Kilian Jornet Shatters Matterhorn Speed Record

Kilian Jornet begins his run up the Matterhorn.
Kilian Jornet begins his run up the Matterhorn. Photo courtesy Summits of My Life.

8/21/13 – The Catalan mountain runner Kilian Jornet has run up and down the Matterhorn, starting and finishing in the town of Breuil-Cervinia, Italy, in an astonishing 2 hours, 52 minutes round-trip. Jornet took more than 20 minutes off the previous speed record, set back in 1995 by Italian runner Bruno Brunod.

Jornet started his run in mid-afternoon local time, to have warmer temperatures and to avoid most climbers on the route, who would have started before dawn. He climbed the Lion Ridge (southwest ridge) up the 14,692-foot peak. This is the normal route from the Italian side and is the shortest of the four great ridges on the famous peak, but it still requires more than 8,100 feet of vertical gain from Breuil-Cervinia. Jornet reached the summit in 1 hour, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.

Jornet tags the summit of the Matterhorn, still in shorts, T-shirt, and running shoes. Photo courtesy Summits of My Life.

The Lion Ridge, graded AD III (or about 5.3 when using the numerous fixed ropes), is considered more difficult than the classic Hornli Ridge on the Zermatt side.

“I felt really good during the climb,” Jornet told Desnivel. “At first I was very warm, but little by little I gained rhythm and altitude, and I felt much better. Arriving at the top was a very special moment. The descent also was perfect, and I am happy because I didn’t have to take too many risks. I slipped once or twice, but nothing important.”

Jornet spent nearly a month below the mountain, living in his van, to prepare for the record-breaking run. In the previous two weeks, he made eight separate trips up the Matterhorn to study and rehearse the route. He also consulted with Brunod about the former record holder’s tactics, and the Italian generously offered his advice and encouragement.

The Matterhorn, viewed from near Cervinia. Jornet ascended the left skyline.
The Matterhorn, viewed from near Cervinia. Jornet ascended the left skyline. Wikipedia photo.

“When there were only a few meters left to reach the goal, Bruno came to run with me,” Jornet said in his Desnivel interview. “Yesterday he predicted that I would run 2:52—it seems he knows me better than I know myself! My time with Bruno is the part of this experience that will stay with me—it was very exciting. If I’m here it’s because of people like Bruno, who have inspired me since I was a little boy.”

In recent years, Jornet, 25, has been the dominant mountain runner around the world, combining extraordinary fitness with technical climbing skill. In July, he broke the record for running up and down Mont Blanc from Chamonix, France. His next target is 18,510-foot Mt. Elbrus in Russia, the highest peak in Europe.

Date of record: August 21, 2013