A few weeks ago, I was swiping mindlessly past Instagram stories of friends and families as usual. A few seconds into the app and something instantly stood out that particular day; virtually every one of my Instagram friends was sharing the same post on their story. ‘14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible’, the post read; a new Netflix documentary was set to release on the 29th of November. I immediately recognized the Instagram handle, ‘nimsdai’, on one of the stories and opened the post to read its caption for details. Prior to checking his Instagram, I had minute information about who ‘nimsdai’ was; I did know that he was a mountaineer, and his growing social media presence was another conspicuous aspect about him. Fast forward a month later and after much anticipation, the documentary was finally here—and the expected online buzz accompanied its release.
Directed by Torquil Jones, ‘14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible is a documentary about a fearless mountaineer, Nirmal Purja (popularly known as Nimsdai), and his seemingly unattainable quest to summit all fourteen of the world’s 8000-meter peaks in seven months. Embarking on this daunting adventure, Nimsdai wants to take an all-Nepali group to the top of those fourteen peaks; a feat was previously undertaken in eight years; Nimsdai, however, completes it in six months and six days—all the while breaking six mountaineering records. The documentary underscores not only the insurmountable challenge that the team undertook in those difficult terrains, but also the physical, mental, and financial hurdles that this mission entailed.
“Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood”, says Nimsdai, and boy does he embody those words through the course of his expeditions. The documentary, with its runtime of 109 minutes, poses us with the most human element of all via its depiction of man’s confrontation between life and death. There is almost an existential feel to it; to picture oneself in the mountaineer’s shoes amidst the vastness of those precarious snowy terrains. It’s a terrifying yet exhilarating feeling to visualize yourself coming face to face with your own mortality; that feeling lingers even after you have finished watching the documentary. And that is what makes it inspiring tenfold, as we witness Nimsdai representing not only a Nepali mountaineer’s capability and strength but a human being’s valor in the face of such insuperable odds. Nimsdai himself constantly echoes the point of his mission being to push the limits of—not only a mountaineer’s fortitude—but that of our species itself. Climbing any of the mountains is typically a two-month project, according to experts. However, with his grit, generosity of spirit, charisma, and sheer willpower, Nimsdai spearheads the task successfully within a relatively short span of time.
The documentary chronicles the nitty-gritty of the grueling mission while also displaying some of the most enthralling landscapes that complement the northern fringes of Nepal—along with stunning vistas of the Karakoram in Pakistan. Viewers are bound to be captivated by the visuals, primarily with POV (point of view) shots of dangerous trails that offer us a vicarious thrill. Those who would not dare to attempt to summit those peaks will be granted an opportunity to see what the top of the world looks like. One of the most commendable aspects of the film is its documentation of Nimsdai’s personal narrative whilst concurrently addressing his mountaineering endeavors. It bounces back and forth between the two, juxtaposing his humble background with his not-so-humble ambitions. The “crazy guy” that is Nimsdai and his resolve towards his goals is built upon the foundation that is his family and fellow mountaineer friends; they are his fuel. Serving in the British military for more than a decade is another defining factor in molding the man he is today, as he credits that career for teaching him “discipline, humility, and respect”. Suchi Purja, the wife of Nimsdai, also plays a crucial role in the show’s narration; it is she who accentuates the storytelling by delivering a truly personal touch to the documentary.
The creators of the show have done a brilliant job in using animation to show us parts of the expedition that weren’t possible to film. From Nimsdai’s terrifying hundred meters fall downhill during one of the summits to the moment where he experiences High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), as well as the scene where he was nearly shot during one of his Special Forces missions; the portrayal of those horrific incidents was immaculate through the use of skillful animation. What is most noteworthy about the documentary is that, while it certainly revolves around Nimsdai’s individual story, it also does justice to the people involved in the expeditions by providing viewers with ample insight into them, as well as how the entire operation was carried out—although some viewers digress, claiming that phase two and three of the expedition were not given equal screen time.
“I was told that my project was impossible. So I decided to name it ‘Project: Possible’,” says Nimsdai. If there is anything the documentary significantly spotlighted, it was Nimsdai’s aim to garner the respect that Nepali mountaineers rightfully deserve. “The climbing community of Nepal has always been the pioneers of the eight-thousanders but they never got the respect they deserve. I want to represent the Nepali climbing community.” There is, nonetheless, one slight reservation that I have: the documentary could have stressed how the term “Sherpa” is often universally misunderstood. ‘Sherpa’ translates to “people of the east”, referring to their geographical origin of eastern Tibet. Thus, reducing it to occupation is blatantly dismissive of an entire ethnicity. This is especially rampant in the Western mainstream and given that the show is produced by Western filmmakers along with the level of reach that Netflix has, this could have been clarified for viewers globally. The Sherpa community has historically been integral to Nepal’s mountaineering industry, so to acknowledge this vital information would have been more than warranted.
Although Nimsdai expresses his dissent over climbers saying “My Sherpa helped me”—to emphasize how their individual name should be on the forefront or else they would be akin to “ghosts”—the documentary simply glossed over what the term “Sherpa” actually even means. The distinction should have been made that the word “Sherpa” is not analogous to a trekking guide, nor is it some slang for climbing supporters—it has its own meaning which shouldn’t be erased. “Let’s be brutally honest. If this was done by some European or Western climbers, the news would have been ten times bigger than this,” says Nimsdai, addressing the barrage of reporters upon his arrival at the airport after completing his mission. Bringing this vital issue into the limelight was perhaps one of the key takeaways, as the domestic mountaineers are severely uncredited which Nimsdai himself echoes consistently.
The documentary delivers the kind of story that is truly one for the history books. As an audience, I found myself fully engrossed in the visuals, the storytelling, and the overall production of the film. To be awestruck by the wonders that lie within your own country is a uniquely mesmerizing feeling. But as another human being, I found myself in complete awe of the sheer amount of courage, perseverance, and tenacity exemplified by Nimsdai. His story is one that will transcend the mountaineering industry, ignite the fighting spirit of people within and beyond our borders, and create ripples across the collective consciousness.