Located in the Toubkal National Park, Morocco, at 4167m, Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.
Located just 75-minutes drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the National Park and the Toubkal summit has long been an excellent opportunity for those looking for a challenge, either for a specific purpose or as an add-on to an active holiday. As ultra-running, mountain running and the desire to explore new places grows. Morocco and Toubkal is a great place to adventure. Toubkal is considered by many as a great entry level mountain and it’s altitude is a great allure.
Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings different challenges as it is completely covered in snow and ice. Winter mountain skills are required and the use of crampons are essential.
So, in this article, we look at Toubkal as a summer adventure and in due course, I will follow up with a Winter article.
Flights to Marrakech are in abundance and if you plan ahead, you can get very good deals, particularly from some of the budget airlines.
If you have not been to Marrakech before, I would say it is essential to soak up the atmosphere of the place by staying in the Medina (souk) in a typical Riad. Riad’s are standard Moroccan accommodation and like anywhere, you can go cheap or expensive. I have several favourites. My all time favourite, the ‘Dixneuf La Ksour’ (http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com ) which has only 6-rooms, excellent staff and they serve wonderful local food in the evenings and they have a licence to serve alcohol, if that is your thing!
My advice would be, arrive Marrakech and then spend two days sightseeing. Visit the Medina, get lost and haggle for a bargain. On the following day you could visit the Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum (https://www.museeyslmarrakech.com/fr/ ) and the Jardin de Marjorelle (https://www.jardinmajorelle.com)both worth the effort. There are many other things that one can do, but this is a good starting point. You could then go to Imlil/ Toubkal for your adventure and the return back to Marrakech for another day or two before returning home.
Depending on your budget, you can either get a taxi or a private car to the village of Imlil. This is the starting place for all summit attempts. A taxi will be 35-40 euro and private car 80 euro.
This is a standard option for Toubkal, and what most people do on a first attempt.
They leave Marrakech after breakfast, looking to arrive Imlil, say for 11am. You then meet your *guide, have tea (nearly always compulsory) and then leave for the refuge.
*A guide is now compulsory in the National Park and you cannot enter without one. There are currently three checkpoints that you go through and on each occasion your guide must provide your passport and the details are logged.
Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours.
Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous.
Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to get water, food if required and soft-drinks such as Coke.
The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.
Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm.
The summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0700, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m.
In summer, the trail is very dry and although not a technical climb, Toubkal does have a great deal of loose scree and rocks. With the addition of the demands of altitude, the climb can provide an excellent challenge for someone new to experiences like this. Or, experienced runners and climbers can use it as a form of training. The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical.
Importantly, be prepared for the cold. It may be 30-40 degrees in Marrakech but the summit can be very cold and windy. Make sure you have wind proof jacket/ trousers, warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.
Most arrive at the summit between 0700 and 0900, you spend time soaking the views and taking photos and then return via the path you came. (There is another way down, more on that later!)
Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. However, I think many find the descent harder and more challenging than the climb. This is due to the loose scree and rocky terrain. If experienced, one can drop from the summit to the refuge in 60-75 minutes. However, many eek their way down and falling/ slipping is a very real possibility. To clarify, there are no exposed ridges or real danger. It will just be a slip and a slide.
Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day. The out and back route is approximately 22 miles.
Once back in Imlil, it makes sense to book a local Riad, they are very inexpensive and serve great Tagine. The following morning you can arrange for a taxi/ car to collect you and you will be back in Marrakech for lunch.
If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer.
Most recently (August) I left Marrakech at 0530. I met my guide at 0700. We summited at midday and I was back in Imlil before 4pm in the afternoon. I had a car collect me and I was back in Marrakech before 7pm.
The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.
As option two, but from the summit it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very loose scree and lots of technical rocks. In terms of distance, it is maybe a little less than the standard up and down route but it does offer more excitement! I took this route down on my first trip to Toubkal. It rejoins the path up to the refuge below Les Mouflons.
During the day, shorts and t-shirt is ideal for the climb to the refuge. Shoes should be good trail running shoes with toe protection. Hikers will probably use walking shoes, approach shoes or boots. I used VJ Sport MAXx shoes which were perfect on these trails. You will need a pack and in that pack a change of clothes, warm layers, a sleeping bag and the capacity to carry liquid and some snacks. Refuge to the summit and back can be cold and windy. Be prepared with a Primaloft warm layer, gloves, hat and wind proof pants and jacket. It is recommended to have waterproof (just in case!)
I think poles for most people are an essential item. They will considerably help on the climb up and on the descent, they will add a security blanket.
