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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

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In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 31, 2019

New World Record: Nirmal Purja Summits the 14 Highest Peaks in Just 6 Months

Nepali ex-soldier Nirmal Purja just smashed the record for summiting all the 8000ers in just half a year—the previous record? The same achievement took Kim Chang-ho, over seven years.

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WRITTEN BY

Himraj Soin

Nirmal Purja is a Nepali mountaineer and a former British Marine. He joined the British Army in 2003, became a Royal Marine in 2009, and only started climbing as recently as 2012—when he decided to climb Everest. In 2018, Purja was awarded the MBE, a civilian honour, by Queen of the United Kingdom.

According to his Instagram post on October 29th, Purja or “Nims”, and his team reached the summit of Shisha Pangma at 8:58 AM local time. This was his 14th peak, and his team members were Mingma David Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang.

Previously, South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho was the record holder, completing the summits in seven years, while Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka completed them in a little under eight years.

Purja climbed Annapurna in Nepal on April 23rd, Dhaulagiri in Nepal on May 12th, Kanchenjunga in Nepal on May 15th, Everest in Nepal on May 22nd, Lhotse in Nepal on May 22nd, Makalu in Nepal on May 24th, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan on July 3rd, Gasherbrum 1 in Pakistan on July 15th, Gasherbrum 2 in Pakistan on July 18th, K2 in Pakistan on July 24th, Broad Peak in Pakistan on July 26th, Cho Oyu in China on September 23rd, Manaslu in Nepal on September 27th, and finally Shishapangma in China on October 29th.

 

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United we conquer ! Here is to The A-team 🙌🏼 . .(Climbing team ) @mingma_david_sherpa , @gesmantamang , @geljen_sherpa_ @zekson_srpa ,Halung Dorchi . . . The journey of 14/7 has tested us all the way though at many levels. Together we have been through so much, we climbed not only as a team but as brothers with one sole goal to make the impossible possible pushing the human limitations to next level. Now, the BROTHERHOOD that we share between us is even STRONGER ! . . #trust #brotherhood #team . . 14/14 ✅ #14peaks7months #History . . #nimsdai #BremontProjectPossible ‬ #dedication #resilience #extremehighaltitudemountaineering #uksf #extremeoftheextreme #nolimit #silxo #ospreyeurope #antmiddleton #digi2al #adconstructiongroup #omnirisc #summitoxygen #inmarsat #thrudark #gurkhas #sherpas #elitehimalayanadventures #alwaysalittlehigher

A post shared by Nirmal Purja MBE – Nimsdai (@nimsdai) on

Apparently, he could’ve made better time had it not been for a few hiccups along the way—from being help up for permissions to climb in Tibet, to stretching out his Lhotse, Everest, and Makalu climbs to take a break. During his descent from Annapurna, Purja and his team rescued Malaysian climber Wui Kin Chin, who was not doing well at 7500m. On their descent of Kanchenjunga, Purja and his team gave up their oxygen to three climbers who had run out of their supply. While climbing Everest, he had to wait in line for hours, and ended up taking the viral photograph of the “traffic jam” on Everest.

Today, Nims gave a shout out to his teammates on Instagram, “United we conquer! Here is to The A-team! The journey of 14/7 has tested us all the way though at many levels. Together we have been through so much, we climbed not only as a team but as brothers with one sole goal to make the impossible possible pushing the human limitations to the next level. Now, the BROTHERHOOD that we share between us is even STRONGER!”

Apart from climbing all 14 of the world’s 8000m peaks in under 7 months, and partly due to this enormous feat, he also holds a few other records—most 8000m mountains in the spring season (climbing six), most 8000m mountains in the summer season (climbing five), fastest summit of the three highest mountains in the world—Everest, K2, and Kanchenjunga, fastest summit of the five highest mountains in the world—Everest, K2, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu, fastest lower 8000ers, Gasherbrum 1, 2, and Broad Peak, and fastest higher 8000ers, consecutive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in 48 hours (beats his own previous record of five days).

The backbone of the climbing industry in Nepal, sherpas are often overlooked and don’t get nearly as much international recognition as their comrades from the west. In Purja’s case, as his website mentions, the reason you may not have heard of him before is that he spent the last 16 years serving in the UK military. For more information on Purja, head over to projectimpossible.co.uk.

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