AT MIDNIGHT ON MAY 21, KIL­IAN JOR­NET STOOD ON TOP OF THE WORLD.

Runner's World (UK) - - KILIAN JORNET -

He car­ried nei­ther oxy­gen cylin­ders nor ropes, and no guides or Sher­pas were at his side. The 29-year-old was alone, light and nim­ble – the torch beams of ex­pen­sively as­sem­bled ex­pe­di­tions on the moun­tain far be­low punc­tu­ated the black­ness. With his light­weight kit, a few en­ergy gels and just a sin­gle litre of wa­ter, he looked more run­ner than moun­taineer. Which, of course, is pre­cisely what he is: the great­est moun­tain run­ner in his­tory, in fact.

Seem­ingly not con­strained by the same laws of physics as the rest of us, the Cata­lan moun­tain goat had just set a record for the fastest known time (FKT) as­cend­ing the planet’s most fa­bled peak: a scarcely be­liev­able 26 hours from base camp on the Ti­betan side of Everest to the 8,848m sum­mit. Wear­ing cus­tom-built shoes en­gi­neered by his spon­sor Salomon, he’d run the first stretch in the style of one of the moun­tain trail-run­ning races he’s dom­i­nated for nearly a decade, be­fore pulling on cram­pons and ad­vanc­ing into the more tech­ni­cal ter­rain. Pass­ing sea­soned moun­taineers tak­ing up to four days to toil their way up into the ‘death zone’, he’d con­tin­ued in a sin­gle push to the top. Some had scoffed at his aim to ‘run up’ Everest. But, by any rel­a­tive mea­sure, this was ex­actly what he had achieved.

‘From the top, I could make out the neigh­bour­ing moun­tains, Cho La and Lhotse, the plateaus. It was truly beau­ti­ful,’ says Jor­net, typ­i­cally more con­cerned with the value of the ex­pe­ri­ence than the scale of his achievement. ‘Ev­ery­body can climb how they feel they want to – there’s no good or bad way. But for me, I wanted to see if it was pos­si­ble to do it in one go, with no oxy­gen, no ropes, faster. My way: it felt good to be alone up there. To just en­joy the mo­ment and not have to think about other peo­ple.’

A Hi­malayas novice Jor­net may have been. But the Alps-based ul­tra run­ner knew more than enough about moun­tains to un­der­stand that the sum­mit, as the say­ing goes, is only half­way. De­spite the suc­cess of his FKT, the as­cent had been far from straight­for­ward – his 5ft 7in, 58kg frame wracked by ag­o­nis­ing cramps and vom­it­ing ex­ac­er­bated by ex­treme ex­er­tion in an en­vi­ron­ment en­tirely hos­tile to even the most phys­i­o­log­i­cally gifted of hu­mans. So, at that point, he’d aban­doned his plan to de­scend all the way back down to Base Camp for a neatly book­ended time. In­stead, he holed up at Ad­vanced Base Camp (ABC), at 6,500m, as the wind picked up. His in­stincts, as usual, were good; four peo­ple died on Everest’s slopes that weekend.

Moun­tain-run­ning leg­end Marino Gi­a­cometti, pi­o­neer of the high-al­ti­tude­trail Skyrun­ning move­ment that Jor­net has done so much to pop­u­larise, fol­lowed his pro­tégé’s ex­ploits with both awe and ap­pre­hen­sion from his na­tive Italy. ‘This is a great achievement of both en­durance and sur­vival,’ says Gi­a­cometti. ‘In trail-run­ning terms, this is one of the great per­for­mances. No ropes, no oxy­gen. No one in the world could have done this ex­cept Kil­ian.’

The vet­eran ex­plorer Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes, a man not given to is­su­ing breath­less praise, par­tic­u­larly not to those who might be seen to be en­croach­ing on his turf, goes even fur­ther in as­sess­ing Jor­net’s tal­ent and achievement: ‘Nor­mal peo­ple – and in that I count my­self – we have to ac­cept that there are those who can do things which I would say for hu­mans are not pos­si­ble.’

