Kilian Jornet Survives Avalanche on Everest West Ridge Attempt

Kilian Jornet had a close call while attempting the West Ridge route made famous by Willie Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein.

Hornbein and Unsoeld’s West Ridge route starts by gaining the ridge from a couloir slightly above Camp 2 on Everest’s normal route. It was not an easy first stage for Jornet. He describes the conditions as “horrible, with blue ice underneath and a top layer of deep snow. [it meant taking] two steps up and one down for 1,000m.”

Jornet climbs on crampons with warm jacket and pans, a small backpack and a helmet.

Jornet, climbing light as ever, at the beginning of his solo endeavor up Everest’s West Ridge. Photo: Kilian Jornet/Instagram


Swept down by avalanche

Once on the ridge, he waited three hours for the winds to drop, sheltered by a cornice. He then proceeded over mixed terrain to the base of the Hornbein Couloir. He climbed this for “a few hundred meters.”

Then he broke a wind slab and triggered an avalanche that swept him down some 50 meters. After some consideration, he decided to turn around at that point. He descended in a heavy snowfall, with his previous footprints totally buried, and two to three meters of visibility. It was “interesting,” the athlete admitted.

Jornet's selfie with air-trimming mask and sun goggles.

Jornet alone on the West Ridge, with an air-warming mask. Photo: Kilian Jornet/Instagram


In the end, Jornet made it safely back to Base Camp, without a summit but not necessarily unhappy.

“I’m a big believer in the how is way bigger and more important than the what,” he concluded. “In that sense, the climb was just perfect.”

Here’s a brief video he took during the climb:

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.