Kilian Jornet abandons Everest solo attempt without breathing mask in Hornbein Couloir

Kilian Jornet
Kilian Jornet

What is Kilian Jornet up to on Mount Everest? That’s what many observers of the hustle and bustle on Mount Everest have been wondering ever since the Spaniard, known for his speed ascents, showed up at the highest mountain on earth. In April, the 35-year-old had run from Namche Bazaar, the main village in the Everest region, to the base camp in a single day, climbed to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters the very next morning and then ran back to Namche. In spring 2017, Kilian had scaled Everest twice within a week via the Tibetan north side – without  a breathing mask.

Now Jornet has revealed the secret of his Everest plan this season. Already back in Kathmandu, he announced that he had attempted, solo and as always without bottled oxygen, the route via the West Ridge and through the Hornbein Couloir. Last Monday was the 60th anniversary of the day when the US Americans Tom Hornbein (he died at the beginning of May at the age of 92) and Willi Unsoeld (1926-1979) had opened the very demanding Everest route with bottled oxygen and reached the summit. Afterwards, they had descended on today’s normal route on the Nepalese south side. It was the first traverse of an eight-thousander. The route was repeated only seven times. Kilian Jornet abandoned his attempt. 

50 meters carried down by avalanche

North Face of Mount Everest
Ascent route via West Ridge and Hornbein Couloir

The ascent to the West Shoulder was already difficult because of blank ice, writes Jornet: “When I reached the ridge it was very windy so I stayed under a cornice for three hours to calm down while enjoying watching the queues of climbers from both Nepali and Tibetan normal routes making their progression. After the wind calmed, I continued the ridge and traversed on mixed terrain towards the feet of the Hornbein Couloir. I felt great and conditions were perfect.”

After climbing a few hundred meters through the couloir, he said, a snow accumulation came loose. “I got carried down in the avalanche for about 50m. I doubted whether to continue or to turn around and decided the latter.” The descent turned out to be “interesting,” Kilian said, because it began to snow heavily. He could see only two to three meters, he said, and his tracks from the ascent were snowed in. With GPS data stored on his watch, he eventually found his way back, he said.

” I didn’t reach the summit I was aiming for. But everything else,” Jornet sums up, philosophizing about goals on the mountain and how to get there: “I’m a big believer in the how is way bigger and more important than the what, and in that sense the climb was just perfect. Like a big puzzle with all the pieces but one, the summit one.” Well said.

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