For Jor­net, achiev­ing the impossible in the Hi­malayas was merely the clos­ing chap­ter in a five-year odyssey to set FKTS on the world’s most em­blem­atic peaks. The Sum­mits of My Life project be­gan in 2012 with a sub-nine hour ski moun­taineer­ing tra­verse of Mont Blanc (4,801m), in the French Alps. This, Jor­net fol­lowed with a straight up and down of the Alpine giant from the cen­tre of the moun­tain sports Mecca, Cha­monix. Most moun­taineers take two days to scale Mont Blanc, en­cum­bered by heavy kit and com­plex lo­gis­tics. Jor­net did it in four hours and 57 min­utes, wear­ing a T-shirt, shorts and trail-run­ning shoes, break­ing a record that had stood for 23 years in the process and com­ment­ing with char­ac­ter­is­tic un­der­state­ment that ‘it was a nice ex­pe­ri­ence’.

The 4,478m Mat­ter­horn came in Au­gust the fol­low­ing year. Set­ting off from the el­e­gant white church in the cen­tre of Breuil-cervinia, and fol­low­ing the clas­sic Lion’s Crest route, Jor­net raced up to the wo­ven metal cross that teeters on the sum­mit and back down in the time it takes most of us to log on in the morn­ing, check our emails, have a cof­fee and con­sider do­ing some work: two hours and 52 min­utes. The 18-year-old record he broke in the process had be­longed to the great Ital­ian moun­tain run­ner Bruno Brunod.

To view the jaw­drop­ping dronecap­tured video of Jor­net’s per­for­mance that day (and if you haven’t, you can check it out at runnersworld. co.uk/ kil­ian) is to watch one of the most ac­com­plished ath­letes of all time op­er­at­ing at the peak of his pow­ers. With midafter­noon sun­shine il­lu­mi­nat­ing the snow-lined strata of the Mat­ter­horn, the whip­pet-thin Cata­lan races up and down ser­rated, near-ver­ti­cal rock faces at a pace that leaves your head spin­ning. Dur­ing the

56 min­utes it took him to get from the sum­mit back down to his start­ing point, he de­scended at the re­mark­able rate of 2,645m per hour.

Brunod ac­com­pa­nied him along the fi­nal sec­tion of the route. ‘This is the mo­ment that will re­main en­graved in my mem­ory,’ says a mag­nan­i­mous Jor­net. ‘If I am what I am to­day, I owe it to peo­ple like him, who have in­spired me ever since I was a young boy.’

In 2014, Sum­mits of My Life re­ally gath­ered pace. As­cent-de­scent records fell to Jor­net on Alaska’s 6,194m De­nali (for­merly Mt Mckin­ley), where, us­ing skis fit­ted with climb­ing skins, and cram­pons, and avoid­ing fixed ropes as per the val­ues un­der­pin­ning his project, he set an up-down time of 11 hours and 48 min­utes, carv­ing more than five hours off the pre­vi­ous best. Then, in De­cem­ber, he smashed the record on the Western Hemi­sphere’s high­est peak, Ar­gentina’s Aconcagua (6,962m). The high-al­ti­tude 15 miles he ran to Plaza de Mules base camp at, 4,350m, would have wiped out many a tal­ented ath­lete, but this was merely the pre­cur­sor to the 25 miles of slope to the sum­mit. Turn­ing round at the top, he scorched his way back down again at four-hour marathon pace. Another vir­tu­oso per­for­mance, another record. Jor­net was named Na­tional Geo­graphic Ad­ven­turer of the Year and

Sum­mits of My Life was right on track…but the project’s undis­puted high point was still to come.

