(CNN)He’d blacked out in the snow-swept night somewhere on Mt. Everest’s airy northeast ridge. Now Kilian Jornet was lost, exhausted and delirious, whipped by a fierce wind in the “death zone” high above 8,000 meters (26,200 feet). The superstar Catalan climber had achieved a superhuman feat, scaling the world’s highest mountain twice in six days without supplemental oxygen, both in breathtakingly fast times. But now, Jornet was teetering above the plunging precipice of the North Face with no idea how he got there or how to get to safety.
“I don’t know if it was a dream or if it was real, I was sleepy,” he says on his new film “Path to Everest.”
Daylight, he decided, would be his salvation and he hunkered into his green down suit to await a clearer view of his escape route back to the relative safety of the North Col. When news of Jornet’s audacious double ascent pulsed around the world, his legend was complete. The first ascent in 26 hours in one continuous push from the Rongbuk Monastery base camp at 17,000 feet in Tibet was bionic. But twice? The second time in 17 hours from advanced base camp, which takes normal climbers four days? The feat is so jaw-dropping questions have been asked. But not for nothing is the celebrated ultra runner and ski mountaineer known as the “Extraterrestrial.”
Jornet grew up with his mountain-guide father and outdoors-loving mother in a backcountry refuge in the Spanish Pyrenees. He climbed his first major summit at the age of three and got into endurance racing — trail running in the summer, on skis in the winter — as an exercise-obsessed teenager. He had a unique natural talent and surged to the top of the sport. By 25 he had achieved all the racing goals he thought would take him into his 40s, including multiple wins in Europe’s Skyrunner World Series, the 106-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and Colorado’s Hardrock 100. But he was burned out, and struggled with the expectation and exposure. “Somehow it’s sad to reach your dreams,” the 31-year-old told CNN.