TIME OF YEAR:
August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon. May can still have snow, so, be careful.
The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to liaise with in regard to booking.
email@example.com – Liaise with Hamid.
34.5 euro per person per night full board ( Dinner, breakfast and lunch )
29.5 euro per person per night half board ( Dinner and breakfast )
19.5 euros per person per night ( without meals )
The refuge can also arrange the following for you:
Transport from and back to Marrakech
Accommodation in Imlil
Mountain Guide – A guide will be approximately 80 euro per day and is payable in cash only.
The Riad Atlas Prestige is located on the climb out of Imlil. It’s cozy, provides an excellent service and the food is great. It also very inexpensive at typically 30 euros a night for 2-people.
The hotel is on booking.com or you can contact directly +212 666 494954
Morocco is safe. I have been travelling in different areas for over 7-years and I have always had a great time with wonderful experiences. Of course, there are cultural differences and as a tourist, it is we that must adapt. Women in particular should consider ‘covering up’ a little more, particular if running. But, in Marrakech, there are so many tourists that pretty much anything goes. Taking photographs, one should be careful. The locals really do not like it, and this I know from first hand experience.
Unfortunately, in December 2018 two girls were murdered between Imlil and Toubkal and this created a stir worldwide and locally. Hence the need for a guide and three passport controls now. I cannot emphasise enough that this incident was a one-off and to clarify, I have been back to Morocco and Imlil twice since this incident and at no point was I worried.
An active weekend away or part of a longer trip to Morocco, Imlil and Toubkal is a real adventure and is highly recommended. For example, it would be quite feasible to fly from the UK (for example) on a Friday and return on Monday having visited Imlil and summited Toubkal over the weekend.
For those with more time Imlil is also a great place for a longer stay. There are many trails to explore in the area and the place is a hidden gem.
For those combining holiday and adventure, Imlil and Toubkal is a great active outlet amidst a more relaxed time in Marrakech. If you are planning to be in Morocco for longer than 7-days, also consider heading to the coast to visit Essaouira which is a 4-hour drive. It’s an old place with a very different feel to Marrakech. Of course, the options are only limited by your imagination and budget – it is also possible to go and stay overnight in the desert and have a bivouac experience.
What a difference a day makes! The 2019 race should have taken place on Saturday, however, weather conditions through the Friday night made the high ground above 3000m dangerous and therefore the race was postponed to Sunday. The sister event, the AMA VK2 did take place – HERE.
Race departure on Sunday was brought forward to 0530 from the scheduled 0600 start, a loop of the village for the 400 runners from 25 countries provided a warm up before they were released onto the mountain. In essence, Monte Rosa SkyMarathon is a simple race. Start in Alagna, run to the summit of Monte Rosa and then return as fast as possible. With a positive incline of 3500m and a distance of 35km for the round trip, this event is extreme.
Runners run in teams of two and from a certain point on the course (weather and conditions dependent) they must rope together and use crampons. At key sections, they must also attach to fixed ropes using a via ferratta harness.
The early slopes are simple trail and then as one moves up the mountain, rocks and ridges giveaway to snow and ice. This year, due to Friday’s inclement weather, approximately 30-50cm of fresh snow had covered the upper sections making running and hiking considerably harder. Another factor to consider, the great weather on Sunday of ‘less cloud and more sky,’ brought with it plenty of sun.
As the day progressed, this sun heated the snow making for a very soft and tricky descent from the summit which was constantly monitored by the races’ mountain safety. Despite the sun, temperature at the summit was -5, with the strong wind, this felt like -20. It was cold.
The day was truly incredible, from the summit and throughout the course, the views were magnificent. In particular, the Matterhorn clearly visible.
Founded on the slopes of Monte Rosa in 1992 by Marino Giacometti, skyrunning is the epitome of moving fast and light in the mountains, Monte Rosa SkyMarathon is the flagship.
Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’
Combining mountaineering, running and skimo, this race is alpinism without the clutter and as such, the assembled runners come from all three backgrounds.
In 2018, William Boffelli and Franco Colle blazed a trail up and down the mountain and until four day’s before the race, we were once again expecting the duo to lead from the front. However, Franco Colle had to withdraw from injury. This left William searching for a partner. Luckily, Jakob Herrmann stepped in – an experienced ski mountaineer who has partnered Kilian Jornet. It was a big ask of Herrmann, however, he stepped up to the mark and in 2018 style the duo were the first to the summit with a lead of 25- minutes ahead of Beccari and Felicetti. Known for strong uphills, Herrmann was tested on the descent as Boffelli set a blistering pace. ‘He is not used to running descents…’ Boffelli said, ‘…but he gave his all to keep up.’ Keep up he did. The team arrived back in Alagna in 4:51:58 some way of last years time and the fastest time recorded, however, in the conditions it was quite remarkable.
