This week marks a very busy time on the world’s highest mountain. Over the past few days, more than 150 climbers have summited Mount Everest, with perhaps hundreds more summits yet to come. And while most of those mountaineers will spend three to four days trudging to the top, a Spanish mountain runner by the name of Kilian Jornet did it in a fraction of that time, setting a new speed record despite some incredibly demanding conditions.
Climbing completely alone, Jornet set off from Everest Base Camp at 5,100 meters (16,732 feet) at 10 p.m. local time on May 20. Following the standard North Col route on the Tibetan side of the mountain, he spent the next 26 hours steadily moving upward, reaching the 8,848-meter (29,029-foot) summit at 12:15 a.m. May 22. That alone would be an impressive feat, but add in the fact that he also climbed without using fixed ropes, Sherpa support, or bottled oxygen, and Jornet’s accomplishment becomes even more amazing.
The speed record on Everest is the culmination of a five-year project that the Spaniard calls the Summits of My Life. Over that time, he has also set the “fastest known times” on other peaks, including Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Aconcagua in Argentina. He first tried to set the record on Everest this past fall, but was turned back due to poor weather. He returned this spring for a second attempt, and although he was successful, the endurance athlete might not be done yet.
When he arrived back in base camp following his epic run to the summit, Jornet revealed that he had also suffered from a nasty stomach bug during the ascent. On his Facebook page, Kilian said that everything was going well until he reached 7,700 meters (25,262 feet). He then began to have gastrointestinal problems. Despite those issues, he was still able to push on to the top, then return to Advanced Base Camp in a total time of 38 hours. That’s less than half the time that most people spend on the ascent alone. he made it to the summit in 26 hours.
But perhaps even more amazing, Jornet says that he knows that he can shave time off of the record, and is hoping to have another crack at it before the end of the week. First, he needs to rest and recuperate, get over the stomach ailment, and wait for good weather. If all of those things happen over the next few days, he might try to break his own record just days after setting it. Climbing Everest twice in a single season is not completely unheard of, but no one has done it at such a blistering pace.