Without checking online, can you name the first person to climb Mount Everest? If Sir Edmund Hillary comes to your mind, Nirmal “Nims” Purja wants you to know that Sir Edmund was able to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world because of the man who reached it with him, the Nepali Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay. In the documentary “14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible,” Purja undertakes a quest even Sir Edmund and Norgay might find daunting. He wants to take an all-Nepali group to the top of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, each more than 8000 meters (26,247 feet) above sea level.
There is a reason that we use mountain metaphors to speak of tasks that are beyond the realm of the achievable, describing them as “insurmountable.” Only a handful of people have climbed all 14 of the 8,000-meter mountains. The first was Reinhold Messner, and it took him 16 years to do them all. Purja decided he would do it in seven months. Usually, one of this documentary’s experts tells us, any of these mountains is a two-month project. Aside from the almost unthinkable challenge each mountain poses, the physical, emotional, and financial problems of doing them in such a short time and the unpredictability of the weather, there are the geopolitical/diplomatic challenges, with mountains in Nepal, Pakistan, and Tibet/China. And Purja almost always climbs without additional oxygen, to altitudes with just a third of the oxygen we are used to breathing. One of the mountains normally takes four days to summit. He does it in one. With a hangover.
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“I was told that my project was impossible,” Purja tells us. “So, I decided to name it Project: Possible.” He is determined to do it to give Nepali climbers the credit they are due, and, he notes, to pay them more than they would get from Western climbers. It will burnish the resumes of his team and provide more opportunities. He makes a point of introducing us to each member of the team at the beginning of the film, calling them his brothers and telling us about each one’s special skill. Over the course of the film, we see his determination but also his heroic generosity of spirit, helping others who had given up to achieve the summits and stopping, at the risk of missing his deadline, to help climbers suffering from exposure or altitude sickness.