Former British commando Nirmal “Nims” Purja admitted he was taking a calculated risk by leading a group of Sherpas and not using supplementary oxygen (O2) above 8000m during the now historic K2 winter ascent.
Due to the weather and time frame, he hadn’t acclimatized adequately, and was only able to sleep as high as Camp 2 (6,600m).
Ideally climbers need to sleep or at least touch Camp 4 before heading for a summit push, Purja explained.
Frost bite on his hand from the first rotation (reportedly from taking a selfie with another climber) and the risk of slowing down other team members, therefore risking everyone’s safety, were the key uncertainties he faced.
“To lay it out straight, on my previous evolutions I had been carrying oxygen from 8000m and above, but I was personally satisfied with my work efficiency up to 8000m (on K2),” Purja wrote on Facebook.
“It was my choice and I had my own reasons and ethos. It was a tough call this time … whether to climb with or without supplementary oxygen (O2).
“I took a calculated risk this time and I pressed on without supplementary O2. My self confidence, knowing my body’s strength, capability and my experience from climbing the 14 x 8000ers, enabled me to keep up with the rest of the team members and yet lead,” he wrote.
The mountaineer, who quit his job with the famed British SBS when they wouldn’t give him time off to climb, also waded into the O2 controversy that erupted in the climbing community during the climb.
Some purists, such as legendary Russian-Polish climber Denis Urubko, have stated that using supplemental oxygen is equivalent to “sports doping.”
Others say it is unfair to even use fixed ropes laid by others on O2, or even to have O2 available on a climb.
“There are many cases, where climbers have claimed no O2 summits, but followed our trail that we blazed and used the ropes and lines that we had fixed,” wrote Purja. “Some of which are widely known within the inner climbing community.
“What is classified as fair means? Personally, it had never been a major deal for me and it still isn’t.
“Coming from a United Kingdom’s special forces background, you have … done all sorts, but we don’t make a big fuss about everything. It is a personal choice. Nature and the mountains are for everyone. You make your own call!
“K2 winter was a beast of a challenge,” he added, “I firmly believe that a feat of such caliber is never possible if you don’t have a purpose, or, if it is only aimed for your own self glory.”
The tone is slightly different for Purja, who caused a stir on social media by “promising” in Base Camp that he’ll reach the summit.
Fresh off a 2019 tear that included climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in six months and six days, performing three rescues and publishing an autobiography, Purja still found time to climb Island Peak (6,189m) last month.
Part of the Karakoram Range that straddles the Pakistan-China border, K2 was the only mountain above 8,000m yet to be climbed in winter.
So unforgiving are the conditions on the 8,611m (28,251 ft) high peak, that it has long been referred to as “The Savage Mountain.”
At 17:00 local time on Saturday, Purja and a team of Sherpas, including Mingma G and Sona Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks team (SST), waited 10 meters below the summit, until a group was formed.
The group of 10 then stepped onto the summit together while singing the Nepalese National Anthem.
“We are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible,” Purja said.
Added Mingma G, on his Facebook: “Finally we did it. We made the history in (the) mountaineering field.”
Mingma G, whose palmares include five Everest ascents and two K2 summits in summer, also climbed without supplemental oxygen.
Though operating on an apparent shoestring — their GoFundMe had raised only $6,454 of the $47,500 goal and could use a boost.