To those who have fol­lowed Jor­net’s ca­reer from the be­gin­ning, his glit­ter­ing ex­ploits in speed-moun­taineer­ing over the past five years will seem like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. Ver­sa­til­ity has been the run­ner’s hall­mark since he first pro­pelled him­self into the pub­lic con­scious­ness in 2008, win­ning and set­ting a 20-hour course record in the 170km Ul­tra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), Euro­pean trail-run­ning’s flag­ship event. Within the field of sinewy, trail-hard­ened run­ners tack­ling the route’s pun­ish­ing 9,000m ag­gre­gate climb, the name of the fresh­faced kid from the Pyre­nean moun­tain vil­lage of Cap de Rec in Cer­danya was al­ready be­ing whis­pered with awe.

He didn’t look back; he rarely has to. There fol­lowed an un­ri­valled streak of suc­cess across the full spec­trum of trail run­ning: mam­moth, mul­ti­day ultras such as the 800km Tran­spire­naica cross­ing of the Pyre­nees; revered US spirit-crush­ers such as Colorado’s Hardrock 100 (a course record for Jor­net), the 165-mile Ta­hoe Rim Trail in Cal­i­for­nia (ditto) and the Western States 100; shorter trail races such as the Pike’s Peak Marathon and the Zegama-aizko­rri – the ‘Tour de France of trail-run­ning’; ver­ti­cal kilo­me­tre races; Skyrun­ning world cham­pionships; a course record for the GR20 in Cor­sica (re­garded by many as the tough­est trail race in Europe). A trail-run­ning trail­blazer, his range of suc­cess is akin to Usain Bolt dom­i­nat­ing ev­ery track event up to and in­clud­ing the 10,000m – and then adding the steeple­chase just for kicks.

Marino Gi­a­cometti, who first met Jor­net when the then-shy 16-yearold ap­proached him at a race, be­lieves it’s this ver­sa­til­ity that sets him apart. ‘There have been great trail run­ners be­fore, of course,’ he says. ‘Moun­tain run­ners, too. But no one with such a range. Skyrun­ning, ski moun­taineer­ing, the tra­di­tional long-dis­tance trails – Kil­ian has been able to do all th­ese dis­ci­plines, and at the very best level. He’s like a skier who is able to win in the slalom, the down­hill, ev­ery­thing. He is unique.’

It’s a mea­sure of his stature that even be­fore the re­cent pro­file­boost­ing as­sault on those totemic peaks, Jor­net was as close as a trail run­ner gets to be­ing main­stream. He has more than a mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and Face­book; spon­sor­ship deals with Salomon, Su­unto, Petzl and MercedesBenz; an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Runordie, that was short­listed for the Wil­liam Hill Sports Book of the Year award; and a reg­u­lar out­put of videos that are de­voured by his Youtube fans in their hun­dreds of thou­sands.

SOLE TO SOUL

Yet hu­mil­ity runs through him as surely as show­man­ship does through Bolt. You’re no more likely to see Jor­net pos­ing for a tongue-out, devil-prong selfie atop a moun­tain than you are to see him and part­ner Emelie Fors­berg, a fel­low ul­tra-run­ning cham­pion,

hang­ing around red-car­pet events. ‘Kil­ian is able to speak pub­licly and do pre­sen­ta­tions or spon­sor’s events or what­ever,’ says Gi­a­cometti. ‘But in truth he’d pre­fer not to be in­volved in such things. I of­ten think the rea­son why he loves the moun­tains so much is be­cause they give him the chance to be alone.’

Jor­net’s Sum­mits of My Life project was built on a se­ries of core val­ues. Some may sound a lit­tle too ‘eco-spir­i­tual’ to some (‘ We’ll learn to co­ex­ist with the real world, the world of rocks, of plants and ice’), but in their en­tirety they chime with the anti-con­sumerist drive to­wards a meaningful re­con­nec­tion with na­ture. ‘We have to learn to live with less,’ the val­ues con­clude. Jor­net’s fast and light ap­proach to his work on the moun­tains seems a neat em­bod­i­ment of this.

