On the day before the summer solstice, Ecuadorian mountain climber Karl Egloff made a brief hike on a long day to seize the speed record on Denali.
He made the descent on snowshoes, not skis.
Egloff, a 38-year-old chasing the speed record on the world’s Seven Summits, bagged the Denali record by making the ascent and descent in 11 hours, 44 minutes on Thursday.
Gone — just barely — is the record of 11 hours, 48 minutes, set in 2014 by Kilian Jornet, who made the descent on skis.
After arriving in Talkeetna on Friday, Egloff said, he received a text from Jornet: “He just wrote me to say congratulations.”
Egloff began his climb at 7 a.m. at Denali’s Kahiltna Glacier base camp at 7,200 feet. He reached the summit at 2:40 p.m. — an ascent of 7 hours, 40 minutes.
He spent about three minutes on the 20,310-foot summit and then headed downhill on his snowshoes. Four hours and four minutes later, at 6:44 p.m., he was back at base camp.
There were 335 climbers on the mountain Thursday, according to the National Park Service, and Egloff figures he saw most of them. He said he passed 200 to 250 people on the way up the West Buttress route, and an equal number on the way down.
“At the beginning they see me — who is this man, is he crazy?” Egloff said in a phone interview from Sheldon Air Service, which flew him off the mountain Friday.
“On the way down, I think they heard on the radio (about the record attempt), so the people were cheering me, ‘the guy with the snowshoes.’
“I was talking with my friend, and that is my new nickname here in Alaska — the guy in the snowshoes. Because it’s funny to try for a speed record without skis.”
Egloff, a professional mountain guide, lives at 9,000 feet in Quito, Ecuador, and works all over the world. He said he came to Alaska hoping to make the fastest ascent of Denali, but because he was coming down on snowshoes instead of skis, he didn’t think he had a shot at the record for the fastest total ascent and descent time.
“We had a good (weather) day; Kilian did not have the best day to climb it, and the altitude is very good for us because we live at altitude,” Egloff said. "I knew if I reached Camp 4 (17,200 feet) in the same time as Kilian, I would have a good chance. ... When I arrived at the summit, I had a huge gap, and I said, why not try it?
“The ascent record is what I came for. I am very glad to get them both.”
Egloff came to Alaska with climbing partner Nicolas Miranda. They spent seven days on Denali, acclimatizing and checking out camps at various levels, before Egloff decided to make his climb Thursday. Miranda was already higher on the mountain, at 11,000 feet, and the pair met on the summit briefly before Egloff began his rapid descent.
He used snowshoes because that’s what he used to set speed records at Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Mount Elbrus, and that’s what he plans to use when he makes future record attempts at Mount Everest, Mount Vincent and Carstensz Pyramid.
“All the other Seven Summits, you cannot do it with skis,” Egloff said. “We decided from the beginning they should all be the same, where people start to walk up and down. This is kind of the religion of this project — to keep it the same.”
Besides being able to go downhill faster on skis than snowshoes — when Jornet set the record, he made the descent in a little more than two hours — Egloff said skis provide a big advantage when leaving Kahiltna Glacier, where there’s about 6 miles of relatively flat terrain.
Egloff said he was glad he didn’t have skis with him Thursday, because conditions were perfect and it would have been tempting to use them. “I would loved to have gone down on skis yesterday,” he said.
Official word of Egloff’s achievement hadn’t reached the National Park Service by Friday afternoon, said spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri, but people in the Talkeetna office were hearing rumors of the record. The park service doesn’t verify such records, she said, but it would be difficult to fake a speed record with so many people on the mountain.
“We typically relay what other folks have said and let the general public decide,” Gualtieri said. “It’s a pretty lively time of the year with people camped along the way, so people are watching and are excited about it.”
Traffic was heaviest from 17,200 to the summit, Egloff said. At the 18,200-foot Denali Pass, wind gusts up to 40 mph turned back a number of climbers, he said.
He returned to Talkeetna with blisters on his feet, another record on his resume, and one big desire. During eight days on Denali, he never got used to the constant daylight, even when he covered his eyes.
“What I am really, really missing is sleep," Egloff said. "I am not used to closing the eyes in daylight.”
Karl Egloff’s Seven Summits speed records
North America: Denali, 20,310, 11 hours, 44 minutes (2019)
Europe: Mount Elbrus, 18,510 feet, 4 hours, 20 minutes (2017)
South America: Aconcagua, 22,838 feet, 11 hours, 52 minutes (2015)
Africa: Kilimanjaro, 19,341 feet, 6 hours, 42 minutes (2014)
Antarctica: Mount Vinson, 16,050 feet
Australia/Oceania: Carstensz Pyramid, 16,023 feet
Asia: Mount Everest, 29,029