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The Spanish ultrarunner Kilian Jornet has abandoned his attempt on the Everest summit for the year, according to an email from Summits of My Life, his ongoing peak-bagging project.
Jornet has been training and acclimatizing on the mountain for about three weeks, preparing for a speed-record attempt on the world’s highest peak. But recent heavy snowfall made conditions unsafe, leading Jornet to call off the attempt, according to the email.
“During the first few weeks we were acclimatising well and the conditions were good,” he said, quoted in the email. “However, when we were getting ready to prepare the attempt the weather began to change. … [A]lthough we were in good physical shape, there was a high risk of avalanches and in the absence of good safety conditions it was impossible to climb.”
Typically, Everest summits take place during a weather window in late spring. Late summer climbs are rare but have occured .
Kilian had planned a light-and-fast ascent, without supplemental oxygen, fixed ropes, high camps or porters, on one of two routes on the mountain’s North Face in Tibet, he told Trail Runner in December. Those routes, the Hornbein and Norton Couloirs, have each been climbed only a handful of times. Most climb Everest by the South Col Route, on the Nepal side.
Jornet has had to postpone his Everest plans before. He had been preparing to travel there when the April 2015 earthquake hit Nepal, but he and his team changed plans and pitched in with the relief efforts.
Jornet is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most dominant mountain runners. In 2008, at age 20, he won the internationally competitive Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 170K, setting a course record. Between 2007 and 2010, he won four consecutive Skyrunning World Series titles, which encompass short vertical Ks as well as ultras over 50K.
A well-rounded mountain athlete—he is also a rock climber, mountaineer and champion ski-mountaineer—Jornet has set fastest known times, or FKTs, on some of the world’s biggest and most iconic peaks, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Aconcagua, Denali and Grand Teton.
“If I do just one sport on the mountain, I will only see a part of it,” Jornet told Trail Runner in 2013. “I want to experience the whole mountain, so I use whatever techniques I need.”
A common denominator of all these attempts is going light and fast, and Jornet’s mountaineering exploits have not been without risk. In June 2012, as the two traversed the Mont Blanc massif on skis, Jornet’s friend Stephane Brosse fell to his death when a snow cornice collapsed under him.
In September 2013, Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, also a champion mountain runner, were rescued from the Frendo Spur, a mixed route entailing snow, rock and ice, above Chamonix, France, after a storm moved in. A local mountain guide and rescue leader later criticized them for what he saw as their insufficient gear.
Jornet has addressed the risks before. “We know that the mountains are dangerous,” he told National Geographic in 2014. “We need to accept that it’s risky. We don’t want to die, but we need to know that we can.”
Jornet will likely return to Everest. “There’s a sense of frustration because we’re well acclimatised and we feel good but it would have exposed us to too much risk,” he is quoted as saying in the Summits of My Life email. “Nevertheless, we’re happy because it’s been a very positive experience in which we’ve learnt a lot … it’s been a great experience and a good lesson for next time.”