Kilian Jornet's remarkable speed traverse of Mont Blanc

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 27/09/2012
South Face of Mont Blanc. The Innominata Ridge rises just left of centre to the crest of the Brouillard Ridge and separates the Brouillard and Frêney faces. Antonio Giani

The accomplished Catalan ski mountaineer racer and sky runner, Kilian Jornet, has made an astonishingly fast traverse of Mont Blanc via the Innominata Ridge.

The 24-year-old, who has won the gruelling Mont Blanc Ultra Trail race on three occasions, and was the 2011 World ski mountaineering champion, started just before 4:00am on the 18th September from the church square in Courmayeur.

The weather had been perfect for close to a week, though a storm was forecast for (and arrived) late in the day.

By the light of his headtorch he ran up the Val Veni and reached the Monzino Hut at 5:25am. This is a height gain of almost 1,600m.

And the walk to the Monzino is not straightforward. In recent years the path has been slightly re-routed and equipped to provide an attractive via ferrata.

Above the hut Jornet was relieved to find the Brouillard Glacier in good condition, with the surface well frozen. He was able to ascend easily in crampons, reaching the Eccles Bivouac Huts (4,040m) at around 7:30am.

Throughout the ascent Jornet wore trail running shoes, adding light aluminium crampons where necessary. He also carried a short axe

A cold front on the 12th put down a little fresh snow as far as the Pavillon, the half-way station on the Helbronner téléphérique above Courmayeur, but thereafter the temperatures rose and the Innominata was still remarkably snow free after the very dry, hot summer.

He completed the Innominata in two hours and 47 minutes. In the initial section there is a short rappel, for which he carried a 20m static rope.

He reached the summit of Mt Blanc (4,808m) at 10:15am, a time of six hours and 17 minutes after leaving Courmayeur. To put this in perspective, an ordinary walker (with via ferrata experience) may barely have reached the Monzino Hut in this time.

Jornet then simply flew down the Normal Route via the Gouter Hut to Les Houches and then followed this with a quick run up valley to the church in Chamonix.

This descent took only a remarkable two hours and 19 minutes (of which just  27 minutes from the summit to the Gouter Hut), Jornet finishing in an overall time of eight hours and 43 minutes, considerably less than his goal of "around 10 hours".

Journet paired his gear to the minimum, carrying less than half a litre of water, which "I had to ration carefully to get to the end".

Though the Innominata was first climbed in 1909 by Courtauld and Oliver, guided by Adolf Aufdenblatten, Adolphe and Henri Rey, the route continues to remain a serious, committing undertaking at (alpine) high altitude.

The difficulties are classically around UIAA IV+ on rock (though Jornet notes higher) and 60° snow and mixed (though now largely rock), with an overall rating of D+. A "normal" ascent time is between eight and 10½ hours from the Eccles Bivouac to Mt Blanc summit.

Jornet estimates the total distance covered to be 42km. This, combined with an elevation gain of 3,800m, and the technical difficulties met on the ca 600m section of the Innominata ridge itself, show that one of the world's top ski mountaineering racers and skyrunners has successfully transformed his skills into speed ascents of serious high mountain routes.

His preparation included climbing the Innominata a few days previously, so the route was known. And in August he also broke a legendary 29-year-old record for the fastest ascent and descent of the Grand Teton in Wyoming.


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