The one thing I appreciated the most about the new Netflix documentary 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is that it doesn’t dawdle or beat around the bush. If you think climbing 14 of the world’s highest peaks – all 8,000 metres above sea level – is anything like those sunny, lazy, five-star-hotel-riddled mountain jaunts that currently grace countless Instagram Reels or posts, you might want to keep watching.
Truth be told, we don’t know much about what happens in the Himalayas. Why do tens of thousands of people from across the world leave the comforts of their homes only to brave frozen hellholes and extreme weather conditions in the world’s highest mountain range? The Himalayas, which is currently battling a problem of traffic jams and human waste, is home to some of the grittiest stories of human strength and extremes. One such extreme is the protagonist of 14 Peaks.
Nirmal Purja, who goes by Nims for short, wants to climb 14 of the world’s highest peaks, and all within seven months. It’s a feat that was achieved in a world record of seven years, set by the alpine legend Reinhold Messner. But Nims trains like a beast and gets cracking with his team of sherpas.
The documentary, which was shot in 2019, helps us understand the ambition and journey of Nims – a military veteran and a Gurkha, a self-styled “Usain Bolt of peaks.” Incidentally, it was his photo of the Everest traffic jam that had gone viral in 2019, and brought international attention to the human assault on Everest.
There’s more to the film than just climbing impossible peaks, and you definitely don’t have to be a mountaineer to enjoy this human story. But we asked actual mountaineers to tell us: How crazy does it get up there?
Arjun Vajpai, 28
Arjun Vajpai is an Indian mountaineer who, in 2010, became the youngest Indian to climb Mt Everest at the age of 16. Over the last 11 years, he has summited 8,000-metre-plus peaks such as Lhotse, Manaslu and Kangchenjunga. In 2022, he is planning to climb Mt Everest without an oxygen tank.
When I watched the film, I was spellbound, being one of India’s first professional mountaineers and having already shared quite a few moments with Nims dai (“elder brother” in Nepali) himself on the mountains. I still remember, it was the spring of 2019 when Nims kicked off his 14-peak expedition for this film. I was trying to climb Annapurna at the time without oxygen. Nims is like an elder brother to me, and he has always been supportive of me. My personal favourite in the film will always be two lines by him. One is when he says giving up is just not in his blood. He’s a beast and he exemplifies these words to his utmost credibility.
The second favourite line is when he talks about how if a white person had done this, this would have been far bigger news. This is the story of exploration and mountaineering in my experience, too. The sherpas are the real heros and backbone of the mountains, and this movie has given them the credit that was long, long overdue. I'm so glad to be born in these times that we're climbing with the likes of Nims dai. The movie will definitely inspire a whole generation of mountaineers in India.
Priyanka Mohite, 29
Priyanka Mohite is originally from Maharashtra. In April, she became the first Indian woman climber to scale Mt Annapurna, which is the world’s 10th highest mountain peak. She is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and has previously scaled Makalu, Lhotse and Everest, the world’s fifth-highest, fourth-highest and the highest respectively.
Climbing the 8,000-metre 14 peaks is my dream. I climbed Mt Everest in 2013 and after that, I decided to go for all 14 8,000-metre peaks. So far, I’ve climbed only four of them – the only female until now to do so. When I watched this documentary, I got goosebumps. Nirmal Purja’s first peak was Annapurna, which I recently climbed. I know how difficult it is. I could relate to all the difficulties and technicalities of climbing. In the film, he says that life is very important and never giving up is in his blood. I loved that. Last year, he came out with a book and in there, he says, “Your extreme is my normal.” That hits me, you know.
I’ve been climbing for eight years and I know that climbing is not for fame. There’s real hard work that goes into it. We have that mental strength in us that keeps telling us to keep going, but we should also know when to stop. Through the rescue scene in the film, you learn that climbing is one thing, but you also should come back down when you need to. The mountains will stay there.
Vaibhav Aiwale, 37
Vaibhav Aiwale is an engineer by profession and has been climbing for 20 years. His name features in the Asia Book of Records, India Book of Records, Incredible Book of Records and High Range Book of Records, and he has climbed peaks in the Himalayas, Europe and Africa.
I remember Nirmal Purja had published a photo of a human traffic jam en route to Mt Everest (May 2019). I then started following him. I have a friend who was actually a part of an Everest expedition around that time. But he passed away. Nirmal dai used to post his summits on social media and I got very attached to his journey. In the film, Nirmal says that the summit is not done by a mountaineer, it’s done by the sherpa. It’s the guide, base camp team, pantry team and support team that makes a mountaineer go on. They are your family. Sherpas are like every mountaineer’s guru. They always guide you, motivate you and push you towards your summit. The credit should go to them. One thing I adored about Nirmal is that he set his eyes on a target, and he took practical decisions to achieve those. He studied his target, planned it, and executed it with his team.
Keval Hiren Kakka, 30
Keval Hiren Kakka started his mountaineering career by organising expeditions to peaks like Mt Deo Tibba, Mt Hanuman Tibba, and Mt Manaslu. In 2019, Kakka scaled Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse – the world’s highest and fourth-highest, respectively – with his team, all within six days.
When I watched the film, I was in Nepal with Nims himself. My initial experience while watching the film was more of a flashback. I’ve scaled five 8,000-metre peaks, and I know what happens. I felt all of that coming back to me while watching the movie. I always tell others to never give up, and I felt the movie conveyed that, too. I related the most with the bits in the film when Nims started off and found it difficult to find sponsors. Mountaineering is a very strenuous sport and it’s not very famous. There are corporate companies that invite mountaineers to come talk to them and motivate them. But when it comes down to sponsoring, there are very few that support us. In the film, you see Nims putting his house up on mortgage to move ahead. In 2019, when I was to climb Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse, which no Indian had done back then, the amount required was Rs 45 lakh ($59,462). I had decided to mortgage my house and go for it. But luckily we got a few sponsors. I know how much courage you need to take the step.
A message to others would be to live responsibly. We live in cities and our actions affect the mountains. The glaciers are melting and global warming is happening. You think we’re far away but we’re affecting them. The movie watchers should realise that these mountains can end, and [they should] try to save the environment wherever they are.
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