Rising 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level, Mount Everest stands alone as the Earth’s highest mountain. In 2016, only 641 climbers made it to Everest’s summit, to enjoy the view from the top of the world. The majority of those (442) ascended along the south side of the mountain – with only 199 traveling the northern route. Only five made the climb without supplemental oxygen. Five climbers died along the way.
These statistics cast in stark relief the utterly epic proportions of what Spanish high-altitude runner Kilian Jornet recently accomplished when he summited Mount Everest – via the less traveled north side — without the use of supplemental oxygen or fixed ropes — not once but twice –- within the same week — and in near record-breaking time!
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
On Sunday, May 21, 2017, beginning at Everest Base-Camp (16,732 feet or 5,100 meters), Kilian Jornet reached the summit in 26 hours. Because this ascent was marred by illness (flu or food poisoning causing stomach cramps and vomiting) which slowed his pace considerably, Mr. Jornet decided to stick around, rest for few days, and then give it another go.
So just six days later – on Saturday, May 27, 2017 – he began again – this time from Advanced Base Camp (21,325 feet or 6,500 meters) — and reached the summit of Mount Everest in 17 hours: once again along the north side, once again without supplemental oxygen or fixed ropes. This route typically takes skilled climbers three or four days to complete. Kilian Jornet’s time of 17 hours just barely missed eclipsing the all-time record for fastest ascent from Advanced Base Camp. Which is just to underline, once again, how epic this accomplishment really is: a truly inspiring demonstration of fitness, endurance, and mental fortitude.
One might wonder: what kind of attitude and approach to training makes such a thing possible?
The Journey Itself Is Home
In Narrow Road To The Interior – a travelogue that chronicles an external journey that is, simultaneously, an internal one — the esteemed 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho writes:
“The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
In this intriguing video interview, Kilian Jorney reflects upon his mountain running in a way that resonates deeply with Basho’s Zen-like approach:
“You don’t think of the past. You don’t think of the future. You just think about this moment.”
Since his childhood, Kilian Jornet has been living, playing and running through mountains – and seems genuinely to love the mountains, and enjoy each step of the journey.
Great Courage & Great Sanity
In loving each step of the journey, Kilian Jornet maintains an intimate connection with what the moment requires. Of course he aspires to make ascents — particularly those connected with his Summits of My Life Project, whose overall goal is to speed records on seven of the world’s most iconic mountains: Mont Blanc, the Mont Blanc Traverse and the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps; Alaska’s Denali; Argentina’s Aconcagua; Russia’s Mount Elbrus and Mount Everest.
But what’s also true is that he’s more than willing to postpone or abandon a particular climb, if the conditions don’t seem right. His estimation, in fact, is that he turns around a full 50% of the time. His overall success is rooted not only in his courage and determination – and willingness to push the envelop – but also in knowing his own limits, on any given day. He knows that “the journey itself is home,” and understands clearly that — while his spirit may boast wings of immortality — his human body has limits which must be honored.
And it’s in striking this balance, in his training as a distance runner, between “great courage” and “great sanity” that Kilian Jornet continues to ascend to great heights – and enjoy himself thoroughly along the way.