Pa­trick Le­ick, a se­nior project man­ager at Salomon, spent two years work­ing with Jor­net hon­ing the spe­cial­ist equip­ment he would wear for Everest. He de­scribes him as thought­ful, fo­cused and un­fail­ingly ap­proach­able. ‘I first met Kil­ian be­fore he won the UTMB for the first time. He’s not changed a bit – still quiet and mod­est.’

When RW spoke to Jor­net in the wake of his second un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to set a FKT on Everest last sum­mer (poor weather con­di­tions, and good judge­ment, put paid to that) it was hard work pris­ing the fig­ure of his high­est recorded VO2 max out of him. It is a scarcely fath­omable 92 ml/ kg/min (elite run­ners range from 70-85 ml/ kg/min). What also came through was the strong streak of the run­ner-philoso­pher in him, in the mould of au­thor and run­ner Haruki Mu­rakami. Thought­ful, placid, ut­terly grounded. ‘Life is not some­thing to be pre­served or pro­tected,’ he says. ‘It is to be ex­plored and lived to the full.’

From any­one else it might sound like a bumper-sticker plat­i­tude, but Jor­net’s mus­ings about mor­tal­ity have been forged by deep per­sonal tragedy. Sum­mits of My Life started out by cost­ing a life: French ski moun­taineer Stephane Brosse, 40, was killed in June 2012 as he and Jor­net at­tempted a speed cross­ing of the Mont Blanc mas­sif from Les Con­tamines in France to Cham­pex in Switzer­land. Jor­net was just a few feet away when a snow cor­nice on the Aigu­ille d’ar­gen­tiere col­lapsed, plum­met­ing his friend and men­tor 600m to his death. Now, when­ever Jor­net is in the moun­tains, Brosse is never far from his mind. ‘Stephane’s death has made me more cau­tious about the con­di­tions of na­ture and how fast they can change,’ says Jor­net. ‘We can con­trol our­selves, and our tech­nique, but it takes time – a lot of time – to re­ally know the moun­tains.’

Brosse, Jor­net can­didly ad­mits, was his idol. Among the many things he cred­its the older man for is in­tro­duc­ing him to the concept of op­er­at­ing in the moun­tains in a light­weight man­ner. Another men­tor, Swiss speed­climber Ueli Steck, was also in­stru­men­tal in Jor­net’s trans­for­ma­tive achieve­ments over the past five years. A for­mi­da­ble pair – the world’s fastest moun­tain climber (Steck set the 2:22 record for as­cend­ing the north face of the Eiger) and the world’s fastest moun­tain run­ner – they tack­led var­i­ous peaks to­gether, in­clud­ing a 10-hour as­cent of the Eiger from Grindel­wald in 2015. ‘We’re not pi­o­neers but I think we are bold,’ Steck told RW last year, brim­ming with praise for Jor­net, and pride at what the Cata­lan was at­tempt­ing in the un­for­giv­ing cru­cible of Everest. ‘We are test­ing what is pos­si­ble – what can I do with my body, where is my limit? I believe it’s the wrong ap­proach to just com­pare your­self to oth­ers and try to beat them. It needs to be a more per­sonal thing: to push your­self as far as you can.’ Words that will strike a chord with all run­ners, whether we’re tack­ling moun­tain as­cents or our lo­cal parkrun.

Trag­i­cally, seven months later, Steck too was dead, fall­ing 1,000m while climb­ing the Hi­malayan peak of Mount Nuptse. Jor­net was deeply af­fected by the tragedy – but there was never any ques­tion of him aban­don­ing his record at­tempt sched­uled for a few weeks later. ‘In a way it’s bet­ter to die in the moun­tains than, say, a car ac­ci­dent,’ Jor­net once re­flected. ‘But I think it’s never good to die.’

