Forty-eight hours after racing up Mount Everest twice in a week, Kilian Jornet flew home to Norway where, rather than popping corks and collapsing into bed, he celebrated by going for a run with his girlfriend and sitting down to a meal of bread, salad and vegetables.
“To be honest, I’m not really one for celebrations,” he tells the Guardian. “After weeks of rice and nothing fresh, it was nice to eat a salad. I just wanted something normal.”
The muted festivities were in keeping with the spartan philosophy that propelled the 29-year-old Spaniard to the summit without fixed ropes and supplementary oxygen on both occasions last month.
Despite suffering from food poisoning on his first ascent – and coming within minutes of the 16 hours and 45 minutes record set 21 years ago by the Italian climber Hans Kammerlander on his second – Jornet’s reflections on his double sojourn at the roof of the world are similarly laconic.
“I was happy and tired,” he says. “But when you’re up there you’re pretty much concentrating on the moment and thinking about getting down again. The emotion hits you more when you’ve come down again and that’s when you feel most satisfied.”
Everest, he adds, is “pretty high. Even the big mountains seem small from up there. But it’s pretty tough as there’s very little oxygen. But apart from that, it’s a mountain like any other – albeit taller”.
Jornet, who grew up in the Pyrenean region of Cerdanya in northern Catalonia, has been climbing since his parents took him into the mountains when he was 18 months old.
“My love of mountains has always come from them,” he says. “I guess they’re happy [about Everest]. They can see that I’m living a life that fulfils and that’s all any parent wants.”
The awe and sense of freedom he first felt as a toddler have never left him, while the years of climbing, skiing and long-distance running have taught him endurance, discipline and, equally importantly, how to deal with fear.
Even with the stomach cramps and vomiting that blighted his first ascent of Everest, he says he never felt afraid.
“I’ve spent years training and preparing and that gets you ready for being in exposed situations. But the important thing is to stay calm so that you make the right decisions on the mountain.
“If you run into problems, I think you need to be very cool and not let your emotions get the better of you. That comes with years of practice. That way, if there’s bad weather or other problems, you’re not scared.”
Although he had not planned to make two climbs, the idea of having another go occurred as he returned to base camp.
“As I was coming down after the first ascent, I thought, ‘I normally recover pretty well and if I’m OK and there’s a window of good weather I’ll give it another go’. You have to make the most of it.”
Jornet’s attempt to set new records for the fastest ascents of some of the world’s best-known mountains has already seen him scale Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn in Europe, Denali in North America and Aconcagua in South America.
But with the trail-running season under way, he is looking to mix things up a bit.
“I tend to live day by day and see what possibilities each one has. I look to do a bit of everything: competitions, climbing, skiing. Variety suits me, it’s about different feelings, different emotions.”
He says his motivation is simple and very personal. “I do it because I like it. Since I was a kid, mountains have always been the place where I feel happiest. I like to keep trying new things and doing different things that help you learn more about yourself.
“Going up into those mountains is an interior journey, it’s about knowing how far you can push yourself and how you face the fears that we all have.”
Leaving aside a youthful flirtation with separatism – “when I was a kid, I wanted Cerdanya to become independent because I was sick of people from Barcelona coming in at the weekends” – Jornet describes himself as semi-nomadic and a sceptic when it comes to flags, nations and the notion of staying still.
“I’ve lived almost all of my life in France and now I live in Norway, so the whole question of countries, borders and nationalities isn’t something I really understand too well,” he says.
Despite the wandering and perseverance, however, there are one or two fears Jornet has yet to conquer. “I don’t like cities very much and I’m not really a beach person either. Mountains suit me best.”