Update, June 13 2014: As detailed at the offical website, Kilian Jornet is reported to have shattered the previous speed record on Denali, West Buttress with Rescue Gully variation (Washburn Route) with a time of 11:48. A speed ascent/descent of the route is defined as leaving from Kahiltna basecamp and airstrip at 7,200 feet elevation and ascending to the exact summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley) at 20,322′ (6,194 m) — then returning down the mountain. With some ups-and-downs on the route, total vertical gain is about 15,525 feet, 4,732 meters. Round-trip distance is about 33 miles. Jornet made the climb a few days ago, on June 7.
The previous speed record was set last season (2013) by Ed Warren, who did the whole thing in 16:59. To illustrate how fast Kilian accomplished his epic speed climb, consider the fact that he made it up, and back down, in the same time it took Warren to do only the climbing leg of the trip.
According to reports, Jornet spent about three weeks on the mountain acclimatizing and getting accustomed to conditions. He used both skis and crampons, with skis playing a major part in the effort. We have no doubt Jornet’s world-class skimo race skills contributed to his traveling the lengthy slogs on the Kahiltna glacier in surprisingly short times. From his autobiography as well as press coverage, it’s obvious Jornet is much more than an ultra-runner, but rather is a well rounded alpinist with the complete set of skills necessary for high altitude glacier mountaineering.
Denali is the 5th world-famous mountain Jornet has attempted speed records on in his “Summits of my Life” project. Other peaks include Mont Blanc and Mount Elbrus.
Web articles say Jornet would be with a support team consisting of Jordi Tosas, Vivien Bruchez and Seb Montaz. The plan was to base their operation at one of the higher camps and work the mountain for altitude acclimation and so forth. Logistics with speed records on Denali require mixing acclimatization with eventually heading back down to Kahiltna base camp, where you’d start your attempt. Along with that, you have to time everything so you hit a weather window — along with tuning your kit for prevailing conditions that can vary from arctic cold to shirt sleeves. Considering all the above, setting this record should be considered incredibly impressive. We imagine it’ll stand for some time, and we’re looking forward to watching attempts to better it!
If you’ve ever been much of an athlete, you know those special times when you push to a personal best — or even won something. Perhaps you’ve gone beyond the pain to experience the wonder of flow in your trail running or backcountry skiing.
Kilian Jornet Burgada does all that. Only better. As one of the most genetically endowed and well trained distance runners to ever live, Jornet is already a legend at 26 years old. He’s run 13,960 vertical feet up and back down Mount Kiimanjaro (August 2013) in just over seven hours, fastest time to date. He’s won the Western States 100. He’s won, well, just about everything.
Not only the running career, but Kilian is a skimo racer as well, with, for example three, firsts of the Pierra Menta and a first in the Mountain Attack — both iconic European races that define any winner as a legend.
While 26 years old is young for an autobiography, by focusing on just his running career Jornet manages to pen a compelling and frequently inspiring story. On the other hand, focusing the content on running results is somewhat disappointing, as I was looking forward to more about his skimo life. But including much about skiing would have probably upped the page count too high. Focus is the name of the game in both athletics and writing.
A glaring omission in this book is any introspection about what I’d guess is the biggest tragedy of Jornet’s career, when in 2012 the legendary skimo racer Stéphane Brosse perished in a climbing accident while participating with Jornet in a speed crossing of the Alps (part of Jornet’s “Summits of my Life” project that resulted in movie we trailer below). Indeed, the “Run or Die” title of the book causes one to take pause, when considering Brosse. Though to be fair I’d bet something was lost in the translation. (I admit to a bit of confusion as to whether the dates of this tragedy jibe with the scope of Jornet’s book, if not, apologies for the above crit.)
The translation work by renowned translator Peter Bush is excellent. The book is entirely readable, with no typos that leap out and no awkward word use. Which brings us to a point: One has to assume that Jornet has all the sponsorship financial support he wants or needs. Thus, it is surprising his movies don’t have more readable subtitles, and better English narration. For example, his feature project “Summits of My Life” is beautifully conceptualized and filmed, yet lacks basic documentary features such as titling the interview subjects.
Overall, I found “Run or Die” to be a compelling mix of introspection and blow-by-blow accounts of epic runs. Jornet even shares about a powerful romance he had, which conflicts in an odd way with his running career (his paramour never attended a race, and they eventually parted ways). That kind of stuff might actually read better if Jornet was writing with a broader view ten or more years from now. In contrast, content such as Jornet’s run on Kilimanjaro is timely, and to enjoy the adventure as a first-person story is priceless. Again, a bit more skimo content would have been greatly appreciated, but we’ll live without. Perhaps volume 2 is coming? (Rumor, is Kilian on Denali as we go to press?)