Since 2012, 29-year-old world-champion ski-mountaineer and ultrarunner Kilian Jornet has been running up the world’s most iconic peaks faster than anyone ever. As part of his Summits of My Life project he’s set records on Mont Blanc, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Denali, and the Matterhorn. Mount Everest, the earth’s highest peak at 29,029 feet above sea level, was his final big mountain challenge.
Approximately 5,000 people have made it to the summit of Mount Everest. Fewer than 200 of those summits were done without using supplemental oxygen — a feat first accomplished in 1978 by Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner.
On May 22, 2017 Jornet added his name to that list by climbing from Base Camp to the summit, a roughly 12,296-foot ascent, in 26 hours without bottled oxygen or the use of fixed ropes. A stomach flu caused him to move slower than he had planned, so just six days later Jornet summited again, this time from Advanced Base Camp, a 7,703-foot ascent, which he completed in 17 hours. We caught up with Kilian at his home in Norway to talk Everest and fastest-known-times.
How did your preparation go for this Everest attempt?
I had just come off my ski-mountaineering season. My last skimo race was the day before leaving for the Himalayas, like 20 days before summiting Everest. I didn’t do anything specific for Everest, except maybe just longer trips in the mountains alone to get psychologically confident on technical terrain. That was important.
What’s your “normal” training look like?
I train all-year-round and will do 1,200 hours of training a year, with, like, 600,000 meters in elevation gain. I usually train two times a day, in the morning for two to eight hours and in afternoon the for an hour.
How did your first ascent go?
I started at 10 in the evening. It took me 4.5 hours to get to ABC [Advanced Base Camp], there I stopped and rested for two hours. At 4 a.m. I started from ABC and was feeling really good up to 7,700 meters. Then I started to feel sick to my stomach and I started vomiting and having stomach cramps. So, from 7,700 to the summit I was just fighting that. I needed to stop every 10 to 20 meters because I had cramps. They weren’t good feelings, but my head was clear, so I just kept going. I reached the summit at midnight.
Did you have the flu or something else?
I think I ate something bad. I’ve had this before and it was very similar.
So how long were you unable to eat during your attempt?
I went for maybe 15 hours without eating.
What was it like on the summit?
You are more concentrated than excited. It was like a relief that there was no more going up. In another way you are a bit worried because you have to go down and it’s still quite long. There was happiness, but I didn’t get emotional.
Was there any actual running on the ascent or descent?
Well, not that day because I was feeling bad. But going up from Base Camp to ABC, it is possible to run some of that, but then you don’t want to run too much, to save energy. On the way down it is possible to run, but not that day because I was feeling so bad.
How long were you on the summit?
I spent 15 minutes or so on the summit. I was just resting and looking around. It was very dark, but I could see people’s headlamps coming from the South.
Was this a record?
Nobody had climbed in one push from the road to the summit. So, always the first time, it’s a record, in a way, but my goal was to try to climb there the same way we climb in the Alps. So, that’s without setting camps, without having [stashed gear] on the mountain and trying to go from bottom to top to bottom…
Were you trying for the record on the second ascent?
Not really for the record, I just wanted to go fast to see if it was possible.
How did the second ascent go?
I started early in the morning May 27. Many climbers were turning around because it was really windy. I had to put my down suit on at 7,000 meters because it was so cold. I got to the summit at sunset. Going down I lost my way below 8,300 meters. I was feeling a bit strange in the mind. It was in the middle of the night and snowing. At around 8,000 meters I did a short bivy for one hour or so to rest and wait for the light so I could see a bit more clear.
Were you scared?
You just move and don’t think about the risk. Afterward you think, ‘I put myself in a dangerous situation.’
Since you started the Summits of My Life, Karl Egloff has broken your Aconcagua and Mount Kilimanjaro records. Do you think you’ll go back to these peaks to get those records back?
This project is finished. There are so many things out there to do. It’s a pity to repeat things. It’s good to feel different experiences in the mountains. I don’t look too much to the past. I’m mostly looking forward.
What do you think is possible on Everest?
In terms of speed with the routes that I’ve done, it is possible to go really fast with very good conditions and no wind, and to be lucky enough to feel fresh the day you go up. I think ABC to the summit in 12 hours is possible.
When did you hear about Ueli Steck falling to his death?
I was actually just coming back from Cho Oyu. Right when we arrived to Base Camp I saw in my sat phone some message [about it]. It’s really a shock, he has been someone who has been taking alpinism to many new places and new ways of doing things. He was a big inspiration for our generation. All the times I was climbing with him, I was learning so so much. Talking with him, he was someone who was thinking of doing so many new things in so many new ways. We didn’t think he could fall or he could die.
Did that give you any sort of mental hiccup with what you were about to do?
Yeah, in a way. My initial plan wasn’t to climb the normal route, but conditions weren’t good to go the Hornbein or Norton couloir. But after that, with the risk-taking, I was like, “Okay, you need to think a bit more about what you are trying to do.”
Who else do you look to for inspiration?
Many people. Look at what Alex Honnold just did on El Cap. He’s taking climbing so far away from other standards. Colin Haley, too, he’s another alpinist doing really interesting things, also fast and light. Everybody you meet you can learn something from and get some inspiration.