The annual Piolets d'Or ceremony in Chamonix, France and Courmayeur, Italy has come to a close. The winners this year were Ueli Steck for his astonishing solo of Annapurna South Face and Ian Welsted and Raphael Slawinski for their stunning climb on K6 West North West Face.
All five nominated ascents were audacious and impressive feats of mountaineering, and to single some out above others can't have been an easy task.
For many, Ueli Steck's solo of Annapurna was the obvious choice for a Piolets d'Or, yet there was debate surrounding the ascent. Ueli dropped his camera in a small avalanche and had no photographic proof of reaching the summit. The fact that he was awarded despite this is a welcome reflection of the spirit of trust and honour in mountaineering. Ueli Steck is one of the greatest climbers the world has ever seen, and his ascent of Annapurna, along with many of his other climbing achievements, will be remembered for years to come.
The K6 climb was, quite simply, awe inspiring. The team landed in Pakistan amid chaos. The terrible events at Nanga Parbat Basecamp persuaded one member of the K6 climbing team to head home. Ian Welsted and Raphael Slawinski made the decision to continue their trip, and with phenomenal success.
Whilst the awards celebrate absolute achievement, with hugely difficult climbs, they also celebrate the spirit of alpinism, and this shines through with the ascent of K6.
Ian Welsted, writing on the National Geographic Blog after winning a Piolet d'Or, stated:
"The Piolet d’Or is about sharing our experiences as alpinists with a wider audience, trying to learn about the human experience through adventure. The era of the heroic warrior climber who climbs themselves literally to death in the high mountains is over. Lifetime Piolet d’Or winner John Roskelly put it right when he said that his greatest success was growing old with grey hair after a life in the mountains, not any of the climbs he completed. As climbers we need to approach nature sustainably. And being part of nature, we as humans have to treat ourselves in a sustainable manner, while at the same time recognizing and rewarding the most highly evolved of human achievement."
As ever there was some controversy at the event. Whilst the jury consisted of the highly respected and experienced climbers George Lowe (USA), Erri de Luca (Italy), Catherine Destivelle (France), Denis Urubko (Russia), Sungmuk Lim (Korea) and Karin Steinbach (Germany), Austrian climber and Piolets d'Or nominee (but not winner) Hansjorg Auer felt that they didn't grasp the weight of his and his team's achievement, stating on Facebook after the awards were announced:
"If a member of the Piolet d'Or Jury sees it critically why my brother Matthias never reported about his climbs until now, it´s time to change something. This is only one sign of how superficially they were dealing with our adventure on Piolet d'Or. In fact only George Lowe (jury president) and Catherine Destivelle (jury member) understood the challenge of climbing Kunyang Chhish East. But the teardrops of George and Catherine, when they apologized to us for the final decision are meaning a way more, than the headlines of the newspapers tomorrow. Now I know why Marko Prezelj rejected his award back in 2007. Congrats to Ueli, Ian and Raphael for the golden ice axe 2014 and Marek, Graham and Mark for the nominations."
The awards have always been highly emotive, and Prezelj's rejection of the ice axe a few years ago may have been a catalyst of change that reshaped the event to be more inclusive and more in the spirit of alpinism. Last year the jury awarded a golden ice axe to all the nominated climbs, and there were complaints from many commentators. This year they have chosen two climbs, where people think they should have chosen three. It seems someone will always disagree.
Despite all the politics, arguments and hype surrounding the event, the last few days in France and Italy have showcased some fantastic and real climbing to a wider audience, in an age where a guided ascent of Everest is more likely to grab mainstream headlines than a solo of the giant south face of Annapurna. Here's to the next Piolets d'Or and ever more inspiring alpine climbs.
The 2014 Nominated Ascents:
Talung - North Face 7,439m
|Kunyang Chhish East - Southwest Face 7,400m||K6 West - Northwest Face 7,040m||Annapurna - South Face 8,091m||Mount Laurens - East Face 3,052m|