Nirmal Purja

Multi-world-record-breaking mountaineer

Nirmal standing in front of a podium giving speech at graduation, wearing cap and gown

Nirmal Purja was awarded an Honorary Degree in Winter 2023. Here you can read his degree oration.

It is with huge pride that we welcome alumni back to the University to receive awards such as Honorary Degrees. Today we are delighted to recognise a truly inspirational individual, multi-world-record-breaking mountaineer, Nirmal Purja. 
Nirmal (or Nims as he is commonly known) was born in Nepal.  His boyhood dream was to be a Gurkha and follow in the footsteps of his father and elder brothers.  In 2003 he made this dream a reality by joining the Gurkha Regiment aged just 18. 
A distinguished 16-year military career followed.  He spent six years with the Gurkhas before joining the Special Boat Service, or SBS, becoming the first from the Gurkha Regiment to do so.  As many will know, the SBS sits alongside the SAS as the most elite units of the British military. He undertook a range of tours and operations with the SBS and became a cold weather warfare specialist. 
While in the armed forces, Nims undertook a period of study at the University’s Business School and obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Security Management. Last year, the Business School presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award. 
It was also during his time in the military that Nims first developed an interest in mountaineering. In December 2012, when on a period of leave, he set out on a trek to Everest Base Camp.  He subsequently climbed as much as his military career would allow, conquering Everest for the first time in 2016. The following year he proudly led an expedition of 13 Gurkhas to Everest to commemorate 200 years of Gurkha Service to the British Army. Shortly afterwards Nims broke his first world record by climbing Everest and its two close companions, Lhotse and Makalu, within five days. In 2018 Nims was awarded an MBE for his outstanding achievement in extreme high-altitude mountaineering. 
Whilst there can be no doubt that Nims had already achieved a great deal, more was to yet to come.  A truly ambitions project had formed in his mind.  To achieve it Nims had to focus completely on mountaineering and so, in early 2019, he made the decision to leave the forces.   
Nims’ dream was to climb the world’s highest mountains in a record-breaking time.  This would involve climbing all the 14 peaks that are over 8000 metres in height.  At the time, only 40 climbers had successfully achieved this feat and the world record stood at just under eight years.  Nims’ aim was to climb them in just seven months. Project Possible, as the challenge was named, commenced in April 2019 and was completed just six months and six days later.  A total of seven world records were broken in the process. 
During Project Possible, Nims and his team captured over 100 hours of film footage, and this was turned into a Netflix documentary. Released in 2021 and still available to watch today, 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is a fascinating watch capturing every moment of his incredible achievements.  Nims has also written a book about his experiences.  
Whilst Nims’ ground-breaking 14 Peaks speed record has now been broken, he continues to hold multiple world records. These include the fastest time to climb the world’s five highest mountains, the most 8000 metre peaks in one season, the fastest time to climb the five 8000 metre peaks in Pakistan and the fastest time to climb the eight 8000 metre peaks in Nepal. He has the greatest number of successfully led expeditions on 8,000ers at 43 expeditions, and is in the process of climbing all 14 Peaks again, this time without oxygen, which will see him set a new World Record. 
During his career Nims has acquired a reputation of being a selfless climber and he has put his own ambitions aside to support and help other climbers on numerous occasions, including during Project Possible.  He is a firm believer in giving back to the Himalayan communities that have supported him and he established the Nimsdai Foundation to do just this.  The Foundation supports educational, technological and capacity building initiatives in Nepal. The foundation also supports environmental initiatives aimed at cleaning up the mountains from the impact of tourism and ensuring that the precious ecosystems are protected for the future. It also provides grants to military veterans wishing to achieve their own mountaineering goals. 
Nims is widely celebrated as one of the greatest climbers of his generation and the University is immensely proud to be associated with him. 
Chancellor, I present to you Nirmal Purja, in recognition of his outstanding military service and his subsequent achievements in mountaineering and climbing, for the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.