Interview with Karl Egloff

4. July 2019

The Swiss-Ecuadorian Karl Egloff, who has set himself the goal of ascending all Seven Summits – the highest peaks of each of the continents – in world-record time, made a new record on the North American mountain Denali (6190 m, Alaska) two weeks ago, at 11 hours and 44 minutes. This just leaves the peaks in the Antarctic, in Asia and Australia to complete his goal.

How did you experience your special day? Can you tell us about your record run and the emotions you felt?

It was a fantastic experience after an intense time. We were there for several days and waited for the best-possible day. This is not so easy, because it’s light 24 hours a day and so you can’t sleep well. In addition, it is very hot during the day and very cold at night. That makes resting up quite difficult. Then, on the record day, everything was perfect. 

My feeling could not be any better. I am relieved to have achieved this goal after two and a half years of preparation. One thing is clear to me: Denali is one of the most difficult mountains of the Seven Summits. There are few opportunities to climb it each year. There are 4,500 metres in altitude, more than for any other mountain, while it has different snow conditions, different glacier conditions, extreme weather conditions with cold (never over -15°C) and wind. It is very rare for all these conditions to be suitable on a given day.




How do you prepare for an adventure like that?

The one thing is getting to know the route; the other is the training. You don’t just go out and make a record like that – you first climb the mountain over the course of several days in advance and familiarise yourself precisely with every metre. This allows you to concentrate fully on unleashing your performance during the record attempt.

In terms of training, this year I was particularly focused on trail running – in part thanks to my new French coach. During the last 4–5 weeks before the climb, I trained around 25 hours a week. I particularly invested in the area of speed, in order to attain a high base speed. I then headed up into the mountains with increasing frequency and ascended 4,000-metre summits easy to climb that allowed me to quickly run up and down.

6 days before the Denali record run, I returned from Spain, where I had run various trail races, to Ecuador and climbed a 6,000- and a 5,000-metre summit in order to acclimatise myself rapidly.

You have made a record in climbing and the combination of ascent and descent. How did you divide up the route? What goes through your head amidst such a challenge? How do you feed yourself?

My primary goal was the climbing record. For this reason – contrary to Kilian Jornet – I didn’t take skis with me. On the way, I particularly concentrate on the time I have to beat and constantly take care to listen to myself. I try to optimally dose the intensity and continuously keep my body temperature under control. I must never freeze or get too hot. At the same time, I try to relax again and again and think of something positive, without losing my focus. I must always be concentrated and keep my eyes on what will come within the next hour, what glacier, what passage. In the proximity of the summit, I may also experience certain worries and fears. ‘I hope that I won’t lose my strength’, or ‘hopefully I’ll be able to handle the altitude’. Along the final 100 metres, I then think about the goal and also my descent.




At the peak, I get to enjoy a few minutes before descending again. There, I am primarily focused on getting to the goal as soon as possible. I start to gradually experience pain in my back and legs. Even cramps may suddenly occur. You must not forget: the way up and down, is 55 km – 4,500 metres of altitude. This enormous physical challenge has to be well-paced. Including with the energy you consume. I take in my nourishment in a wide variety of forms, such as bars, gels, and nuts, but also gummy bears, chocolate, and fruits. But you don’t eat much – maybe once an hour. On the other hand, you do drink quite a bit. 

Mountain climbers normally need 1–2 weeks for the same route, including acclimation days. How should an everyday climber imagine your performance? 

You have to put it into perspective, because when you make a new record, you have already made the effort to acclimatise yourself in advance. What makes the difference, however, is that normally climbers continue onwards day by day and have to drag along all their gear for spending the night. Before the final stretch, they are in a camp just a bit below the summit so that they can ‘recover’, so that the final push goes smoothly.

In contrast, I recover as best as possible before starting and then do the whole climb in one go.

Do you have a secret tip you would be willing to share with us?

If you want to be fast on the mountain, you have to not only run in the mountains but also work on your base speed.

Foto: ZVG