This is how Kilian Jornet remembers the adventure which he has just come back from, only two days ago. Now that he is a little more rested and has left the Himalayas, he tells us about the day in which his dream of following the footsteps of Tom Hornbein came true.
“I didn’t reach the summit I was aiming for, but everything else.
It was a perfect day.”
I didn’t reach the summit I was aiming for, but everything else. 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.
In 1963 the deceased Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld made a first ascent of this beautiful route. It was a pleasure to follow their footsteps for a little. My climb started climbing a steep couloir to reach the west shoulder, the conditions there were horrible, blue ice underneath with a top layer of deep snow, 2 steps up and one down for 1000m!
When I reached the ridge it was very windy so I stayed under a cornice for 3h to rest and calm down while enjoying watching the queues of climbers from both nepali and tibetan normal routes making their progression to the summit.
After the wind calmed I continued the ridge and traversed mixed terrain towards the feet of the Hornbein couloir. There, I felt great and conditions were perfect. After a few hundred meters on the couloir a wind pocket (I suppose recently created from the morning winds) broke and provoked an avalanche that carried me down for about 50m. At that moment I doubted whether to continue or to turn around and decided the latter.
The downhill was interesting: with heavy snowfall that made me use the Coros "back to start" feature following my way up, since visibility was 2-3m and my tracks from the way up under deep snow. Well, it was a great day in the mountains, where everything is beyond perfect except I didn’t reach the summit.
With these words, Kilian Jornet summarizes the journey of more than 30 hours that allowed him to see first-hand a route that he had been dreaming about for some time and of which he knew very few details, beyond photographs or descriptions in mountaineering books. The west ridge route to Everest is the least common due to its technical difficulty and long exposure to altitude. Besides, it is a very vertical route, with very exposed rock and ice terrain, that he faced solo and without supplemental oxygen.
As Kilian Jornet states, this route was opened in 1963 and is known as the Hornbein Corredor, in honor to one of the climbers who did it for the first time, what was considered a highly-significant historic event for alpinism.
Kilian Jornet reached the Himalayas last April 19th accompanied by his family. Together, they progressively climbed from Namche (3,440m - 11,286 feet) to Pheriche (4,371m - 14,340 feet) to acclimatize to the altitude. From Pheriche, Kilian Jornet did four rotations that worked as training and helped him acclimatize.
In the last rotation after the ascent, he even reached C4 (7,900m - 25,919 feet). something that also helped him get used to the condition of the terrain and to check that he felt good at altitude. This way, the ascent through west ridge happened after several days of waiting for a weather window that allowed him to carry out the ascent in the best possible conditions, despite the weather unpredictability being an important factor to consider in the Himalayas.
Jornet had also made several previous expeditions to the Himalayas, the last two in 2019 and 2021, which helped him explore the terrain and check the different possibilities before facing his deceased west ridge.
Kilian Jornet’s idyll with the world’s highest peak began in 2016 when he made his first expedition to Everest. This culminated in 2017 with a double ascent in one week, always in alpine style, without assistance or supplementary oxygen.
In the almost 8 years since then, Jornet has combined his high mountain projects with the trail running season, ski mountaineering and, more recently, his activism through the Kilian Jornet Foundation and the sports brand NNormal, created in 2022 when the athlete joined forces with the family business Camper.
If you wish, you can also consult our journal since we reached the Himalayas.
Chapter 1 of the adventure
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