I picked this book from my TBR shelf partly because it’s a non-fiction book and I could include it in my Nonfiction November challenge and more because it fits in with the weekly challenge prompt (which I will answer today or tomorrow, depending on my by now fairly horrendous reviewing schedule).

Nimsdai Purja – “Beyond Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks – My Life in the Death Zone”

(24 November 2020)

The climbing community might have misjudged my determination to pull off the impossible in a big way, but at the same time, I understood the surreal mood. Kim Chang-ho had taken nearly eight years to achieve the same feat, so to put my million into sea level terms, it was as if I’d announced my aim to break Eliud Kipchoge’s 2018 marathon world record of two hours, one minute and thirty-nine seconds. But rather than knocking a second or two off an already incredible time, I’d promised to smash all 26.2 miles in around ten minutes. (p. 120)

I’ve always loved reading classic mountaineering and other adventure books, even though I’m fairly feeble myself and not a fan of trying to climb anything. Here, in a modern version, the Nepalese climber, Nimsdai Purja, who wrote this book with the help of my transcription client Matt Allen, sets out to achieve something “impossible” – climbing all fourteen over-8,000m mountain peaks in Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and China in less than the previous record of seven years and several months. A lot less.

So many things in this book are seemingly impossible feats: he saves lives and attempts to save others while out on the mountains doing his own challenges, he acclimatises more rapidly than other climbers and recovers amazingly quickly from work that floors others, he rescues a fellow climber in an operation that includes being helicoptered up to him, dangling off a rope underneath the helicopter, and he ends up directing climbers in a traffic jam on Everest when he’s supposed to be breaking a world record. Oh, and he breaks several world records while training for and accomplishing Bremont Project Possible (as part of the challenge, he takes his sponsor’s watch faces to each peak, then they can be sold as such).

Nims is a strange mixture of confidence and humility – he does it all for his community of Nepalese sherpas, unsung heroes of so many feted climbs by European and American mountaineers, and to raise awareness of climate change, and to show people you can do anything and inspire people, he loves his mum and dad and his siblings and wife, but also he refuses to show fear, takes command of situations, has to stop himself acting recklessly to prove a point and is an ex-Gurkha and Special Boat Services soldier.

The book does well to bring out any moments when he does waver, opening notably with a near-death experience in an avalanche and featuring his anger when no other climbers will help him try to rescue two lost men and wobbles and an inadvertent surf down an avalanche on his final mountain. The book is approachable for the non-mountaineering-expert; there are several footnotes which explain climbing techniques and other terms that come up, which is a good way of doing it. There are two sets of excellent colour plates and we get eight Lessons from the Death zone at the end (Matt Allen does a lot of books with typical “hard men” so this was not unexpected). A good read, exciting even if you followed Nims’ adventures and know what happened, and an inspirational message.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 15/85 – 70 to go – and it’s one of my Nonfiction November reads.