Beccari and Felicetti placed second ahead of Carrara and Montani, 5:10:41 and 5:30:02 the respective times.
The women’s race looked set to be dominated by Giuditta Turini and Laura Besseghini. The duo led from the start and were first to the summit. On the descent they were running so well and then Besseghini started to have problems, most likely from fatigue and the altitude. Unfortunately she took a fall and needed to be taken from the course.
This opened the door for Tomasiak and Solinska from Poland. They arrived at the finish ecstatic thinking they had placed second, only to be crowned champions. Just 16-seconds later, Witowska and Januszyk arrived for second. Quinteros and Campos completed the podium, the times for the top three were 6:38:14, 6:38:30 and 7:15:59.
It may have taken 25-years for skyrunning to return home to Alagna, but one thing is for sure, the AMA (Alagna – Monte Rosa – Alagna) is here to stay. In just two editions, it has become ‘the’ race to do like the iconic ‘Kima!’
While experience of the mountain may be required to participate, the dream to journey to a summit and back in less than one day is now well and truly alive. And if the summit is a step too far in 2020, there is always the AMA VK2 to whet the appetite.
Episode 43 of Talk Ultra and on this weeks show we have an extended and in-depth interview with Kilian Jornet about his Matterhorn Summit record. We have a selection of audio from the TNFUTMB – Rory Bosio, Anton Krupicka, Joe Grant, Nuria Picas and Jez Bragg. We speak to Jo Meek who placed 2nd lady at MDS and what the future holds for her. We have Talk Training, the News a blog, smiles and miles with Emelie Forsberg and of course, Mr Speedgoat.
Xavier Thevenard (ASICS/France) – 20:34:57 New course record; Old course record: Kilian Jornet – 20:36:43 – 2011
Miguel Heras (Salomon/Spain) – 20:54:08
Javier Dominguez (Spain-Basque) – 21:17:38
Timothy Olson (The North Face/USA) – 21:38:23
Mike Foote (The North Face/USA) – 21:53:19
Julien Chorier (Salomon/France) – 22:08:11
Bertrand Collomb-Patton (France) – 23:14:16
Arnaud Lejeune (Hoka One One/France) – 23:18:05
John Tidd (Spain) – 23:18:27
Jez Bragg (The North Face/United Kingdom) – 23:50:01
AUDIO with Jez Bragg and Anton Krupicka/ Joe Grant
Rory Bosio (The North Face/USA) – 22:37:26 New course record; Old course record: Krissy Moehl – 24:56:01 – 2009
Núria Picas (Buff/Spain-Catalana) – 24:32:20
Emma Roca (Hoka One One/Spain-Catalana) – 24:48:14
August 29th The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
The UTWT will propose an international competitive circuit in partnership with the International Trail Running Association. The events should already be open to the widest public and will offer ‘everyone’ a unique chance, throughout each year, to participate. Question: How does that relate to Western States with limited capacity and demand far outweighing places available? Also, Marathon des Sables… UK entrants for example are on a three year waiting list.
In each race points are awarded to every runner and therefore at the end of the year, a male and female UTWT world champion will be announced. To attract elite athletes, certain events will have Ultra Trail Series status and these will offer more important weighting in the ranking. (I assume this will be for races like Western States?)
Runners will be presented with a Passport. This can be ordered online before the end of the year, it was not made clear if these passports need to be paid for? When you complete a race, you are awarded a visa, this is added to your passport and shows your completion.
The minimum race distance will be 100km, races must have had two previous editions to qualify and already have 500 minimum participants (again, Western States has less than 400). A minimum of twenty countries will be represented and be emblematic venues.
So, how do you become World Champ?
All finishers in every race will be awarded points according to his performance. These points will be added to the International ranking and updated after each race. This ranking will be available on line at the UTWT website. The circuit will be an International competitive circuit in partnership with the ITRA (International Trail Running Association).
As mentioned, a limited number of races will be called Ultra Trail Series and you may only use two best performances from these races in building up points for the world title. In total, three races score, so, you could have two UTS races and one other.
A world champion lady and male will be announced each year.
Wasatch this weekend… plus will Nick have his ‘Slam’ confirmed. Oh dear, Steve Baugh, why didn’t you just phone him… $80! Posted on the Grand Slam website at the end of August!
