Nepali mountaineer set for final push in record 14-peak bid

Mountaineer Nirmal Purja, left, with his expedition operator Mingma David Sherpa plans to climb the world’s 14 tallest peaks in only seven months. (AFP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Nepali mountaineer set for final push in record 14-peak bid

  • Nirmal Purja arrived at the advance base camp of the 8,201-meter Cho Oyu on Monday
  • The mountaineer has set several speed climbing records this year

KATMANDU: The current record for climbing the world’s 14 tallest peaks is almost eight years. Nepali climber, Nirmal Purja, who served in the British special forces, has a target of seven months.
On Monday Purja arrived at the advance base camp of the 8,201-meter (26,906-feet) Cho Oyu, ready for the final phase of the last three peaks in his feat of astonishing endurance.
“Nobody believed I could do this when I first said it ... I’m so glad to be inspiring generations of all ages through this endeavor. This is what keeps me going,” Purja said by phone.
“This is not about me... it is to show what the human body can do. To establish a paradigm shift in perception of human potential,” Purja said.
Only a teenager when he joined the British Gurkhas, Purja or “Nims dai” climbed both the 8,848-meter Everest and Lhotse at 8,516 meters in a record 10 hours and 15 minutes in 2017.
This inspired the 36-year-old to start “Project Possible,” scaling the 14 peaks — all higher than 8,000 meters — in seven months.
But doing so is radically ambitious. In the 1980s, it took Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka seven years, 11 months and 14 days.
South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho managed it in about a month less — although he did, unlike Kukuczka and Purja, do it without supplementary oxygen.
Before he set off on his first expedition, Purja had a detailed tattoo of the 14 mountains engraved on his back, with colorful prayer flags tracing his journey to the peaks.
Swapping his army boots for crampons, Purja quit the military after 16 years of service and re-mortgaged his house to begin his expedition and start raising funds.
Purja began his attempt in April with the 8,091-meter Annapurna, checking the illustrious “8,000ers” Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu off his list in only a month to finish his first phase.
A month later, he was heading to Pakistan for the second part of his mission where he first tackled the notorious Nanga Parbat at 8,125 meters. Twenty-three days later he was standing atop Broad Peak, his fifth and final mountain of the second phase.
Battling sleep deprivation to meet his target, Purja said he was almost sprinting up and down five of Pakistan’s highest peaks including K2, the second tallest in the world.
“I felt like this is one down and next to go (with every summit). We still have another to climb,” Purja said.
On track to make climbing history, the phenomenal mountaineer has in the process also set several speed climbing records this year.
This included his summits of Everest, Lhotse and Mount Makalu, three of the world’s five highest mountains, in a record 48 hours — and despite the deadly overcrowding this season on the planet’s top peak.
Purja also made headlines with his miraculous rescue operation of a Malaysian climber from Mount Annapurna after two nights in the open above 7,000 meters.
“It is only a matter of time until he completes his project, he has already proven his amazing capability,” said Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, Purja’s expedition operator.
Raised in a village in the northwest district of Chitwan, Purja said he did not even have flip-flops growing up.
“My life story tells anyone who doesn’t have privilege to dream about bigger things. Anything is possible if you put your heart and mind and give 100 percent to it,” he said.
He also hopes to lift the standing of Nepali climbers — Sherpas who often work as guides for foreign climbers in the Himalayas — as he feels they are not “given the right credit.”
But there is a potential spanner in the works.
The Chinese government’s decision to close Mount Shishapangma for the season could potentially stymie Purja’s plans.
But efforts are underway to seek a special permission for him.
“Dealing with all sorts from admin, logistics, fundings and politics; now my climbing mode is ON,” he said on Facebook on Monday.


World’s loudest bird sings heart out in pursuit of love

This image obtained October 21, 2019 courtesy of Anselmo d’Affonseca shows a male white bellbird (Procnias albus)screaming its mating call. Deep in the Amazon, a white-plumed suitor weighing no more than half a pound turns to face his paramour before belting out a defeaning, klaxon-like call, reaching decibel levels equal to a pile driver. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

World’s loudest bird sings heart out in pursuit of love

  • The researchers wrote that its calls are so loud, they wondered how white bellbird females listen at close range without damaging their hearing

WASHINGTON: In the mountainous northern Amazon, a tiny white-plumed suitor turns to face his would-be paramour and belts out a deafening, klaxon-like call, reaching decibel levels equal to a pile driver.
Meet the white bellbird, which has just beaten out its rainforest neighbor, the screaming piha, for the title of the world’s loudest bird.
Biologist Jeff Podos at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mario Cohn-Haft of Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia described the record-breaking finding in a paper published in the journal Current Biology on Monday.
The researchers wrote that its calls are so loud, they wondered how white bellbird females listen at close range without damaging their hearing.
The feat is all the more impressive given the species’ diminutive size: they’re about as big as doves, weighing around half a pound (a quarter of a kilogram).
The males are distinguished by a fleshy black wattle adorned with white specks that falls from the beak, while the females are green with dark streaks and wattle-less.
Podos told AFP he was lucky enough to witness females join males on their perches as they sang.
“He sings the first note facing away, and then he does this dramatic, almost theatrical swivel, where he swings around with his feet wide open and his wattle is kind of flailing around,” he said.
“And he blasts that second note right where the female would have been, except the female knows what’s coming and she’s not going to sit there and accept that so she flies backwards” by around four meters (13 feet).
It’s not clear why the females voluntarily expose themselves to the noise at such proximity, which reaches peak levels of 113 decibels — above the human pain threshold and equivalent to a loud rock concert or a turbo-prop plane 200 feet (60 meters) away achieving liftoff power.
“Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems,” Podos added.

Still, since the scientists didn’t actually observe the birds ever mating, “We don’t know if the males we saw were accomplished males or dorks,” said Podos.
The pair used high-quality sound recorders and high-speed video to slow the action enough to study how the bird uses its anatomy to achieve such levels of noise — louder than much larger howler monkeys or bison, but probably not as loud as lions, elephants or whales.
“We don’t know how small animals manage to get so loud. We are truly at the early stages of understanding this biodiversity,” said Podos.
They also found that as the bird’s call gets louder, it also gets shorter, and theorized the trade-off may be occurring because the birds’ respiratory systems have a finite ability to control airflow and generate sound.
This, they said, would place a natural anatomical limit on how loud the bird could evolve to become through sexual selection, or selection for traits that are advantageous for reproduction.