How we made 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible

November 29, 2021

Battling extreme weather, climbing while filming with a drone and using handheld cameras, the behind-the-scenes story of Nimsdai’s 14 Peaks is as fascinating and ambitious as the film itself.

Shot across more than a year, starting at the early fundraising stages and running throughout the 14/7 Challenge, the footage was a mixture of raw handheld cameras, drone photography and portable action cameras mounted on helmets and gear. Some of the footage in the film was even captured by Nimsdai during his military career. Together Nimsdai and his team captured more than 100 hours of footage, which were then ‘brought to life’ over the next 18 months by director Torquil Jones.

Nimsdai tells the incredible real-life story of the filming:

“There was no funding at all at the start of 14/7 – we didn’t even have the money to climb the first two mountains when we set out. The biggest challenge of the whole project wasn’t the climbing, it was the overall mental challenge of managing everything including funding, social media, fundraising and many other dynamics of such a huge project. When I was going around trying to raise the funds, I gave a presentation to the Gurkha community. There were two sons of the Gurkhas there - Sagar and Alit – they were vloggers. They didn’t have experience on the mountains, but they kindly offered to come and film up to Base Camp of the first phase with me, and that’s exactly what they did. I’m so grateful to Sagar and Alit, they literally gave up their jobs to help us with the project. I really wanted to film everything about the project because I knew this would be completely next level and a part of me knew that if I didn’t have the evidence, that some people wouldn’t believe me. I wanted people to witness this incredible journey with the video testimony itself.

“When I started out, being from a Special Forces background, no one knew who I was. So, when I said I would climb all 14 Peaks in 7 months, people said ‘you can’t do it.’  Climbers said to me that climbing 8,000ers is ‘no joke,’ and I used to explain that I’d climbed in 70km per hour winds, but they would just say that ‘you can’t stand in those wind speeds’, and I used to say, well yes you can, you have to anchor yourself. So, I got into an argument or two, and I realised that what I was attempting was beyond the norm. I wanted to prove to people that I had done it.

“With our limited funds I managed to buy a couple of cameras. Stage One – which included Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga- was shot on handheld cameras and portable mounted personal cameras. Sagar and Alit came to base camp to film, which was great. After base camp as we went higher, the filming was done by mainly me and Mingma David and then the rest of the team. Most of the team didn’t have camera experience.  I was raising funds, climbing, doing the logistics, leading the whole expedition, PR and management of my social accounts and the film direction; all at the same time. On some mountains, I had to climb while flying the drone at the same time , because otherwise, if I stopped to film the guys, I would be so far behind. So, I had to literally climb while operating the drone. I even flew the drones as I was climbing Kinshofer Wall on Nanga Parbat. On Dhaulagiri we got the footage you see at the start of the trailer where we are in some extreme weather – 60 to 70 kmph wind speeds.

Nimsdai approaching the summit of G2

“On Stage Two – which included Nanga Parbat and G1 and G2- we had a bit more money and sponsorship. I didn’t however have the money to fly Sagar and Alit to base camp and there had been some incidents of climbers being killed, so I couldn’t risk their lives especially when they were not climbers (though my perspective on Pakistan changed after I went there myself.) So, we managed the filming as a team after Nanga Parbat. G1 and G2 were filmed by us with the drone, our handheld camera, and an old video camera.

“For K2 we had a bit more money, so I was able to pay for a professional cameraman  to come up and film K2 base camp, and after that to film the whole of Manaslu . I was still guiding when we were climbing Manaslu because we needed the money to keep going on 14/7. And to fit in the climbing window for 14/7, I had to take a break from guiding on Manaslu to go to Tibet to climb Cho Oyo, which I did in a week – filming as much as I could on a small portable camera. Then I came back to Manaslu, but Shishapangma was a different game.

“The biggest thing I found with it was because when you’re the lead character in a film, I had to be on camera, so I had to ask Mingma David to film me. I’m not naturally the sort of person to love being in front of a camera, so it felt awkward. But I knew I had to do it to show the world and inspire everyone to know that nothing is impossible. The things you see in the film, especially the filming with my mum during her hospital admission was really tough, but that film had to capture the multiple layers of emotions I was dealing with. It was a tough job, but it had to be done.”

“I grew up without money, we had no TV, we used to sneak over to our neighbours house and try and watch their TV through the window. If they caught us, we’d be in trouble. So, to go from that, to creating my own film is so humbling. I wanted to show everyone not to be scared of dreaming big and if you have passion to go beyond, that you can come up and create your own path. I just want to inspire people that nothing is impossible – that’s the message of this film.”

When they got back the team had multiple hard drives full of footage. Nimsdai met the film’s director Torquil Jones through Noah Media Group. He said: “I hugely respect Torquil. He went through all that footage and made something incredible. He also filmed interviews to tell the story, as well as edit and animate. He’s a genius. This film is his baby and my baby, I got all the footage and managed to climb the 8,000ers and he had the vision to create the film from it. He gave life to it.”

“I would also like to thank all the interviewees, including Reinhold Messner, for their great contribution this project.”

14 Peaks was also executively produced by Free Solo and The Rescue filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi. Nimsdai said: “I’m also super thankful to Chai and my brother Jimmy for bringing an additional layer to the story and putting things into perspective so that everyone could understand the extremity of this endeavour. I’m so grateful to have them support this project.”

14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is out now on Netflix. It was directed, and produced by Torquil Jones and executively produced by Nimsdai, together with Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Free Solo, The Rescue.) Produced by Noah Media Group and Little Monster Films. You can read more about the 14/7 Challenge here.

Camera crew involved during 14/7 Challenge:

  • High-altitude Cinematography - Nirmal Purja
  • High-altitude cameraman –
  • Mingma David Sherpa
  • Geljen Sherpa
  • Gesman Sherpa
  • Lakpa Dendi Sherpa

Base camp Cinematography

  • Alit Gurung
  • Sagar Gurung
  • Sandro Gromen Hayes (K2 Base Camp footage and Manaslu climb)

Big thank you to everyone who has contributed to all the archive footage used in the movie, 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible. Credentials are mentioned in the film.

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Keep reading

Phase 01
May 28, 2019
Phase 02
August 2, 2019
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