Last weekend I was in Tromso, Norway for the Tromso SkyRace. The race was the first race in the new Skyrunner® Extreme Series.
Created a couple of years ago by Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, the first edition in 2014 was a low key affair with a handful of participants, last year the race was added to the Skyrunner® World Series and now this year, the race has reached maturity with an additional 8km and ‘Extreme’ status.
The race is an extension of Kilian and Emelie’s day-to-day life in the mountains and I guess this is what is so special about the event (in addition to a stunning course), it is the proximity that the dynamic duo have with all the participants. They are really ‘hands-on!’
In and around all the planning and the energy for a race, there is time to chill, relax and take time out with friends. Both of them find that an important aspect of a sport they love and the quiet of Norway allows for a ‘normal’ life.
With a VK on Friday and then the main events on Saturday, the duo have no rest. In particular, one manages to gain a full perspective of the energy of Kilian. He marks the course (with others), checks the course, runs around doing errands and then when the race is underway he is out ahead of the runners reaching the highest point of the course only to cheer runners on (and photograph them) and then to get back to the finish line and welcome each and everyone home! Of course, they have an incredible team of volunteers; it’s a group effort.
Race day and packing was over close to midnight and then the following morning at a leisurely breakfast I assumed Kilian was sleeping or packing. I asked Emelie, ‘Is Kilian preparing for his trip to Nepal?’
The answer, ‘No, he has already gone!’
It puts everything into perspective. Kilian is a man who has an abundance of energy that few can fathom.
I have fond memories thinking back to September 2012. I was in northern Spain and it was the day before Cavalls del Vent. Sitting at a table for a pre-race dinner was Anton Krupicka, Dakota Jones, Emelie Forsberg, Terry Conway and others… Kilian revealed his ‘Summits of my Life’ project and of course, we all asked, what will be the final?
‘Everest!’ was the response.
The table was quiet. I remember hearing Anton saying, ‘So cool man!’ and then without thinking, speaking on impulse I said, ‘Will you use oxygen?’
The table went quiet, all eyes looked at me and then Kilian.
Kilian replied quietly, ‘Of course not… that would be doping!’
That moment has stuck with me and I often think of it and now, after a series of successful and incredible summits, Kilian is in Nepal getting ready for the ultimate one.
I have to say, I, like many others have had worries and concerns about the ‘Summits’ program. Let’s be clear here, I don’t doubt or question Kilian’s ability. What I do say and have always said, if you do anything enough times, it will eventually go wrong or something will happen. Kilian has already experienced loss and tragedy on this project. The death of Stephan Brosse was certainly a wake up call but Kilian understands the risks and I think back to a quote of his when he said:
“You have to go look for happiness in life, find it in the things that make you feel alive. Life is not something to be preserved or protected, it is to be explored and lived to the full.”
I like to think that I have that freedom of thought but I lack the ability to go with it. It makes a huge difference.
“On the track, there is no risk so we time ourselves to get a benchmark. In the mountains, it is different. We try to become one with the mountain by finding new limits. It’s an emotion, from the heart, very connected to risk.”
Everest is the final test in the project and will probably be the most demanding challenge of the project and, indeed, of his life. He has broken records on mountains around the world and the final part of this personal project is an incredible one; an attempt to establish a ‘FKT’ (fastest known time) for ascending Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848m. Kilian is taking on this challenge his own way, in the most pure and minimalist manner possible.
“Everest will probably be one of the most demanding climbs I’ve ever faced. It will be a great learning experience, from how my body reacts to the high altitude to how to apply the Alpine approach to the mountain. I’ve been preparing for this challenge for months and I’m keen to get started. The Summits of My Life project has always taken me to my limits and this time it won’t be any different,” Kilian Jornet on his blog post here.
Denali, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro have seen records fall to Kilian. Altitude is going to be a key issue, something that he struggled with when ascending Aconcagua. In a recent post on the Suunto website (here) Kilian says, “The highest I have been is 7700 m, I was feeling good then, but there is a big difference after 8200 m and after 8500 m. It’s really important to be well acclimatized to around 6000 m. So I will spend many nights at around this altitude. And then it’s important I go to around 8000 m before the attempt.”
Weather, conditions, adjustment and I guess an element of luck are all going to play a major factor in a successful FKT on this Himalayan monster. There are no guarantees here! Kilian although clear, focused and meticulously prepared seems to understand that he may well need more than one attempt, “It’s a big mountain, and we have a long term perspective. We will try this year, but probably we will need to come again next year.”
With a proposed attempt date for September, the ascent will be made on the north side, via either Norton-couloir or Horbein-couloir depending on conditions. The Hornbein Couloir is a notable narrow and steep couloir high to the west on the north face of Mount Everest in Tibet, that extends from about 8000 m to 8500 m elevation, 350 metres below the summit. For the first 400 m vertical, the couloir inclines at about 47 degrees, and the last 100 m is narrower and steeper with about a 60 degree average incline. The Norton Couloir or Great Couloir is a steep gorge high on the north face of Mount Everest in Tibet, China, which lies east of the pyramidal peak and extends to within 150 m below the summit.
As one would expect, Kilian will travel ‘fast and light’ with no oxygen and he will carry everything he needs in a pack.
“This is so I can move more quickly. With light equipment we can advance quicker, although we know this increases the risk. We’re aware of this risk and we’re taking it because ultimately this is the way we like to approach the mountain.” (Summits of my Life blog)
The Everest expedition is made up of Jordi Tosas, an Alpine climber who knows the area well, as well as the cameramen and guides Sébastien Montaz-Rosset and Vivian Bouchez who has trained with Kilian in and around Chamonix.
“Whatever happens, if we don’t make it, for me it’s not a failure. On the contrary, it’s a lesson. I know that whatever happens we’ll return from Everest having learnt something.” – Kilian Jornet
Follow this incredible story as it unfolds:
Summits of my Life HERE