Nobody moves as quickly through the mountains as Kilian Jornet Burgada. He has put his skills on display across the globe, conquering time records on some of the world’s most famous peaks, and this spring he tackled Mount Everest – twice.
Jornet, a 29-year-old from Sabadell, Spain, has returned to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to make his fourth consecutive start in the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Race. He has won the previous three years and set both course records in the process of running the 100.5-mile race that starts and ends in Silverton.
Last year, he finished as co-champion along with Durango’s Jason Schlarb, 39. They traversed the course, which boasts an average elevation of more than 11,000 feet, 13 mountain passes of at least 12,000 feet and the summit of 14,048-foot Handies Peak, in 22 hours, 58 minutes, 28 seconds. They came back into Silverton holding hands and kissed the finisher’s rock together. Both will compete again this year, but Jornet is still the man everyone considers a heavy favorite.
“I would guess even Jason Schlarb is willing to say Kilian is still the man to beat,” said Bryon Powell, runner-in-chief of well-renowned running website iRunFar.com. “He’s run three of the five fastest times ever at Hardrock. He had two summits of Mount Everest and a few weeks later won the Mount Blanc Marathon against very good international runners. Even when he’s not fully concentrated on running, he’s the best in the world.”
After last year’s Hardrock, Jornet turned all of his focus to the Everest ascent to complete his “Summits of my Life” project. His mission was canceled in the fall of 2016 because of poor weather conditions, but he tackled the world’s tallest mountain – 29,029 feet – on May 21 before making a second summit-conquering push only six days later. He did it all without the support of supplemental oxygen in one continuous push from the Rongbuk monastery. He completed the initial summit attempt in 26 hours, the fastest known time for the route he chose without using supplemental oxygen, according to the International Skyrunning Federation.
“For me, the times is an excuse, always,” Jornet told The Associated Press. “It was interesting to see if it is possible to go up and down, to climb mountains in the Himalayas (like) we climb in the Alps or the Rockies or in home ranges because it (does) not need a big infrastructure, big logistics. You just need your backpack, and if it is good weather, you can climb, and some days after you can do it again.”
Jornet is back in the Rockies, more specifically the San Juan Mountains, to see if he can conquer the Hardrock for a fourth time. He insists it is not the results that motivate him but the “ambiance” of the San Juans and the laid-back family atmosphere for which the Hardrock prides itself.
“Kilian is not of this world,” said Hardrock race director Dale Garland. “We love having him here. It’s very special to us that he says there are only a couple of races he wants to come back to do every year, and we are one of them.
“Right now, the media frenzy around him is great for the sport, but that’s not why he does it. He has a deep love for the mountains, and that’s what motivates him.”
Since arriving in Colorado last weekend, Jornet has already summited four of the state’s fourteeners in Longs Peak, Mt. Elbert, La Plata and Mt. Eolus. He conquered Eolus of the Needle Mountains range near Durango on Monday in a 35-mile run. Tuesday, he climbed Engineer Mountain with his Solomon Running teammates, including Iker Karrera and Caroline Chaverot.
“We’ve never seen anyone with his talent, but it’s not just his talent,” Powell said. “It’s wrong to say he’s a guy with a genetic gift because it’s his love of the mountains and outdoors that really brings that out of him. If he wanted to ride the Tour de France, he could ride the Tour de France. Whether it’s ski mountaineering, alpinism or running, he truly loves being in the mountains.”
Jornet set the Hardrock’s counter-clockwise course record in 23:28:10 two years ago. The course will take that same direction this year, going from Silverton to Lake City, Ouray and Telluride back to Silverton. In 2014, Jornet claimed the clockwise course record of 22:41:33.
Though he is the heavy favorite, there are plenty of big-name runners to give him a test in 2017.
“The men’s field is great,” Garland said. “I’m a little disappointed Zach Miller (back-to-back The North Face 50 Mile champion), won’t make it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a highly-competitive field.”
Schlarb has run a few lesser-known races since his Hardrock co-win a year ago. He was second at a high-altitude race in China that reached 18,000 feet. He also won the Zion 50K and placed ninth at the big Transvulcania Ultramarathon in Spain. He placed third at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica.
“He’s aiming to run right at the course-record pace,” Powell said of Schlarb. “Being based in Durango and training on the course plenty is big for him.”
Mike Foote of Montana, the 2015 runner-up, will return this year and always excels in lengthy races. Iker Karrera of Spain is another strong runner on the international scene who Garland expects to have a strong Hardrock after his ninth-place finish in 2015.
Five-time Hardrock champion Karl Meltzer of Utah also returns to Hardrock for the first time since 2015. He won the event in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009. The 49-year-old “Speedgoat” knows the course as well as any runner. He set a new fastest-known-time on the Appalachian Trail last year.
Ted Mahon has a motto to live by at the Hardrock, and it has worked to the tune of six top-10 finishes. He routinely finishes in less than 30 hours.
“Ted tells me, ‘It’s not about how fast you go, it’s about who doesn’t slow down,’” Garland said of Mahon’s philosophy.
Other notable Hardrock finishers returning this year include Nick Coury, Joe Grant, Grant Guise and Scott Jaime, among many more.
Adam Campbell of Canada, who placed third at Hardrock in both 2014 and 2015, also will make a miraculous start at this year’s race. He fell off a mountain in British Columbia’s Rogers Pass last August and suffered a broken pelvis and spine to go with numerous other injuries. He was climbing with Durango’s Dakota Jones and Canada’s Nick Elson when the accident occurred. After lengthy rehabilitation, Campbell is somehow going to run his first competitive race since that fall.
“The same as always,” Campbell said when asked of his goal for this year’s race, “to enjoy the experience, to soak up the views, to try to finish and to see what I am capable. I have no idea how my body will respond to moving for over a day. I have done some big days in my buildup, but nothing compares to Hardrock in terms of stress and length of time out there.”