BLUR­RING THE LINES

Some may ques­tion how much of the Everest – and other – as­cent(s) can re­ally be classed as run­ning, but they il­lus­trate a nar­row­ing gap be­tween trail run­ning and moun­tain climb­ing. Jor­net’s in­flu­ence on this merg­ing of the hor­i­zon­tal and the ver­ti­cal is un­ques­tion­able, but it is not a move­ment he is driv­ing sin­gle-hand­edly. The tra­di­tion of run­ning up and down moun­tains is well es­tab­lished: the Ben Ne­vis race in Scot­land dates back to 1898; the Pikes Peak Marathon, in Colorado, has been de­light­ing masochists since 1956 (Jor­net won it at a can­ter in 2012). What has changed is the

level of or­gan­i­sa­tion, the GPSen­abled trend to­wards set­ting and chas­ing FKTS, and the sheer scale of the moun­tains. No one is go­ing to ‘run up’ the north face of the Eiger, such is the tech­ni­cal dif­fi­culty of the vast con­cave slab. But, as Jor­net recog­nised, many of the big­gest lumps on the planet aren’t in fact overly tech­ni­cal. Everest, ap­par­ently, be­ing a case in point.

Gi­a­cometti’s Skyrun­ning move­ment has been gath­er­ing mo­men­tum since the early 1990s and there are now more than 200 races world­wide, with around 50,000 run­ners. De­fined as moun­tain run­ning above 2,000m, it’s es­sen­tially Alpin­ism with­out the clut­ter. It was made for Jor­net, and Jor­net for it.

Ber­gen-based Bri­ton Jon Al­bon, Ob­sta­cle Course Rac­ing world champ 2014-2016, is another ath­lete lured away from his bread and but­ter by the moun­tains. Last year he won the Skyrac­ing Ex­treme World Se­ries, a set of races de­vised by Jor­net him­self. But Al­bon’s Skyrun­ning ca­reer didn’t start so well. In his first Skyrace, in Li­mone, Italy, in 2014, he found him­self up against Jor­net. ‘I didn’t re­ally see him to be hon­est,’ says Al­bon. ‘He was 15 min­utes ahead. That sums up how most peo­ple feel when they race him.’ Al­bon was not sur­prised that the Sum­mits of My Life project was born – nor where it cul­mi­nated. ‘There was a point when peo­ple thought it was stupid to run up and down any moun­tain, let alone the big­gest in the world. If there was ever any­one go­ing to do some­thing like this on Everest it was Kil­ian.’

As with so much of what he does, Jor­net’s achieve­ments on Everest looked, if not ef­fort­less, then cer­tainly in­evitable. But there was ap­pre­hen­sion in his camp for this one. Le­ick was edgy and did not sleep for nearly two days around the at­tempt. Gi­a­cometti like­wise. Be­ing fast and nim­ble in the moun­tains can have its ad­van­tages; you are not ex­posed to ex­treme weather changes in the way that those tied to spend­ing mul­ti­ple days as­cend­ing a moun­tain are. The avalanche risk is lower, too, given the rel­a­tive brevity of your time in situ. But fast and un­sup­ported does equate to more risk over­all – and how Jor­net was go­ing to re­act to ex­treme al­ti­tude was an un­set­tling un­known. ‘On Everest, the moun­tain is boss, the weather is boss, you are not the boss,’ says Gi­a­cometti. ‘And I was anx­ious for Kil­ian’s per­for­mance over 8,000m. It’s not a ques­tion only of VO2 max, for in­stance; be­yond 5,000m your VO2 re­duces by nearly half. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple have a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion over 8,000m. I said to Kil­ian “please re­turn.”’

