Kilian Jornet is one of the world’s most iconic endurance athletes. Everywhere he runs, skis and climbs he leaves records smashed in his wake. The Catalan spoke to Euronews about his passion for the mountains, and his life at the frontiers of endurance.
This year the 26-year-old is in the middle of a project called Summits of My Life, a unique attempt to climb and descend some of the world’s most iconic mountains faster than anyone has ever done before. This year his focus is on the Americas, where he will climb Alaska’s 6128m Mount McKinley and tackle the 6960 metre Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak on the continent.
Summits of My Life Trailer by Sébastien Montaz-Rosse
Next year it’s the big one – Everest. So what kind of challenge is he expecting?
“We don’t know yet, it will be a completely new experience”, he says. “I was last winter in Himalaya to familiarise with this mountain and take measures, they’re big!”
“We want to try to go to these big mountains in a similar way we can do in smaller mountains, try to go without camps, without base camp, without porters and fixed ropes.”
It’s a project which will take Jornet into unknown territory in the climbing world. “Is it possible to climb Everest from last village without assistance?” he asks. “ This is the question we want to answer. And to do that I need to go fast and light to minimalise risks.”
Teaser of "Déjame Vivir" Summits of My Life II by Sébastien Montaz-Rosse
Fast and light are the two watchwords of Jornet’s athletic brilliance. He scampers up and down mountains in lightweight shoes and featherlight outdoor gear, barely carrying any food and water for the journey.
He has big respect for Everest: “I think it’s going to be a very complicated and hard challenge, probably more demanding than the challenges I’ve experienced before. But I first want to focus on this year’s challenges and then start preparing the Everest.”
He doesn’t like to dwell too much on past achievements, but tells us he is particularly proud of his record run up and down the Matterhorn in a total time of 2 hours and 52 minutes, “but is more about what do you want to do tomorrow that what is achieved in the past”, he smiles.
So how far can he go, how far can he push himself? He quotes Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan novelist: “Galeano says that we can never reach the horizon but we can walk in this direction. Why? To walk. I think the important thing is to keep moving. One day it will be just to climb the hill behind my home. We can push hard, the thing is where do we want to stop? What are the concessions and risks we want to take?”
He doesn’t describe himself as an explorer. “I’m describing myself as someone who likes mountains, and of course I like to explore mountains, and to explore my body, my capacities”, he tells Euronews.
Jornet grew up in a mountain refuge at 2000 metres altitude, something which already gave him a head start in terms of physical ability and experience. When he was a teenager he began to train seriously, and describes the process of preparing mentally and physically for endurance races such as the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc as ‘an adaptation’.
“When I start training I was 13, then I do steep by steep, the next year I did a 80km race, then some years after my body was ready to do 160km. It’s really important to listen to the body and be honest about what we can do and what not. The body can adapt to lots of things, but needs time, and training. Then mentally you just accept things, pain the most, but if you love something, it’s more than that!
Training is something Jornet spends a lot of time doing, as he travels between homes in Chamonix, France, Tromsø, Norway, and the Pyrenees.
“I divide the year in two big parts,” he says. “From May to November I run, climb a bit and do mountains, around 600 hours and 300,000 metres in elevation. From November to May I ski, also in the mountains, around 600 hours and 350,000 metres.“
Training is frequent: “Normally two times a day, long in the morning, and short in evening, with some intervals or speed.”
At this stage in his career, with so many firsts and fastest behind him, and some more to come, does he feel that he has reached the limit of what his mind and body can achieve? The answer is typical of Jornet’s thoughtful approach: “Yes, I have seen my limits sometimes, it’s important to approach but never pass these limits, and I’m sure that future generations will find further limits, this is the beauty of sport.”