When Kilian Jornet goes to the mountains on a personal project you can be sure the results will be interesting.
The mountain athlete does not disappoint. He's just returned from Denali, 6,194 m, the highest mountain in North America and sure enough, he's come back with a record – and an epic story to tell.
Avoiding the more popular West Rib route, Jornet headed up Rescue Gully on skis in his usual super fast style. By the time he returned exactly 11h and 48m later he'd smashed the record for the mountain's fastest ascent – by over five hours. The round trip involves an elevation gain of over 4,700 m and a distance of over 53 km.
What makes the ascent even more noteworthy is that conditions were bad for much of the ascent. Out of 16 days on the mountain, only three were good while blizzards, fog and low temperatures were the norm.
When Kilian set off on the summit bid, the thermometer was at -20ºC and the wind was gusting 40km/h.
“It has been a great adventure,” Kilian says. “Weather conditions were bad during much of the route. Yet, I managed to break the record, so I'm very satisfied. I took a different route rather than the usual one to avoid a stretch with fixed ropes because I wanted to stick to the values underlying the project – that is, attempting the record using as little equipment as possible, and without help.”
“I had to face two tough factors,” he adds. “On the one hand, the cold and the wind, which slowed me down throughout the route. On the other hand, the altitude, which affected me substantially from 5,000m.”
The summit was a special moment, he says, but not because of the view. “There was fog and I couldn't see a thing! But I thought ‘now my legs will finally stop hurting’!”
Denali, which is also known as McKinley, is one of the most forbidding peaks in the world. Although not as high as the Himalayan mountains, the Alaskan peak is notorious for its cold and brutal weather thanks to its proximity to the Arctic Circle. And with 4,000m of difference from base to summit, it features more vertical ascent than most mountains. Measured by topographic prominence it's the world's third most prominent peak after Everest and Aconcagua.
Image © Summits of My Life