Having twice touched the oxygen-scarce top of the world, Kilian Jornet held his breath and descended into this wretched realm of man.
He cemented his fame as one of the world’s elite mountain athletes in the final week of May this year, when he completed two incredibly quick ascents of Mount Everest without the supplemental oxygen used to combat the brain-eating “death zone” surrounding its summit. Fun over, Jornet then had to face the dark side of fame that fuels his semi-nomadic life as an adventurer. So, the 29-year-old Catalan abandoned his natural habitat of crevice, crag and scant human companionship, and boarded a plane back to Barcelona for the necessary evil of feeding the media machine.
“I don’t like cities. It’s nice to be here for a morning, but I am not a big fan of buildings,” he told BCN Més recently during one of over 50 interviews he has given since crowning Everest in record time. The saving grace of that particular morning among Sant Antoni’s car-clogged streets was an early-hour run up on Montjuïc.
Raised in a mountain refuge in the Pyrenees, even life in the French Alps was too close to civilization for this perfect cross between marathon runner and mountain goat. He now lives in Norway. And while we urban dwellers argue endlessly about the pros and cons of Barcelona versus Paris, New York or Madrid, cities just blur together for Jornet. Regardless of their particularities he sees them for what they unarguably are: polluted, cramped and loud. In other words, the last place he would like to be.
While the polluted megalopolises of Asia got the lowest scores from Jornet, sorry, Barcelona, your shit stinks too. He drew a blank when asked if there was any place – to eat, drink, shop, walk, watch – anywhere at all he likes to visit when in Barcelona. Predictably, there is nothing about this city that Jornet values other than its proximity to higher accumulations of earth.
“I am not somebody who goes out to eat in restaurants very often, but when I come to Barcelona and I have some free time I like to escape to Collserola,” he said. The operative word being “escape.” Escape from air particulates, escape from the racket, escape from a way of life that he sees as more dangerous than darting along the edge of a cliff. The only two cities which got positive mentions from Jornet were San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado. Again, the pattern stayed true. San Fran got points because it is near the redwoods of Muir Woods National Park, while Boulder is smack dab in the Rockies.
As luck would have it, Jornet was not the only altitude addict visiting Barcelona this June. While he churned through his interviews, his urbanized alter ego, Alain Robert, a.k.a. “the French Spiderman,” scampered up the exterior of the Melià Barcelona Sky Hotel while police and spectators gawked below. “I couldn’t do what Alain Robert does. I would get myself killed!” Jornet said. “Doing what he does would be almost as dangerous for me as trying to understand crosswalks and traffic signals!”