Mountains and TV were made for each other. With your feet up, you can look down a sheer ice face of two vertical miles, and break a sweat about missing a toehold, without it being your own toe. We get to feel the thrill of adventure and the epic grandeur of these landscapes, and not trouble a rescue helicopter by trying to actually go there. Some people, meanwhile, were apparently born with a need to risk life and limb scaling the highest and most dangerous peaks in the world. Above 8,000 metres, in the “death zone”, there are only 14 of these, all in the Himalayas. Until now the spotlight of summiting glory has shone on climbers from wealthy, rich-world expeditions, not on the Sherpa people without whom they couldn’t get there.
Step forward Nirmal “Nims” Purja, who in 2019 set himself the challenge of whittling the record of climbing all 14 eight-thousanders down from seven years to just seven months – a typical expedition on just one of them takes two months. In a powerful sequence, we see Nims come through gruelling selection from thousands of Nepali boys desperate to escape the poverty of their origins, to train and serve with the Ghurka regiment of the British Army, and then become the first Ghurka to serve with the Special Boat Service. You could say he was in pretty good shape to call a challenge like this “Project Possible”. But the perils of these climbs are not to be trifled with. And the team of Sherpa mates around him must have been on good terms with the Himalayan deities, given their turning up to climb Mount Kanchenjunga (the world’s third highest peak) on little sleep and a hangover from partying in Kathmandu. On the descent, having nearly died after a slip, Nims hallucinates with high-altitude cerebral edema, while trying to rescue a lost climber from another expedition.
“14 Peaks expands a genre often focused on the feats of individuals to celebrate lessons about vast dreams and communal bonds”, writes Lisa Kennedy in the New York Times, also suggesting someone make a film about the women these (mainly) men leave behind for such antics. Gary M Kramer on Salon.com agrees that “It is this inspirational aspect to Nims’s story that makes 14 Peaks worthwhile.” “You don’t have to be a mountaineering enthusiast to enjoy 14 Peaks” says Andrew Lawrence in the Guardian. “The extreme force of Nims’s infectious personality makes that easy enough. But what’s likely to have you returning to the film time and again is the warmth at the heart of Nims’s mission, a testament to the levels a person can ascend if they don’t let negativity stand in the way of their big dreams.” Kramer continues, “And if the uplifting 14 Peaks motivates viewers to get off the couch and go climb a mountain, well, that’s a win.”
Just take Nims and his Sherpa compatriots with you.
First shown December 2021.