The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™ Committee and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run Committee do not endorse, recognize, or ratify anyone or their times involved in the so-called “unofficial” grand slam of ultrarunning. Likewise we do not support, encourage, or sustain anyone involved in this pursuit.
We continue to recognize, applaud, and award the runners who are legitimately registered in and officially complete The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™.
We also remind all who are observing or otherwise involved that the term “Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™” is a trademark of The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™ entity, and only those who are official entrants and finishers of The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™ are entitled to use the term “Grand Slam of Ultrarunning™” in whatever form (including in any form that might cause trademark confusion) in connection with their running endeavors.
I would tell them inspire instead of trying to win races. Don’t even worry if you finish first or 100th. It doesn’t make any difference because there’s going to be another race later. If you win, everybody forgets it in a few days anyway, and if you lose, nobody remembers, but the inspiration you give will last forever because you’ll get other people to run well. We try too hard to run well and be logical. And I think it’s much better if you go out and make it so everybody gets to the first mile very fast and they’re wildly afraid because the logic has been thrown to the dust. Gerry Lindgren (advice to distance runners)
INTERVIEW with Jo Meek
TALK TRAINING – Marc Laithwaite
This week’s interview is with Kilian Jornet about his incredible Matterhorn Summit record breaking run. I have to say that I feel very honored that Kilian provided so much of his free time to discuss this in such great depth. It’s a fascinating interview.
It’s the day after the Matterhorn Ultraks and just four days after Kilian Jornet’s successful attempt on the Matterhorn Summit record attempt from Cervinia. It has been quite a few days for this iconic mountain and although Kilian has excelled on both occasions, we all know, the mountain is still the boss.
Kilian arrives with Emelie Forsberg looking relaxed and fresh after a late breakfast. I congratulate him (and Emelie) once again on topping the podium at the Skyrunning Matterhorn Ultraks race and ask him how he feels, ‘I am a little tired but feel good. I was certainly tired in the race but I didn’t push too hard. I just did what I needed to do to win the race’.
Our conversation turns the TNF UTMB and we discuss how the race will unfold for the men and women. Kilian and Emelie are animated at the prospect of Julien Chorier, Miguel Heras, Anton Krupicka and the other contenders going head-to-head. Emelie gets excited at the thought of Nuria Picas in the ladies race, it’s her first 100-mile race and of course Emelie knows the Catalan well. We could talk all day but eventually I settle down with Kilian in a quiet corner and we discuss the Matterhorn.
IC: It’s the day after the Matterhorn Ultraks, firstly Kilian, congratulations on your win! Another great race with Luis Alberto Hernando but maybe what is more impressive is that it comes just a couple of days after your Matterhorn Summits. How are you feeling?
KJ: I feel good. It was a super good race with a great atmosphere. To run with Luis Alberto Hernando was super nice. I was very tired before the race, particularly the day before. I used a strategy for the race to take it easy and take the win in the last kilometers. Yes, I think I was much more tired than in other races this year.
IC: We spoke in the Dolomites and we discussed then that your next Summit would be the Matterhorn. You travelled to Cervinia and you lived here for weeks to train. You had the utmost respect for Bruno’s record of 3:14:44. The Matterhorn is a dangerous mountain. You said you needed to learn the mountain, to understand every step. I think in that time you went up and down the mountain multiple times. Just before your attempt you said that the record was in your grasp… what is it like to look at something that is perceived as being an iconic record, a record from 1995, you said in a quote that it was a record you had dreamt of. Something from childhood that you wished you could achieve. It is a massive undertaking. For you it is more than a record, it’s your life.
KJ: I remember it well; I was 13 years old. I entered into a mountaineering center; I was talking to Jordi, the trainer. I said at the time that the record was impossible. I spoke to Jordi recently and he reminded me that I was dreaming about the Matterhorn all those years back and about the record. I thought it was the ultimate expression of our sport. It’s a beautiful summit. It has a logical line. It is a hard record, it is push running and climbing, so, it was in mind for many years… more than Mont Blanc and all the other records. About five years ago when I started to think about Summits of my Life, the Matterhorn was my goal. The other summits were really preparation for the Matterhorn and Bruno’s record. For me, it was the most difficult record in Skyrunning and mountain running. For example, Pikes Peak is not Skyrunning. I was really afraid, not of the mountain as I was climbing a lot but of the time. I summited the Matterhorn nine times before the ascent. The first time you climb you become aware of what is possible. You go up and down and say, wow, this is the time I need to beat. After going up and down nine times I think okay, I know the mountain, I am not going to fall, I know this mountain well. I was aware of where I could go hard and where I needed to go easy. However, the morning of the attempt I was nervous. I thought to myself, will I do this record or will I do four hours?
