A bad example?


Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg were rescued on Frendo-Pillar a little while ago. Back then I did comment (and it took me another few weeks) because I simply did not find the time to write something on it.

After it happened the discussion on the net spurred and everybody has got something to say. In this argument one side claims that Forsberg and Jornet were going „too light“ and without any safety net thereby risking their own lives and the lives of the PGHM crew. The other side (Fans of Jornet, most likely) celebrate the rescue and the team being in this together while not considering the way to approach the mountains as being too risky.

Frendo is a route on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi and a serious climb. This supposedly is nothing that the Average Joe would tackle, let alone in running shoes. You have to know what you are doing. Most people on the negative side tend to forget that Kilian Jornet generally speaking knows what he is doing. Not only did he summit Matterhorn  six times to prepare for the speed record (and break the old record), he also set a new record on Mont Blanc. Together with Emelie Forsberg he climbed in the Mont Blanc region after the UTMB. On Sept 3rd they summited Mont Blanc by going up the Innominata Route.

I think it is fair to say that he knows, what he is doing. But we should not mix this with our understanding of things. While a route or an attempt might be entirely reasonable for Jornet, it can easily scare the shit out of all of us. We cannot judge the professionals as they are performing on a different level.

The case

The allegation now circles around two things: a) Jornet finally paid for his hybris and his approach does not work and b) Jornet is a bad example, because of his deeds others are going to the mountains with insufficient equipment.

For Jornet I feel a deep respect, so I could call the allegations bullshit and be over with this post before drinking the second cup of coffee. Which is not the purpose of a blog post in the first place, so I’ll discuss them both in detail.

Hybris is something that you need to have as an alpinist in order to push the envelope. Not trying to go beyond what is reachable is not helping the cause. If Ueli Steck was of that mindset we would still be waiting for his astonishing climbs on the three north faces, the Peuterey ridge and Annapurna. It should not be called hybris though, because it requires hard and dedicated work to reach this level. The shape you have to be in is something beyond our imagination.

While Steck carries some insulation and has the plan B in his tour planning, Jornet appears to have none. But as outlined above, there was no reason to believe that things would go wrong like they did. Jornet knew Frendo well, they were acclimatized, they knew each other as a rope team. Forsberg eventually was feeling unwell (and is taking the blame in her blog). The fast-and-light approach could have worked here just as well as it did the days and weeks before. The incoming bad weather was something that they might have been paying too little attention to, though. The challenging balance of safety versus speed did not work out this time. I have covered the general thoughts earlier (here) and from my understanding, this does not lead to the assumption that the rescue squad was integral part of the planning. There might be some who think that the rescue squad was just the logical consequence of a day in the mountains. Jornet appears not to be among them. From the background and accomplishments in the days before this argument does not hold.

Now let’s turn to being a bad example for others (as claimed by the guides in Chamonix). I am not going to make a lot of friends now. So first of all let me state the following: The characterization of mountain guides does not hold true for all of them. This is absolutely not the case. I have been in contact with mountain guides for more than eight years now and the vast majority are great lads!!! Friendly and professional, always helping with their warm „not-much-words“ attitude. The few that are not like this are the ones I am going to refer to below. Those guides who drag their clients up the mountain without them being prepared properly.

Jornet is just using Salomon running shoes to climb high mountains. Others (and we met them in Chamonix on the camp site) are climbing Frendo with the Spantik. Even in summer. Whatever equipment the professionals use and the appearance of the typical tourist to me is not at all correlated. Idiots will be idiots, no matter what Jornet fancies as footwear. There have been people in the mountains with poor equipment before Jornet and there will be long after. You simply cannot nail this on the door of one runner/alpinist (most people would not recognize anyways).

The guides we met on Dent du Geant were literally dragging their clients up there. Thereby posing severe risks on others (e.g. by stepping on the slings they used as stands). The clients were at not degree capable of surviving a single second in that environment without the guide (same on MB where the client dropped the ice axe). I believe that taking those folks to the mountains is more dangerous than running up with Salomons (right now I have to keep me from going down the „you are just jealous that he can do that and you have to deal with the 50+ dutch guy who wants to climb MB without acclimatizing).

Overall, I still have huge respect for Kilian Jornet and what he does. The same holds true for Emelie Forsberg. While I can understand what leads people to the impression he was acting careless, this is absolute nonsense.

For all those who want to discuss this in more detail, please feel free to use the comment function below.



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