Christian Stangl is an Austrian alpine-style mountaineer and guide. He is known as “Skyrunner” because he has performed several exceptionally fast ascents on challenging mountains. One of his major successes happened in 2013 when he became the first person to ascend the three highest mountains on all seven continents, known as the Triple Seven Summits.
On January 15, 2013, he was the first to ascend the Seven Second Summits, the second-highest peaks of all seven continents. On August 23, 2013, after climbing Shkhara (5193m), he became the first to have reached the third-highest peaks on all seven continents. Because of measurement and definition issues, Stangl climbed 30 peaks instead of only 21 to avoid any inaccuracy and misconception. On September 17, 2013, his achievement was certified by Guinness World Records.
The 57-year-old is a published author and randonneur. Some of his cycling trips take weeks to complete and they are often his transportation to a climb, for example, for instance cycling from Admont to Gibraltar within 21 days, in 2001. On the way to the Triple Seven Summits project, he rode from Austria to the Caucasus and back, carrying the entire expedition’s luggage.
Christopher Kelsall: Tell me how climbing Everest was perhaps not as difficult compared to some of the other 29 peaks you summited, especially in Oceania.
Christian Stangl: My Everest ascent was not so easy because I made the ascent without bottled oxygen, and with this achievement, I belong to those 1 per cent out of all Everest summiteers who did it without bottled oxygen.
I didn’t have any supporting porters and hence I didn´t erect any high camp.I made a speed ascent from BC on the north side (Chinese side) to the top in 16 hours and 42 minutes, which is still the FKT on the north side without bottled oxygen. I called my speed ascents “Skyrunning.” Before Everest, I speeded up many 6,000ers in the Andes. Among them Mt. Aconcaguaat 6,956m, the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere. It took me four hours and 25 minutes from base camp to the top. On another occasion, I´ve speeded up four 6.000m + peaks in the Bolivian Chilean Andes within 24 hours.
CK: In contrast, you soloed Ngga Pulu, Puncak Trikora, Puncak Mandala and Sumantri, how does soloing differ in terms of perceived effort and sense of safety?
CS: Well, I soloed many more mountains beside those four peaks in Oceania. However, these almost unknown peaks provided a maximum of adventure. Real expeditions. In most cases, it was the biggest struggle even to get to the foot of those mountains. The reason to climb all those mountains was surveying. I found so many different quotes about altitude of those peaks, so I couldn´t find out the correct ranking. For a precise measuring, I was supported by the University of Graz/Styria/Austria (Geological resort) In terms of safety, you are completely on our own. No mountain rescue there. On Puncak Mandala, for example, I was the eighth person up there in the entire history.
CK: You seem to be as prodigious in your cycling, at least in terms of distance, as you do your climbs. How about running? Do you get much volume in?
CS: Yes, I am a keen long-distance cyclist as well. But before I was a keen uphill runner, a trail runner as we are used to say nowadays. I started with running at the age of 14. Marathons were not my thing. Although I did once a marathon in less than three hours without proper training my love was running up and down the mountains. Many thousands of vertical metres a day, just for fun. The long-distance cycling concerning the Triple Seven Summits Quest had more than one reason.
Firstly: I wanted to climb an 8,000 m+ peak (In this case, Mt. Kanchenjunga 8,586m, third highest peak in the world) really from the very bottom, from zero-metre sea level to the top without any help. Only by muscle power and of course without any sherpa help or artificial oxygen to the top.
Secondly: For the very last mountain (by the way, Mount Shkhara) out of the Triple Seven Summit quest I cycled directly from my hometown in Admont/Austria all the way to the Caucasus Mountain range in Georgia. I passed Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia. I cycled home via Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Hungary, and finally to Austria. 6000 km approximately, I slept mostly in my tent. It was a three months trip and I took my climbing and skiing equipment with me on the bicycle.
CK: Have you climbed with or competed against the likes of Ueli Steck or Kílian Jornet?
CS: No. With none of them. But when I made a lecture tour in Switzerland, I met Ueli Steck once in the city of Bern. He was in my audience and we had a nice chat afterward. He was not famous at that time.
CK: What are your thoughts on the status of the 8,000m race over the past few years?
CS: Confusing and ridiculous at the end. Why? Because over the last two decades, they constantly mixed up those guys who used artificial oxygen and those who simply didn´t. Most of the journalists still don’t have any idea between the use or refuse of artificial oxygen above 8,000m+. By 2020 detailed drone footage of the Manaslu (8.163m) summit area uncovered almost 2000! false summit claims, hence the entire 8000m+ races had to be rewritten. Even by stopping 30 metres before the summit, the highest point of a mountain, you simply haven’t made it to the top.
CK: The skyrunning and mountain running communities seem to be split on speed versus technical. Why do you pursue speed in the mountains versus technical difficulty?
CS: Well, I did both disciplines in my youth. Technical speed climbing and “just” non-technical speed ascents. Technical speed ascents, mostly solo and without rope, are quite dangerous. That’s why I focused more on the second category. By finding out that I am even better in so-called “high altitude” (5,000m+) I focused on “skyrunning” those higher mountains.
CK: Have you raced the Courmayeur to the Mont Blanc where the term Skyrunner was coined by Mariono Giacometti?
CS: No, I didn’t. For me, the term “Skyrunning” combines high altitude (5,000m+) and endurance. That way, those two factors are fundamental: The acclimatisation, the way your body is weakened by the lack of oxygen and the oxygen Partial Pressure and on the other hand endurance. Surrounding Mt. Blanc massif is for me an “Ultra” or a trail run. However, I fully understand that the term Skyrun is much better for marketing.
CK: Do you think that it would benefit Skyrunning if World Athletics recognized the event, as they have with Mountain Running?
CS: I can´t answer this question. I have less experience with running competitions in this field. I see one big hurdle in carrying out real tough Sky runs. Who will accept the liability? There was a tough Ultra Sky run in the Tibetan autonomous region at altitudes over 4,000m+. A number of runners got caught in a snowstorm, many of them died. The organizers had to go to the prison.
CK: What is your next big goal?
CS: I focus on some more very remote first ascents on less known peaks as I’ve done some in the past (December 2022) in the Argentinian Andes. Click here: https://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13201216573
For real tough “Skyruns” on the higher peaks of this globe, which I have done in the past, I feel too little performance. (I´ll turn 58 this July). And as long as no one repeats the 21 peaks of my Triple Seven Summits project, I see no real reason to surplus my own projects.
CK: Your book Skyrunner came out in 2009. Do you have a desire to update and have Skyrunner 2 or something like that?
CS: In 2014 I published a second book about the 21 peaks of the Triple Seven Summits. The book appeared only in German language so far. It would be good to publish a revised version in English language as well. Seemingly climbers think that there are only two bigger summit series in the world like the 14 8,000ers and the ordinary 7 summits. For a little more than a decade, the Triple Seven Summits quest remains extraordinary, no-one has ever repeated those 21 peaks. And with the fast-changing global political situation, it will become even more difficult to travel to those mountains in the near future.