IC: A few people asked why you made the attempt at 3pm; it seems quite logical that the Matterhorn is a busy mountain so I assume the mountain would have been less busy?
KJ: Yes for sure. It is a busy mountain when conditions are good. When I climbed nine times I saw hardly anyone, just two or three teams. I was alone. The week of the attempt we had good days with warm and dry conditions and everyone was on the mountain. Over one hundred teams! So, I was talking with all the guides and the helpers. We asked the question, what do we do? So many people on the mountain and it would have been impossible. My first idea was to start between 7-8am but it would have been crazy to pass people. We decided to start later. It was the perfect decision. It was warm at the summit and I wore just a t-shirt and nobody was in the way. Everyone was going down or in the hut. I just had the safety guides to help. It was perfect!
IC: In the build up to the record, you actually met up with Bruno Brunod. Did he go on the mountain with you or did you just talk about your attempt?
KJ: Bruno said he never climbed the Matterhorn after his attempt. We met in Cervinia and discussed his record. What conditions he had, how he prepared, how he was mentally and then we discussed the rope, the short cuts and how he made time. It is funny, Bruno stopped running in 2003 but last year he started running again and he is now preparing Tor des Geants. He never ran long distances; he was afraid. I said, c’mon man, you are strong, and you can do well in these races.
IC: So, Bruno has gone from no running to doing one of the longest races on the calendar, I guess when you are Bruno Brunod you don’t do things by half. When you go on the mountain to learn and understand, what process does that involve? Do you have several options to attempt the summit and therefore you try them or do you have a defined route and then you put that route in your mind so that you know every step. You know you can push in one place and you won’t slip in another place?
KJ: It’s one route. The Lion Ridge is the classic route and the fastest. It is the historical route and the same as Bruno used and those before him. You work out the differences but it is a thin ridge, you have several places that you can pass but yes, it is about planning. It is about knowing where to put your feet, knowing where to push and when not. I think you need to understand the mountain. You have parts in the west and north face and they are thin in the ridge and you can have ice. If you go in the morning you will have ice. If you go after 10am then this will be water so you can go there. You need to spend time to understand how it works, to understand the mountain and its life. Always in the north face it was icy, so I was aware I needed more care. On the west side I could push harder as the rock was warm and the rubber of my shoes would have better grip. It is important to spend time and understand that exactly. For example, if it is cold or windy, my shoes don’t grip the same as a warm day. I need to know this so I know exactly where to go. It is super important to understand the mountain and how the weather conditions are.
IC: On the face of it, people look at you and think you are very relaxed and casual. I know, I have seen you work and I have seen you study a mountain, you know the history, you go into in depth research to make sure these attempts are correct and that you know what you are doing. It is obviously very important. You have mentioned a simple thing like shoe rubber. Did you have special shoes?
KJ: Yes I tried different rubbers. I always used the Salomon Sense but I had different soles, different grades of rubber. For the attempt I used a softer rubber for grip. In the snow any shoe glides. You just need the technique of a flat foot and the ability to push.
IC: What is great about these attempts in comparison to Bruno, for example, in 1995 I guess Bruno stood in the square in Cervinia and just a few people were around probably having a beer, but Marino Giacometti and Lauri Van Houten were instrumental in Bruno’s attempt. They helped finance it, they arranged the safety, they arranged a helicopter and of course they got involved in your attempt. Fortunately for us we had the opportunity to have Seb Montaz follow the process, for those who know Seb, he is like your self a master of his craft. We have had some great glimpses of your summit; short videos are already on YouTube. Clips of you running a ridge jumping a crevice, or sliding down snow. It brings what you do into perspective. We can talk about you going up and down the Matterhorn but it’s easy to think, ok! But we may not have an idea of the difficulty or danger. These videos convey this. It is an important aspect. Is it a way to record you achievement but is it also a way to attract people to the mountains and also let people understand the beauty and danger?
KJ: It is the second for sure. It is not about my achievement. When I stop it will be in my mind. It is more a learning process. It enables the people to join us in the mountain and it enables everyone to understand. It’s beautiful, it is nice but it is also very difficult. It takes preparation, we do take some risks but the videos help motivate and inform. The way I go the mountain is possible but you need to learn. For me, my summit was the Matterhorn; I understood my capacity, my ability and my technical skill. I accept the risk. For everyone else it may be here or close to the home. We want to show and share that you can be light in the mountains and hopefully more people will understand. I go naked to the mountain.
