Kilian Jornet reached the top of Mount Everest a little after midnight on May 22, 2017. He had set out 26 hours earlier from the Tibetan Buddhist Rongbuk Monastery at the foot of the world’s tallest peak, climbing alone without oxygen or ropes. Standing higher than anyone else on Earth at an altitude of 29,029 feet, the world was pitch black except for a few lights flickering far below. Others were just beginning their climbs.
That first ascent was a challenge. Exhaustion, nausea, and unfavorable winds caused him to finish below his expectations. So, shortly after returning to base camp, he made the decision to go again a few days later. On May 27, 2017, Jornet raced back to the top in 17 hours, and became the first person to summit Everest twice in less than a week.
Jornet broke several records while climbing mountains during the few years of his Summits of My Life challenge. He also suffered tragedy when his friend and mentor, Stéphane Brosse, was killed by the collapse of a cornice during a climb together near Mont Blanc.
On Jornet’s way down from that second Everest climb in May 2017, he was caught in an intense snowstorm and got lost. He built a bivouac shelter at around 27,000 feet—up in Everest’s Death Zone where the body’s functions slowly shut down due to the altitude—to wait for the storm to pass and fell asleep. When he woke up 10 hours later, he managed to figure out using GPS where he had drifted off course, and trekked safely back to camp.
I asked Jornet to sign his book for a skydiving, skiing, BASE jumping, mountain climbing friend of mine. Without hesitation Jornet wrote “Keep your dream alive!”
In Summits of My Life, Jornet writes “These five years have been full of records, losses, reunions, experiences, and new perspectives. I said that it’s sad when your dreams become reality, that you’re always left with something missing, but that’s not the case here … because it’s when your wildest dreams come true that new doors open to even wilder ones that you couldn’t have possibly [imagined] before.”
Training at Home
“I love to train outdoors and that’s what I like: to be outdoors all the time. But I use the treadmill and I use Hypoxico [altitude training systems] sometimes to prepare for expeditions. It’s because the amount of time [needed to acclimate]. If I’m home and I have some races and I can’t spend a few months in Tibet before climbing, the training on the treadmill with altitude simulation works very well. You need to spend a lot of hours—around 300 hours I would say—between sleeping and training at altitude before feeling good.”
“You can still do all the technical training in the mountains. For example, during the preparation of the [Everest] expedition I was doing every morning long training between five and 10 hours out in the mountains. But then the altitude I was training for in the afternoon. One hour of altitude on the treadmill. It’s a combination of both. You need the technical skills and the amount of hours, but also the altitude.”
“I take the bare minimum when I go. It’s in the mountains so it’s not like you can carry a lot of weight. Technology is interesting in the way that you need to have as much information as possible to monitor your training or to know conditions, and to record all that, but at the same time you need to be really lightweight. With technology, it’s much easier. Before, when going for an expedition, you’d need to carry tons of things. Now with phones, some apps and some gadgets … whereas before it was maybe 100 kilos, now it’s a couple hundred grams.”
“[Gear] has been evolving a lot in the 10 years with materials. Some materials are super light [and] really durable. We have worked a lot with Kevlar to have carbon fiber in the shoes to meet these performances and to be durable. Ice picks before were heavy and only steel—and now it’s a lot of use of titanium for the ice picks because it’s lightweight, very sharp, and durable.”
“In competitions, I normally only have the [Suunto] watch. On the watch, what’s interesting today is the GPS it keeps for more than 100 hours. It’s great because you can really do a long [excursion]. It’s mostly monitoring not only the heart rate, but also the altitude position.”
“It can really help in some situations. Not really in races where it’s marked, but it has been at least two times that I am today here, alive, because I have been lost in very difficult situations. One time I was going down from Everest in the Himalayas. I had a blackout, because at high altitude sometimes you have problems, and I was lost in the North Face and I didn’t know where I was. It was thanks to the watch and looking at the GPS that I could find a way back. Technology, it’s also for safety.”
“You want to explore—going into the unknown. But you also want to know if it’s possible or not. The watch can give you the position where you are and then some apps in the phone are good to use. [ViewRanger] has maps and you can download them offline. You can have the elevation or the satellite to see if you’re approaching a glacier. You can also plan some tracks to see distances and things like inclination. When you’re climbing or skiing, you can calculate if there’s an avalanche risk using the app Angle [a tool that gives inclination data].”
“When going on expeditions, satellite phones are huge, and there are now apps [that copy the functionality of] a satellite phone, such as Spot App, which is extended GPS. You can also have a small [Spot safety transponder] gadget that weighs like 50 grams that you can have in your backpack if you’re for weeks out in the mountains.”
“All these different gadgets and apps are mostly used for safety, but also for planning adventure.”