Jor­net did so, an out­come he cred­its in large mea­sure to what he has learned by run­ning. He speaks of the in­de­fati­ga­bil­ity that ul­tra­run­ning pounds into you, the abil­ity to go to the well and drain it – then run for another 20 hours. So, too, the in­stinct to keep mov­ing at a brisk pace, and the pre­cise un­der­stand­ing of your body’s com­plex bal­ance be­tween nutrition and per­for­mance. ‘My ex­pe­ri­ence was worth so much on Everest,’ says Jor­net. ‘Those longer races, the ultras, the 100-plus­mile races. Th­ese teach you to fight when you’re tired, to never give in.’

Prepa­ra­tion was a cor­ner­stone of Sum­mits of My Life. The Spa­niard’s laid-back de­meanour be­lies a fu­ri­ous fas­tid­i­ous­ness, and if you re­spect the moun­tain, then it fol­lows that you must also pre­pare for it. Ahead of his Mat­ter­horn at­tempt, Jor­net tested out the route eight times and lay in wait for the op­ti­mum con­di­tions, tim­ing his af­ter­noon de­par­ture to the minute to en­sure he’d en­counter the min­i­mum pos­si­ble ice. He planned Everest for two years. When the 2016 at­tempt failed ow­ing to poor con­di­tions, he ad­justed the plan, com­ing out early and spend­ing two weeks train­ing on another 8,000m moun­tain, Cho Oyu. He made re­peated rec­ces, mov­ing be­tween 6,400m and 8,400m. Great for his In­sta­gram feed, even bet­ter for his body. The Jor­net camp called it ‘ex­press ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion’.

GAME-CHANG­ING

The prin­ci­ple of a sin­gle push is a good one – with one enor­mous caveat: that you have the men­tal tough­ness and fit­ness to carry it off. The de rigueur multi-day as­cents of a moun­tain like Everest are pred­i­cated on overnight rest stops at var­i­ous camps. Yet sleep­ing at al­ti­tude is nigh on impossible. The re­sult is ac­cu­mu­lated weari­ness, mag­ni­fied by the thin air. The moun­tain is lit­tered with the bod­ies of those who stopped for a quick rest – al­most fall­ing asleep mid-stride – and never woke up. In such bru­tal con­di­tions, your heart rate slows and ex­po­sure over­comes you.

One of the al­lies Jor­net made on Everest was Amer­i­can Adrian Ballinger, a moun­taineer who has 10 Everest sea­sons un­der his belt. The two men sum­mited – both with­out oxy­gen – on the same day, Ballinger hav­ing taken a more con­ven­tional multi-day ap­proach. And they shared a tent back at Ad­vanced Base Camp, where Jor­net will­ingly signed au­to­graphs de­spite hav­ing been on his feet for more than 30 hours.

Jor­net’s ex­ploits are al­ready mak­ing the likes of Ballinger re­con­sider their strate­gies. ‘We’re start­ing to play around with this,’ he says. ‘Sleep­ing at high al­ti­tude has its chal­lenges and dan­gers. Go­ing up and down so quickly, as Kil­ian did – the style re­quires a cer­tain el­e­ment of con­fi­dence that your fit­ness is go­ing to fa­cil­i­tate this. Kil­ian re­ally played right on the edge of that, and he told me he ended up hav­ing to nap up high briefly, crawl­ing un­der a boul­der. That is the risk.’ He adds: ‘I don’t think he was ever in dan­ger, though. Kil­ian’s stamina is ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble.’

Even as Jor­net chips away at moun­taineer­ing con­ven­tions, there’s barely a whis­per of dis­con­tent from this hard-bit­ten com­mu­nity. Ballinger and climb­ing part­ner Cory Richards say they know of no one with ill feel­ings to­wards him. ‘As far as we can see peo­ple are just stoked about how fast Kil­ian moves in the moun­tains,’ says Richards. ‘And a big part of that is Kil­ian him­self. Shy, hum­ble, friendly.’

It’s cer­tainly hard to paint Jor­net as an im­poster in the Hi­malayas – and there’s lit­tle short­age of those, sea­son to sea­son: high-net-worth, low-skilled clients with as much oxy­gen and sup­port as they can buy be­ing, in the words of de­trac­tors, ‘dragged to the top’. In so many ways, Jor­net is their an­tithe­sis.

