Golden Pitons 2013 – Speed

Kilian Jornet slides down a fixed rope during his run up and down the Matterhorn. Photo by Sebastien Montaz-Rosset

Climbers have long wondered what might happen if Olympic-caliber athletes from other sports brought their strength and stamina to the vertical world. Now, we have a pretty good idea: Catalan runner Kilian Jornet Burgada is systematically blowing away speed records on the world’s most famous peaks.

Jornet, 26, is a three-time winner of the Skyrunner mountain-running series, and in 2011 he won the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in California. He’s also a world champion ski mountaineer. Jornet has been climbing since he was a child, and in the past two years, he has focused his near-superhuman aerobic ability on more technical challenges.

Last summer, Jornet smashed the record for climbing and descending Mont Blanc, from downtown Chamonix to the 15,781-foot summit and back, and then did the same on the Matterhorn, making the round trip on the Italian side in 2 hours, 52 minutes—more than 20 minutes faster than an 18-year-old record set by Italian Bruno Brunod. “I had a Matterhorn picture in my bedroom when I was a child, and Bruno’s record was the most expressive of the sport—the ultimate thing to motivate me to do skyrunning,” Jornet says.

Late in the summer, Jornet and mountain runner Emelie Forsberg were widely criticized for seeking a rescue when their ultralight ascent above Chamonix had to be aborted. But Jornet shrugged off the flak as the “price of being known.” He adds, “We go every day [in the] mountains, so it is logical to have good days and bad days.”

Whether Jornet is dangerously pushing the limits of light and fast or not will likely become clearer as he ventures onto higher peaks in his multi-year Summits of My Life campaign. On tap for 2014: Denali and Aconcagua.

Do you also climb for pleasure, other than speed records or training? “I always run and climb for pleasure. Records are just the excuse to go to the mountains, to spend time with friends there.”

More Golden Pitons:

Climb of the Year: La Dura Dura.Breakthrough Performance: Alex MegosBouldering: Jimmy WebbTraditional: Hazel Findlay

Look for the full Golden Pitons feature story, including dozens more climbs and climbers, in our February issue (Climbing 322).