After initial reports of Kilian Jornet’s record-breaking 11 hour and 48 minute ascent of 6168-meter Denali, Jornet has returned from the mountain, declaring on his blog that, “It has been a great adventure.” Leaving for the summit on the morning of June 7, early reports showed Jornet as having climbed solely on the West Buttress route, breaking the previously held record by nearly five hours. The speedster has since explained that he took the Rescue Gully variation, “to avoid a stretch with fixed ropes because I wanted to stick to the values underlying the project, that is, attempting the record using as little equipment as possible, and without help.”
Recorded by chronometer, Jornet’s official roundtrip time supersedes US Air Force Veteran Ed Warren’s 2013 record. Warren, whose record went largely unreported, wrote after his climb that he “felt like an amateur, trying to do something that should be left to the professionals.” Nevertheless, Warren was able to beat the late Chad Kellogg’s Denali record from 10 years prior. Kellogg reported an ascent time of 14 hours and 22 minutes and a descent time of less than 24 hours. Warren overcame several obstacles in breaking the record: “My ‘pit crew’ was a 58-year old Episcopal priest with little mountaineering experience and frontal lobe brain damage,” he wrote. “And then, there was the ever-present worry that my ankle, which had been shattered in a mixed climbing avalanche accident only 18 months prior, was not up to the challenge.”
Jornet, who traveled to Denali with the explicit goal of gaining the speed record, spent several days in Denali Base Camp at 7,200 feet with a support team comprised of Vivian Bruchez, Seb Montaz and Jordi Tosas. With his teammates, Jornet made one trip to the summit of Denali to examine conditions and acclimatize, and at 7:10 a.m. on June 7, he left Base Camp to attempt the record.
The West Buttress route, although low in technicality, presented Jornet with two unique challenges: altitude and cold. The climber ascended most of the route on skis, excepting some technical sections, which he negotiated with crampons. “The real bad weather started at 5000 meters,” Jornet wrote on his blog. “From there onwards to the summit I found it hard going….I had to stop every so often to warm up and that slowed me down a bit.” Upon reaching the summit at around 4:50 p.m., Jornet spent nearly 10 minutes getting his skis on in high winds and cold. “I skied down feeling a bit better,” Jornet commented, “but visibility was poor and so I had to be careful.”
“Beyond that, it has been an amazing experience,” Jornet explained. He described the moment he reached the summit to be filled with joy, not because of the beauty it presented (as it was foggy and visibility was low), but because he thought, “Now my legs will finally stop hurting.”
With the Denali speed record under his belt, Jornet now plans to ascend 5642-meter Mount Elbrus, 6962-meter Aconcagua and, the coup de grace, 8828-meter Mt. Everest.