The Spanish mountain runner Kilian Jornet has made a very rapid independent ascent and descent of Everest from the Tibetan side of the mountain. The ascent was part of his Summits of My Life project which began in 2012 and has seen him climb mountains in record time around the world including Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Denali and Aconcagua in a minimalist and pure style.
Jornet’s push on Everest began at the ancient Rongbuk monastery at 5,100m, close to where most expeditions site their base camps. From there Jornet climbed past Advanced Base Camp at 6,500m, up to the North Col at 7000m and then via the Northeast ridge to reach the summit at 8,848m after 26 hours climbing. Initially Jornet had hoped to climb the North Face of Everest via the Norton corridor, but a build up of ice forced him to stick to the safer Northeast ridge, which is the standard route from the Tibetan side. Climbers on the Northeast ridge spend significantly more climbing time above 8000m than those climbing the South Col route, the voie normale on the Nepal side, but don’t have to pass through the complex and dangerous terrain of the Khumbu icefall. Jornet climbed without using supplementary oxygen or any fixed ropes.
Before he set off, Jornet said: “I feel very good physically and I seem to have done a good job of acclimatising myself.” Nevertheless it seems that high on the mountain he had to battle to continue his ascent, “ Until I reached 7.700m I felt good and was going according to my planning, but there I started to feel stomachache, I guess due to an intestinal virus.” Said Jornet, “From there I have moved slowly and stopping every few steps to recover. However, I made it to the summit at midnight”. Due to his stomach issues Jornet opted to conclude his round trip at Advanced base camp after 38 hours on the go.
Everest is of course no stranger to speed records, with each season usually bringing a new variation on the theme. The fastest ascent from base camp without supplementary oxygen remains the time of 16hours and 45minutes by Italian Hans Kammerlander in 1996. In an indication of how much assistance bottled oxygen provides the records on the South side from base camp to summit are 8 hours and 10 minutes with extra oxygen, and 20 hours 24 minutes without. All these ascents took advantage of fixed ropes, unlike Jornet. In terms of pure mountaineering perhaps the most interesting speed ascent is that of Swiss climbers Erhard Loretan and Jean Troillet who climbed the North face via the Japanese and Hornbein Couloirs in a 40 hour round trip from their camp on the Rongbuk Glacier (5850m). Climbing mainly at night, and resting in the warmer day time, their descent was particularly spectacular – made mainly by bum-slide!