Mountain ultra-runner Kilian Jornet may be best known for setting superhuman speed records on some of the world's most iconic peaks, and for competing on the world ultra distance circuit, but we were surprised to learn that his plans for 2017 include a couple of UK wild cards too. If you've set the fastest time on Mont Blanc and Denali, then what attraction could a Bob Graham Round on the little old Lakeland Fells possibly hold? We caught up with him to find out.
First let's talk about the big one - Everest this spring. This is the culmination of your Summits of My Life project, which aims to set ascent/descent records on some of the best known world peaks, from Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn to Everest. Can you tell us a little about the plans, the route you've chosen etc?
The plan is the same as last summer [abandoned due to snow conditions]: to start from Rombuk and complete a non-stop ascent up and down. This year we didn't get a permit for the summer so we decided to go in May instead. We will be two persons in the expedition, Seb Montaz and myself. The exact route we will decide depending on the conditions. The north face can be really dry, but we don't discard the Norton or Horbein Couloir, or a straight line up the NNE face. We will see and decide there.
I guess this will be the toughest of the Summits of My Life. What are the key challenges that set it apart from the rest?
The bigger the mountains are, the more you depend on conditions. [On Everest] there are not many windows in the year and it is not like Mont Blanc in that if it is good conditions you just drop by and run. Logistics are a bigger challenge too. And then of course the altitude is what it makes the most difficult. The key is to arrive well trained, acclimatized but not too tired.
Pemba Dorje's 8hrs10mins from base camp to summit is pretty phenomenal: what will you need to do in order to beat that?
First to not take oxygen. I really respect all the ways to climb any summit, but my goal is a non-stop up and down without oxygen and assistence (fixed ropes, gear on the mountain…)
Do you have a target time in mind?
It really depends on the conditions, but from Rombuk to the base of the mountain it can take arround 5-6h, then it's around 15-20 to climb up, and around 10 down; but all this really depends on conditions.
Closer to home, you've announced the intention to have a go at the Bob Graham Round later this year. This is the first time you've looked at doing the BGR. The world is a big place, and your previous speed records on big name mountains attract a worldwide audience: so what has made you want to do this specific route on comparatively tiny hills in a rainy corner of northern England?
The BGR is a monument in the history of fell running and of mountain running in general. People running in the mountains for fun or a sporty challenge was born mostly in UK, and these rounds are part of the history of the sport. BGR, Ben Nevis and a bit less the Ramsay Round are well known as part of the history of Fell Running. The BGR is probably the best known, and the times are amazing.
Are you going for the record on this visit, or would a sub-24hr run be enough?
I will try to run as fast as I can during the round; afterwards we will see the time.
Knowledge of the ground seems to be at least as important as the running ability itself – would you agree?
Sure. Last spring I spent one week in the Lake District with the Salomon Advanceed week and I got to know something of the terrain and the big outdoors culture there. It's really great that so many people enjoy the trails there. Before the run I want to spend some days to get to know the route, and ask some friends there for tips.
Are you planning to have any logistical support, or other runners with you to help with pacing and/or navigation?
I will decide there probably. I like to travel light, alone or with my girlfriend. But I do know some people there, so depending on the dates and what happens day by day, I will see.
How do you think it will compare as an experience to the bigger alpine challenges for which you are best known?
The beauty of this sport is that it is the same fun and challenge to do a Vertical Kilometer, an Ultra Race, a super technical run or to climb a summit. The great thing is to try to adapt yourself to every terrain and distance.
Still in the UK, this year you also intend to compete in the Glen Coe Skyline race (15-17 September). What's the attraction of this particular race, for you?
Emelie [Forsberg], my girlfriend did it the first year and she told me how amazing it was. And everybody racing there has said that it is a race to do. It was an easy decision, knowing I love technical races.
How do you think it compares in terms of terrain and technical difficulty with similar skyrunning events elsewhere?
Shane Ohly [Glen Coe organiser] has raced the Tromsø SkyRace, the race we organize in Norway, and he says some ridge sections are similar. I think there are not many races as technical as this today, but probably the Extreme category of the Skyrunner World Series follows this path.
Are you a sure bet for first place?!
I always bet to finish, giving everything, and then to see.