It’s a lot. Nims is a lot. But his hustle and bravado are precisely the things that have allowed him to break into the mainstream from Nepal’s deep bench of climbing talent. I’ve covered mountaineering and Sherpa culture on and off for more than a decade, and while there have always been insanely strong climbers with roots in Nepal, nobody has ever amassed the mind share, as the marketers say, that Nims has. In the process he’s gathered a legion of devotees and plenty of critics, all of them hoping to cement his reputation as either a generational talent among high-altitude mountaineers or else an egotistical self-promoter flying perilously close to the sun.
I found it impossible to escape these questions in Kathmandu as I prepared to go meet the man himself. At the airport, I made my way beneath the rotors of an AStar B3, noticing before I climbed aboard that it was wrapped in now familiar black lettering: Nimsdai.
The heli put me down in Namche Bazaar, which sits in an airy amphitheater of hillside high above the confluence of the Dudh Kosi and Bhote Koshi rivers. From a ridgeline above town, I could see Ama Dablam—“mother’s necklace”—a granite pinnacle adorned with a hundred-ton pendant of ice near its western crown. Farther in the background rises the squat pyramid of Everest, at 29,032 feet. Chomolungma, as the Sherpas call it, isn’t the prettiest, but it’s so high that it juts into the jet stream and makes a rooster tail in the stratosphere, like it’s clawing at space itself.
Walking the dusty trail beside these mountains produces a kind of vertigo of naked scale. They follow you the way the moon does—Thamserku, Taboche, Cholatse. The path feels stationary, like a treadmill. For most of us, Himalayan peaks merely inspire awe. But to an unfortunate subset of climbers, they’re as irresistible as a wobbly bookcase is to a toddler. The tallest 14 of the world’s summits, through a chance intersection of geology and the metric system, are known as the 8,000’ers. Above 8,000 meters—about 26,000 feet—your body can no longer adapt to the thinness of the air. This is the Death Zone. You can’t stay here long.
It was on these 14 peaks—all of them located in the Himalayan uplift in the border regions of Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan—that Nims first blew minds. The Death Zone peaks are roughly sorted into three groups, based on those international borders. In Nepal: Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Manaslu. In the Pakistani Karakoram, 900 miles to the north and much colder: Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I and II, K2, and Broad Peak. Lastly, along Nepal’s border with Tibet: Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.
He’d first begun climbing at altitude in 2012, at the age of 29, and four years later reached the summit of Everest as an anonymous client while on leave from the U.K. Special Forces. Then, in 2019, having previously climbed only four of the Death Zone peaks, Nims summited all 14 in just six months and six days. He called it Project Possible, because people who know about such things told him it couldn’t be done. The previous record was a brisk but sensible seven years—one expedition in each of the spring and fall climbing seasons, between the monsoons and the frigid winter.