IC: The actual record. You started 3pm from Cervinia. You are in Salomon Sense, shorts, T-shirt and a jacket around your waist. You look like you are going for a run… of course that is what you are doing! You start and in the early stages it is easy and then it becomes tricky, technical, you have ropes, ridges, faces to ascend and so on, how do you process the attempt in your mind. Did you have specific targets, so, did you know what time you wanted to be at a certain place or do you go on feel? I know in the early stages you only had about 3 minutes on Bruno’s record, it was maybe a little too hot but once past a certain point you really opened up time. Of course on the descent you came down super quick. You did 2:52:02 instead of 3:14:44. I believe Bruno predicted 2:52! Were you surprised?
KJ: I was really surprised. When Bruno said 2:52 I said, no way. I was thinking, I might break the record by 2-3 minutes maximum. Maybe 3:10 would be a good time? During my practice runs I never ran fast because in the hard parts you don’t want to go hard. It’s like a lottery and taking numbers… you leave taking numbers for race day! The only time I went faster was the second day when I trained. I thought, wow, maybe I can beat Bruno’s time. If I am close to Bruno’s time then I can go faster. I spoke to Seb Montaz on the morning of the attempt, he said if you are at the summit within 2 hours it will be so good, you will have time for the downhill. I said, yeah I will be so very happy. When I started the summit attempt it was the afternoon so this was good at the top because it was warm, however, it was warm in the valley too. I don’t like warm. I started with a good pace but it was hard to find the strength. I saw lots of people and friends. Bruno was shouting at me, ski friends shouted, guides from Cervinia, Nuria Picas was there and so on… they gave me energy. I said to myself, I must keep going, I must push. I had Bruno’s time in my mind but I had no prediction of what I could do.
I was close to Bruno’s time until the Leone Col then the ridge starts and then I came into my own. It is where I love to run. It’s technical, you need to climb and you need to push. It is exposed. I love to be exposed on the mountain. From here I was not moving fast but fluid. This is the way to move in this terrain, if you go fast and you go more than you can you will have an accident. Moving fluid allows me to move quickly. I started to gain time all the way up to the summit. I looked at my watch and I saw I was almost 12 minutes in front of Bruno’s time, I said to myself, wow, this is incredible. It is possible! Okay, I said, I can do it. I was happy but I could not disconnect. It is a long down hill to Cervinia; I needed to be sure of every step. The boss of the guides in Cervinia said to me at the summit, you can do it! I started down in deep concentration. I was enjoying it so much; I love to run the technical sections. You don’t push with your legs; you push with your mind. Where to put your feet, where to put your hands, when to glide, when to go faster, when to stop, this is what I love, I was enjoying it so much. When the most technical part stopped, I realized I was almost 20 minutes in front of Bruno; so, the last part was just pushing to the finish.
IC: Myself and many other people were very worried about the Matterhorn. We respected the mountain and we anticipated that you would push; pushing brings danger, so when you got to the summit and you knew you were ahead of Bruno’s time did that mean that the descent was easier, you took less risks than if the time had been very close.
KJ: Yes of course. If I had been at the summit in 2:10 I wouldn’t have come down at the speed I did. I would have taken more risks. I also think that this doesn’t work! Many people who saw me said that I was going down very fast, they said I looked really fluid and that I wasn’t taking risks yet I was very fast. I think this is the way to go down the mountain. If you take risks the body position is different, you can’t glide as well and so on. You lean back and this slows you. If you feel confident, you can go fast. I think maybe I could have gained 6-7 seconds by taking risks. It’s nothing! These 6 or 7 seconds may have been my life… I knew the route very well and I had no need to take additional risks. I just wanted to be confident. My mother was on the mountain and she had bad memories of when she climbed the Matterhorn for the first time but if you climb again and again, you know it’s risky but it isn’t necessary to take risks, it is about being confident.
IC: When you arrived in Cervinia, it was like the end of a race. It was incredible. The barriers were out. It was almost like the race finish here in Zermatt. Did this surprise you?