In fact, so en­twined with the moun­tains is Jor­net that six days af­ter reach­ing the sum­mit of Everest, he was once again gaz­ing up with in­tent. It wasn’t in the orig­i­nal plan but as he rested up at ABC, word got out that he might be hav­ing another shot at the sum­mit. For a FKT from ABC to the top and back? For more glory? It’s a safe bet it was more likely just for the sheer joy of it. He made it, of course: a sin­gle 17-hour push from ABC to the sum­mit on May 27, in the process be­com­ing the first non-sherpa to sum­mit Everest twice in a week with­out oxy­gen. ‘That’s what re­ally hit Cory and I,’ says Ballinger. ‘I’ve done two sum­mits in a week with oxy­gen and I was dev­as­tated, wiped out. I did it once, with­out, this year and couldn’t even be­gin to pic­ture do­ing it again.’

NEW HEIGHTS

Most ob­servers agree the le­gacy of the Sum­mits of My Life project will be wide-reach­ing. In the Alps, moun­taineers are al­ready be­gin­ning to look at ways of tack­ling peaks faster and lighter. ‘I think Kil­ian’s per­for­mances have started to rev­o­lu­tionise the world of high moun­taineer­ing,’ say Le­ick. ‘I pre­dict the same evo­lu­tion of high moun­taineer­ing footwear as we’ve seen in trail-run­ning.’

As for Jor­net, Ballinger be­lieves he has barely scratched the sur­face of what he can do, and will go on to break all sorts of records. ‘But more im­por­tantly, he’s started the whole move­ment to­wards th­ese FKT times,’ says Ballinger. ‘He’s go­ing to push a whole gen­er­a­tion of other ath­letes.’ It’s al­ready hap­pen­ing. In the same way as with a Ban­nis­ter, a Bolt or a Steck, or any­one who raises a bar by a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin, oth­ers find them­selves grow­ing within those ex­panded pa­ram­e­ters. Just a few months af­ter Jor­net set his 12:49 record on Aconcagua, emerg­ing moun­tain-run­ning sen­sa­tion Karl Egloff low­ered the time to 11:52. ‘It’s like Kil­ian has shown the world what is pos­si­ble,’ says Richards.

Af­ter Everest, Jor­net re­turned to the Alps to be­gin his prepa­ra­tion for this sum­mer’s UTMB. But it’s a fair bet that there’s only so long he’ll be con­tent to run around mas­sifs rather than up them, now that he has so dra­mat­i­cally ex­panded his hori­zons. ‘The project is fin­ished,’ says Jor­net. ‘It’s cool be­cause it has been a long ad­ven­ture, five years meet­ing a lot of peo­ple, learn­ing from ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, and grow­ing as an ath­lete and a per­son.’ He pauses. ‘But, of course, there are al­ways dreams. The trou­ble is, you climb a sum­mit and, from the top, all you can see are other sum­mits.’

FROM LEFT: Jor­net on Everest; go­ing up, the hard way; base camp, from where most peo­ple climb the high­est moun­tain in the world us­ing ropes and oxy­gen; with part­ner Emelie Fors­berg in the Dolomites, Italy. (Pre­vi­ous page: in the Dolomites)

FROM LEFT: Kil­ian Jor­net – ‘shy, hum­ble, friendly’; de­scend­ing Mont Blanc; set­ting a new speed record for as­cend­ing and de­scend­ing the Mat­ter­horn in 2013; and dur­ing the Hardrock 100 in Colorado, US, which he won in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (co-win­ner)

FROM TOP: Kil­ian Jor­net per­fectly at home run­ning high in the Swiss Alps; and on his way to vic­tory in the 2016 Pier­rra Menta ski moun­taineer­ing race in south­east France

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