Review: ’14 Peaks’ documents Nepalese climber’s inspiring expedition

By Surya Patil, Archer School for Girls

Through unpredictable, destructive avalanches, dreadful winds and low oxygen zones, high altitude climber Nirmal Purja in “14 Peaks” navigates hazardous conditions to complete a seemingly impossible mountaineering expedition.

The documentary “14 Peaks” follows Nirmal Purja and his team as they attempt to summit the 14 highest peaks in the world in less than seven months. Purja, himself, continuously emphasizes how being a part of a fully Nepalese team created many challenges, such as the team’s inability to get any funding for the expedition, and how their achievements are viewed by the mountaineering community and the world, throughout and beyond their expedition. This documentary explores the depth of human ability and how far an individual’s drive and ambition can take them.

As the film flashes back and forth from past to present, starting with how Purja began his expedition and his enlistment in the Gurkhas, a renowned Nepalese army, viewers are able to see him develop his compelling value of kindness that distinguishes him from other mountaineers.

Purja’s mission draws attention to the Nepalese climbing community and gives credit to those who help Western and European climbers summit peaks like Mount Everest. Early on in the film, when Purja introduces his climbing team, the audience begins to see the true reason why he began his expedition to begin with. His desire to give back to the Nepalese climbing community is encouraging and inspirational for viewers at home.

As Purja climbs each mountain, other experienced mountaineers narrate parts of his journey. They highlight the extreme levels of danger of his expedition through detailed explanations of the importance of teamwork and trust within a team.

Before Purja began his expedition, he was doubted and told by everyone that climbing 14 mountains in a small amount of time was “impossible.” This fueled his motivation to complete his journey and name the film, “Project Possible.” The project and its title reminds the viewer to have confidence in their own abilities even when others may not.

The documentary is split up into three parts. Each phase takes place in a different mountain range with peaks over 8000 meters, in either Nepal, Pakistan or Tibet. The distinct separation of long climbing footage clearly illustrates the specific route Purja follows on each mountain and gives viewers the ability to understand the mental challenge of being a climber. This filming style makes the story easy to follow and lays out a specific timeline for viewers to understand how one climbs a peak.

The film gives insight into Purja’s poor childhood, and the bittersweet storyline explored with his mother reinforced the impermanence of life and the human desire to achieve what seems impossible.

After watching this documentary, I only had one question: How had this movie not been given the same or even more fame than the Oscar winning film, “Free Solo“? “Free Solo” premiered on National Geographic on Dec. 13, 2018, and was watched by over 1.45 million people, making it the most watched premiere on National Geographic to this day. Prior to watching “14 Peaks” I had never heard the film mentioned. The personal story that unfolds in “14 Peaks” is much more impactful, and the achievement completed is exponentially larger.

For me, this reinforced one of the key points made throughout the film: the Nepalese climbing community is still not being given the credit they deserve, even after such an amazing achievement. The film did an amazing job in stating that there is still a lot to be done in broadcasting the achievements of the underrepresented mountaineering community and the world.

Overall, this must-see documentary, portrays a candid, inspiring journey that highlights the extent of human ambition.

This story was originally published on The Oracle on January 28, 2022.