KJ: Yes, I was completely surprised. I was in Cervinia for three weeks sleeping in my van in preparation for the attempt. I was surprised by the reception by everyone. For example, the first day I climbed the Matterhorn I was with Emelie. We climbed with running shoes and when we reached the top, the mountain guides said, ‘wow, you are going with run shoes. Congratulations. Do you want to try the Matterhorn record, can we help you? Tell us the day, we want to help you’. There is not another place that is like this, we usually get the response of, ‘What are you doing here in run shoes, this is ridiculous’. Not in Cervinia, they wanted to help us right from the start. Every time I climbed it was so open, the support was great. I was always asked, ‘tell us what day you go and we will help. We want to be on the mountain to help and support you’. It was the same for the hotels in Cervinia, they offered me showers or they said if I needed anything such as Internet that I could use the Wi-Fi. It was an incredible ambience. People were happy that I was in Cervinia to do the record and they got behind me. I think this was the most beautiful part of the record. I went just with my van, I was alone to climb but everyone was supporting the team and myself. It was so easy then to do the record. The day before my attempt, I made a call to the mountain rescue and said, ‘Tomorrow I go’. He replied, ‘Okay, how many people do you need? We will put people in the mountains for safety in case you have a mistake’. He called the mountain guides and they said, okay, we will put people here and here. The guides had finished work at midday on Wednesday and then they returned to the mountain to support me. It is unique. The reception was so fantastic.
IC: It was incredible the level of support you got. Knowing you, you would have quite happily got out of your van, started in the square and returned with no fuss. Marino Giacometti made a very good point, these record attempts do need to be verified, it does need an element of proof that you do go to the top and do come back down. Of course we are not questioning your honesty. But for future records a structure needs to be in place. I guess if we set a standard for the future it can only be a good thing. Does that mean for future attempts such as Elbrus in Russia, will you start to incorporate this system.
KJ: Yes, I know I need someone to do the chrono and I am aware I need someone at the summit. For Mont Blanc, I had people from the Tourist Office to confirm my attempt and I had guides at the summit. I also have the gps files on my Suunto. At the Matterhorn it wasn’t an issue, we had everyone in place and it was almost taken out of my hands. For example, Marino Giacometti did the chrono in Cervinia but the guides etc. were fully behind the attempt and they verified the route. My chrono was radioed to all the guides on the mountain so my progress could be monitored. It is important to be true. It is just like doping control… it is about integrity, my intentions are 100%, it is important to do a record in the correct way. I am aware that many ‘FKT’s have no control, I personally believe in the people but when you see the world and see the problems, I am aware of the issues of how people can not be honest.
IC: What was great about this attempt, because you had a team of people up the mountain, we had time checks back that meant that we could Tweet and Facebook times to the world. This was so exciting. Social media became alive following you. I think we stopped so many people from working. They wanted to follow. It is interesting from my perspective because it is what I do, but I guess the concept of someone running up and down a mountain and that message being sent around the world, some may think, why is that interesting? But it is so exciting; the updates had people glued to your progress. Can you relate to it or do you just think about the mountain?
KJ: When I am on the mountain. I am 100% focused. I need to be in my moment and think about where I put my feet, how fast do I go. If my mind wanders I will loose time or maybe my life, so I was super focused on moving as quickly as possible. It is just the mountain and I. The social media and the photography I leave to others. For example, Seb was in the helicopter but I never saw or heard it even though he was so close. This is because I needed to be 100% committed. I think this is nice. In racing I think for the last three years I have managed my effort and therefore I don’t need to focus as much but this was completely different. It was like the first time I raced ten years ago when I was super focused. It is a super nice feeling.
IC: Certainly social media has made what you are doing so accessible which is great for us but it is also great for you and everyone else involved. I guess now your energy focuses on Russia and Mt Elbrus?
KJ: Yes, I need to relax a little first…
IC: You said that to me last time, when I interviewed you in the Dolomites. You told me you wouldn’t race for a month and then you went to Sierre-Zinal.
KJ: Ah yes, I was close to Sierre-Zinal, it was just the other side of the Matterhorn, so it was good training. Plus it was the 40th edition. Now I take a couple of weeks with no racing but I will train a lot, I love that; I need to do it to be alive. I will train but not race until UROC in the US. I will focus on Elbrus for the next few weeks; I want to go to Russia before UROC, maybe the 15th September. I will plan around that date and train at altitude.
IC: So does that mean you will do the Elbrus summit before UROC?
KJ: Yes, I think so. After UROC I have Skyrunner World Series,Limone Extreme and the then Diagonale des Fous, so, after this I want a break.
IC: You say a break, does that mean ski mountaineering?
KJ: It means one week of no training and then I will be in the mountains for November and December but I won’t race.
IC: Okay, we will follow you and see if you do race… Kilian it has been fantastic for you to give me so much time to talk about the Matterhorn. It’s great to get such an insight. Finally, when are we going to see the full edited Seb Montaz movie of this year or the recent summit?
KJ: We are working on it and of course we will work more after Elbrus. November and December will see much of the work being done in edit, so we hope before the end of the year. Maybe late December?
