s like next level. We were living in the moment.’
Nims had never climbed with any of the five Nepalese men he recruited – all Sherpas – and picked them purely for their mind-set and ambition
On the gear side of things, the hardy outdoorsman was grateful for some hand warmers he could put inside his mittens as he was suffering from frost nip on three of his fingers. Thanks to the warmers, he maintained his track record of ‘returning exactly as I left with everything intact’
While Nims and his team were on the mountain, Spanish mountaineer Sergi Mingote sadly fell to his death. Nims said of the tragic event: ‘I know if it was me, I wouldn’t want to go any other way than doing what I love doing so I’m sure his soul is resting in peace in heaven’
Reaching the top is just half of the battle when it comes to mountaineering and the descent can be just as, and if not more, dangerous.
Luckily the climbers got back to the safety of basecamp in one piece but the celebrations were stalled by the news of Sergi Mingote’s death. The Spanish mountaineer, who was part of a different expedition team, fell more than 500 metres (1,640 feet) while making his way down from Camp 1 to advanced base camp.
Nims says of the tragic event: ‘I first heard that there had been an accident over the radio when we were near the summit.
‘It was a bit tough at that point and I said, ‘Hey boys let’s change the channel because that’s the past and we can’t let a sad incident affect us’.
‘We thought it was just a fall to begin with. It was important to have everyone focused on the specific goal. But after we got back to Camp 3 on our descent I found out that it was Sergi who was a really good friend of mine.
‘He was such a great guy. It was a very weird feeling because we couldn’t celebrate our success. I know if it was me, I wouldn’t want to go any other way than doing what I love doing so I’m sure his soul is resting in peace in heaven. My condolences to his family.’
After 21 days in the mountains, Nims was happy to have a hot shower – although he jokes that he still ‘smelled good’ after weeks of not washing – and his first meal was a plate of momos (Nepalese meat dumplings).
On the gear side of things, the hardy outdoorsman was grateful for some hand warmers he could put inside his mittens as he was suffering from frostnip on three of his fingers.
Thanks to the warmers, he maintained his track record of ‘returning exactly as I left with everything intact’.
Asked what his secret to success is, Nims says he’s always had a quiet sense of determination and having respect for the mountain is of utmost importance.
He continues: ‘For me, giving up is not in the blood. When there is one mission all this pain and hard work is a blur. It’s not important how painful it is, it’s not important how cold it is.
‘When I was a Gurkha before joining the SBS I would sometimes wake up a 2am and run 40km and go back to the boarding house and pretend I was still in bed sleeping. I’ve had this attitude from a kid. Being in the Special Forces is completely different to mountaineering and high altitude but it helped me to operate and function in a stressful environment.
‘As long as you make the right decisions every time, you will always be successful.’
With so many incredible mountaineering accomplishments in the bag the inevitable question is what’s next for Nims?
Before heading off for a celebration at the Pakistan embassy in Kathmandu, he serves up a cliffhanger along with a cheeky grin. ‘We always keep surprising,’ he chuckles.
Nims’ book Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks – My Life In The Death Zone, is available to buy now via www.nimsdai.com
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