Kilian Jornet Talks Everest Plans, Hobbies and His Ever-Expanding Bucket List

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The man needs no introduction, but here’s a stab at one anyway: For a few years now, Kilian Jornet has become arguably the most dominant athlete in the sport. Showing astounding range, he’s won super-competitive 100-milers like Western States, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and the Hardrock 100 (twice, with two course records); burly shorter races like the Speedgoat 50K, the Pikes Peak Marathon and The Rut 50K; and even the 3.5-mile, straight-up-and-straight-down Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska.

Meanwhile, he’s competed at the highest level on the ski-mountaineering circuit and set fastest known times on some of the world’s biggest, most iconic peaks as part of an ongoing project he calls Summits of My Life.

Along the way, he’s accumulated a level of celebrity and mainstream press few in our sport can boast. The name Kilian, to trail runners, connotes powering uphill, surfing down scree, prancing over technical terrain in a manner more goat than human—in short, “making it look easy.”

Jornet in his element at the Ultra Pirineu race earlier this year. Photo by Oriol Batista/courtesy of Salomon

But behind the hype and epically far-flung Instagram posts is a man who is humble and approachable at races, genuine in his love of the high country and—by his own account—”not the most social person.”

To get to know the man behind the icon a little better, Trail Runner caught up with Jornet over email. Among other things, we asked about his much-anticipated plans to set a speed record on Mount Everest, his (non-athletic) hobbies and what’s left on his bucket list.

Jornet at the Hardrock 100 in July. Photo by Rickey Gates/courtesy of Salomon

1. I’ll just start with the question I’m sure everyone is thinking about. Are you doing Everest in 2016?

Probably, depends if China opens the permits to Tibet. But they probably will, so we will try to go.

2. Tell me a bit about your plan, logistics and preparation for the Everest attempt.

The route we want to try is on the north face, Hornbein or Norton depending the conditions.

[Ed’s note: The Hornbein and Norton Couloirs are steep gullies on Everest’s north face, in Tibet, and have each been climbed only a handful of times. The most common way up the mountain is the South Col Route, in Nepal.]

Skiing on Mont Blanc. Photo courtesy of Summits of My Life

The plan is to make a really light expedition, no camps, no porters, no fixed ropes, no oxygen, no shipping except equipment, carrying the backpack from home to there. The kit we are developing will be light climbing gear. We will be five people in all the expedition: Jordi Tosas and Corominas, climbers, and Seb Montaz and Vivian Bruchez, climbers and filmmakers.

During the ascent we want to climb one of those routes, so we will be alone on the route, no previously broken tracks and of course no crew or “aid stations.”

The training is different [from running]. I have been climbing and ice climbing much more, and then it is important to go in altitude before. The goal is to try to climb Everest minimally, not with any external support—with the backpack we can load at home.

4. Mount Elbrus, in Russia, is the last uncompleted peak in your Summits project, aside from Everest. Do you have any plans to take Elbrus on soon?

Yes. They organize two races every year there, May and September. I want to go back soon.

5. On July 4, you set a course record at the Mount Marathon Race, a steep, technical 5K in Alaska. A week later, you set a course record at Hardrock, a steep, technical 100-miler in Colorado. How do you adjust your training to be able to compete well at such different distances in a short span?

I don’t try to train really specific all year round. I try to be in good shape overall, and then from experience I know when to rest before, or to do one or two specific trainings.

Rock climbing is just another of Jornet’s many talents. Photo courtesy of Summits of My Life

If I’ve had a good characteristic since I was young, it has always been recovery. It is always easier to recover from short to long, and it is important to not do many long races if you want to keep performing in short races.

6. You’ve done a lot of the races—Western States, Hardrock, UTMB, The Rut—that many trail runners dream about running. You’ve also completed many of the world’s most famous peaks and trails. Are there any races left on your bucket list? What about major peaks, trails or speed records?

The bucket list grows every day when you see a mountain, a valley, a picture, a line, a new race—but there is not time to do every one! There are many projects; the problem is to chose which one to do.

Jornet running with Emelie Forsberg in 2013. Photo by Markus Berger/courtesy of Salomon

7. Some people, I think, have this almost mythical image of you as someone who subsists on berries and snowmelt and never leaves the mountains. Of course, that’s not all you do. So what do you do when you’re not running, climbing, skiing, training or otherwise spending time in the mountains?

I’m not the most social person. I don’t like much to go hang out or go to the city. Normally with friends we go climbing or running. When I have free time I like to read, I really enjoy working on new projects, making new equipment, working on images and photography.

8. You and Emelie Forsberg held the second Tromsø Skyrace, in Norway, at the end of July. Has race directing changed the way you think about running and competing?

It is great to be on the other side of the sport, to understand and see from all the perspectives. We wanted to make a race with the idea that we love running in a really technical way, with off-trail and some scrambling—and a familiar ambiance, the same feeling for all runners, elite and amateurs.

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A video preview of the Tromsø Skyrace, which Jornet and Forsberg organize

10. Do you ever see yourself retiring from competitive sport?

Sure, it’s like climbing a mountain, you climb up but also down—and it’s important to understand that the climb down is the most difficult. I will continue to enjoy being on the mountains, but not being on the field fighting.

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