Royal style: Sheikha Al Thani on Kangchenjunga

Asma Al Thani (2nd from right) with Nirmal Purja (r.) and Co. on the summit of Kangchenjunga (in front Tenji Sherpa)
Asma Al Thani (2nd from right) with Nirmal Purja (r.) and Co. on the summit of Kangchenjunga (in front Tenji Sherpa)

Nirmal “Nims” Purja will probably not have to worry about tickets for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year. The Nepalese mountaineering star – in 2019, he scaled (with bottled oxygen) all 14 eight-thousanders in just over six months, in 2021 he was one of the climbers, who succeeded in the first winter ascent of K2 (in his own words, without bottled oxygen) – will certainly be invited to the football tournament as a VIP. After all, the 38-year-old has the best connections to the Qatari ruling family Al Thani. Since the head of the commercial operator Elite Expeditions took Sheikha Asma Al Thani on the rope as a premium client, things have been going well for the 32-year-old on the highest mountains in Nepal.

Last Saturday, the member of Qatar’s ruling family reached the 8,586-meter-high summit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain on earth, at Nims’ side – with bottled oxygen. According to Purja, in two days from base camp to the highest point, on the normal route secured with fixed ropes. And Al Thani has begun to sound a bit like “Giving up is not in my blood”-Purja: “In order to succeed, you must be willing to keep searching for light in the darkest of places, even when it appears impossible,” Asma wrote on Instagram. “I decided to go ahead and do it, and so we did.”

Top team around her

Asma Al Thani (2nd from right) between Nirmal Purja (l.) and Mingma Tenzi (r.)
Asma Al Thani (2nd from right) between Nims (l.) and Mingma Tenzi (r.)

Besides Purja, there were three other extremely strong Sherpas supporting her on Kangchenjunga: Mingma Tenzi Sherpa (also one of the climbers of the first K2 winter ascent, for him Kangchenjunga was the eleventh eight-thousander), Lakpa Dendi Sherpa (his 24th eight-thousander summit success) and Tenji Sherpa (who has already scaled Everest seven times; in 2012 without breathing mask, together with the legendary Ueli Steck, who died in an accident five years later). For ordinary people, such an ascent in “royal style”, as made possible for Asma Al Thani on Kangchenjunga, is likely to be prohibitively expensive and also unattainable.

In September 2021, Nims (with a differently composed team) had already led Asma to the summit of the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu – according to Mingma Gyalje Sherpa from the operator Imagine Nepal even as one of a few on the “real” summit. According to her own statement, the Sheikha did without bottled oxygen – always directly at her side: Nirmal Purja. This was also the case last November when she reached the summit of the 6.814-meter-high Ama Dablam.

Ascent on fixed rope
Ascent on fixed rope

And that’s how it will be when Asma sets off for her second summit attempt on Mount Everest in the near future. In the meantime, the Sheikha flew back by helicopter with Nims and Co. to the base camp at the foot of the highest mountain on earth. Last year, her first Everest summit attempt – at that time with another expedition operator – had failed due to bad weather. Al Thani and her companions had to turn back at the South Col at almost 8,000 meters.

Now up to Everest – with ball

Nirmal Purja with the World Cup ball 2022
Nims with the World Cup ball 2022

Asma Al Thani – who, incidentally, is responsible for marketing and communications as director at the Qatari National Olympic Committee – has set her sights on the so-called “Explorer’s Grand Slam”: the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on all continents, and both poles. Asma has already completed last-degree expeditions to the North Pole (in 2018) and the South Pole (in 2022) – although purists actually demand expeditions from the mainland to the North Pole and from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole for the Grand Slam, the general public is not so particular about this.

Of the Seven Summits, Al Thani has Kilimanjaro (Africa, in 2014), Aconcagua (South America, in 2019), Elbrus (Europe, in 2021) and Mount Vinson (Antarctica, in 2022) under her belt. Now the highest mountain in Asia, Mount Everest, is to follow. The chances are pretty good that not only Al Thani but also the official World Cup ball will reach the summit at 8,849 meters – a PR stunt for the controversial football tournament in Qatar. And by then at the latest, Nims Purja should have his World Cup VIP cards in his pocket.

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