“It is a technical mountain. Bruno Brunod has a record of 3:14:44. It is a technical route that is not difficult BUT if I fall, I will die! I need to know the route very well, I need to spend time on the mountain, and I need to learn every step.” Kilian Jornet, July 2013.
Monte Cervino (Italian) or Mont Cervin (French) or Just the Matterhorn is a mountain on the border between Switzerland and Italy. At 4,478 meters (14,690 ft) high, it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. It consists of four steep faces, striking above the glaciers that surround it. Overlooking the town of Zermatt it is an iconic mountain and possibly ‘the’ most photographed mountain in the world. It is a mountain that dreams are mad of. Kilian Jornet is no different, “I have been dreaming about this record since I was 15”.
Ironically, the Matterhorn was one of the last great Alpine peaks to be climbed and the first ascent by Edward Whymper in 1865 brought an end to the ‘Golden age of alpinism (The period between Alfred Wills ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 and Whymper’s ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, this period saw many peaks in the Alps have first ascents)
Since 1865 to 1995 it has been described as one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps, over five hundred lives have been lost in this 130yr period. I guess the first ascent in 1865 showed us the danger potential when four climbers fell to their deaths on the descent.
The Matterhorn has two distinct summit, both situated on a 100-metre-long rocky ridge: the Swiss summit with a height of 4,477.5 meters (14,690 ft) on the east and the Italian summit with a height of 4,476.4 meters (14,686 ft) on the west. Their names originated from the first ascents, not for geographic reasons, as both are located on the border. Each summer a large number of mountaineers try to climb the Matterhorn via the northeast Hörnli ridge, the most popular route to the summit.
Small patches of snow and ice cling to the faces of the Matterhorn, but the faces are steep and regular avalanches occur. Snow hurtles down the four sides and accumulates on the glaciers at the base of each face.
Four main ridges separate the four faces of the Matterhorn and therefore it offers four distinct routes. The least difficult technical climb and by far the most popular is the Hörnli Ridge, which lies between the east, and north faces and it faces the town of Zermatt. The Zmutt Ridge (west), between the north and west faces is, according to Collomb, “the classic route up the mountain, it’s the longest ridge and also the most disjointed.
The Lion Ridge, lying between the south and west face is the Italian normal route. It is the shortest route on the mountain and has fixed ropes in place but many think it to be a far superior climb, particularly when compared to Hörnli Ridge. Furggen Ridge is the final offering, it is the hardest offering and in good conditions is not too difficult, and it does however have a reputation.
J.J and J.P Maquignaz made the first ascent of the Italian ridge as it is climbed today in 1867 but Kilian Jornet had his eyes on Bruno Brunod’s record set in 1995 when he did Breuil-Cervinia to the Matterhorn summitand back in an astonishing time of 3:14:44. In addition, Bruno also has the record for climbing the Matterhorn, again from Breuil-Cervinia just to the summit in a time of 2:10.
Back in 1995, Skyrunning president, Marino Giacometti and Executive Director, Lauri Van Houten were not only present but also helped finance Bruno’s attempt. Lauri still says how the thought of it, “brings shivers down my back”. Lauri and Marino both acknowledge the danger and undertaking that Kilian had given himself. “I remember standing in the square in Cervinia and about 3 hours 10 min had elapsed. There was a real buzz and noise and then somebody shouted, he’s coming! We all ignored it; we thought it couldn’t be possible… but minutes later Bruno appeared. It was a magical moment, one I will never forget”, says Lauri.
Bruno is very much considered the father of Skyrunning. His exploits, to this day seem to go beyond human limit. Without doubt, Kilian Jornet is in the same mold and in real terms, Bruno has lead the way for what Kilian now wants to achieve with his Summits project. Kilian’s final Summit will be Everest. Bruno himself attempted Everest; he however gave up when at a height of 8.200mt (26,900 feet) due to very hard weather conditions.
Bruno’s passion and time is now focused on his construction company, however, just recently he joined Kilian on the Matterhorn as he prepared for his Matterhorn attempt. Two masters together discussing the mountain. Without doubt, Bruno played a big part in the successful attempt by Kilian and ironically he predicted a time of 2:52:00. Maybe Bruno knows Kilian better than Kilian?
Matterhorn uphill and downhill from Cervinia in 3:14
Monte Rosa uphill and downhill from Gressoney in 4:45
Aconcagua uphill and downhill in 5:57
Kilimanjaro uphill on the Marangu Route in 5:38
Mount Elbert uphill in 1:54
Three times winner of the Becca di Nona SkyRace (2002 – 2003 – 2004)