Nepali lawmaker wants elite mountaineer accused of sexual assault banned from Everest

Nepali lawmaker wants elite mountaineer accused of sexual assault banned from Everest

An elite mountaineer has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least two women, prompting calls to ban him from Mount Everest.

Former Miss Finland Lotta Hintsa and April Leonardo from California have accused Nirmal “Nims” Purja, who was the subject of a 2021 Netflix documentary 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, of sexual misconduct during their expeditions with him.

The allegations were reported by the New York Times last week and shook the mountaineering community.

Mr Purja has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

They also led to calls by lawmakers in Nepal, where Mr Purja is originally from, to ban him from entering the country, thereby revoking his right to the Everest.

Ms Hintsa and Ms Leonardo made allegations of unsettling incidents of sexual assault and harassment with the famous climber, who in 2021 embarked on a quest to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks in seven months.

In a statement posted on Instagram, the climber said he had instructed his legal team to “move forward with the next steps in proceedings against the publication”.

After the allegations against Mr Purja, who is also known as Nimsdai, were published, the mountaineering community came out in support of the two women even as Nepali lawmaker Rajendra Bajgain called on his government to ban the climber from entering the country.

Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Mr Bajgain alleged that Mr Purja had tarnished Nepal’s image, The Himalayan Times reported.

“We owe it to our visitors and everyone in Nepal to ensure they feel safe and can trust our authorities. I will be advocating for such investigations because no one is above the law. Ensuring safety and trust in Nepalese law is essential for our country’s reputation and the continued success of our tourism industry.”

Mr Purja earlier accused Nepali sherpas of cutting ropes on expeditions and the mountaineering community of playing “dirty politics”.

Nepal’s tourism ministry denied that ropes were cut on the way to the Everest summit and instead launched an investigation.

Mr Purja reportedly lives in the United Kingdom and has British citizenship.

Many climbers and organisations have demanded action against Mr Purja and urged his sponsors to cut ties.

Celebrated American climber Alison Levine said she had been “waiting for over a year for this story to break”.

A guiding company called AWE Expeditions, which is owned and operated by women, said they were “deeply troubled by the reports of Nims perpetrating sexual violence against women in the mountains”.

One of his major sponsors, Osprey Packs, an American outdoor backpack company, has reportedly withdrawn sponsorship.

“Osprey is aware of the recent allegations made against mountaineer Nirmal Purja. He is no longer an Osprey ambassador,” a company spokesperson was quoted as saying by The Himalayan Times.

A prominent name in mountain climbing, Mr Purja has collaborated with several major brands like Red Bull and Nike, which released a clothing line called 8K Peaks inspired by him.

He was also featured on a Manhattan billboard and received an honorary doctorate from Loughborough University. Other outdoor brands like Grivel and Scarpa have partnered with him on co-branded products.

Scarpa said in a statement that it had suspended all marketing and promotional activities, both online and offline.

“We will monitor the situation closely and adopt business decisions as the matter develops, always in line with our values.”

Grivel removed all images and products associated with Mr Purja from their Instagram account. The company announced on Thursday that they had suspended their collaboration with Mr Purja and ceased promoting and selling related products.

The Women of Mountaineering group also lent their support to the two women and said they were working towards changing the gender dynamics in the mountaineering community.

Mr Purja is not new to controversy. A 2023 GQ profile titled “The Controversial King of Hardcore Climbing” detailed how his quest to scale all 14 of the planet’s 8,000-metre peaks in record time propelled him to global fame and sparked debate within the climbing community about his methods and impact. However, the allegations were not sexual in nature.

Renowned professional mountaineer Adrian Ballinger took to social media in the wake of allegations against Mr Purja and demanded zero tolerance for sexual assault.

“I’ve always believed our job is to mitigate risks in the mountains where we can and then honestly acknowledge risks we cannot control, and choose whether we continue,” he said on Instagram.

“Sexual predation is a danger we can not only mitigate, we can join together to ensure we have zero tolerance for in our community.”

Mr Purja’s team responded to The Independent‘s request for a comment with the following statement:

“While many people have added their voices to this discourse – we would like people to understand they have only heard half the story – they do not know the full facts.

“The publication’s story makes allegations, these are NOT facts. Nims denies these allegations unequivocally. We maintain the ‘investigation’ by the publication was biased and had a pre-determined narrative and outcome. The publication left out parts of key witness testimonies and information which would have rendered the allegations totally impossible.

“The context these testimonies would have given to the piece was not printed, and the publication left out Nims’ full statement and those of the witnesses, (who for the record included employees, but the majority were not employees.) This led to an article that shows unbelievable malice and bias against Nims. It presented allegations as fact – this is incorrect and untrue.

“To be clear, Nims unequivocally denies the allegations. While we understand women’s safety is an emotive topic and a hugely important one in all spaces – not just the outdoor industry – allegation, speculation and rumour should not be able to override the legal process. For society to function it must be fair and unbiased. The legal presumption is innocent until proven guilty – the outcome should not be judged in the court of public opinion, or the arena of likes, shares and clickbait headlines.

“Nims is committed to championing diversity and inclusion in the Big Mountain environment and he has spent his professional mountaineering career doing just that. Safety is his key priority and he has devoted his climbing career to helping people achieve their mountaineering dreams. Nims would like to thank everyone who has supported him and stood by him – we have full faith the truth will prevail.”

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.