Grit & Rock recently announced the recipients of its 2018 First Ascent Award, a grant that is dedicated to promoting mountain exploration and first ascents by women. The recipients this year are Katie Bono, Cecilia Buil, Whitney Clark, Ixchel Foord, Ilana Jesse, Josie McKee, Nina Neverov, Caro North, Alena Panova and Anna Torretta. The teams plan to attempt new routes in Alaska, India, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal.
The program was launched by Masha Gordon in 2017. A jury consisting of Gordon, Lydia Bradey, Christian Trommsdorff and Victor Saunders chose the recipients this year.
Buil, Foord and Torretta (Spain/Mexico/Italy) are receiving $4,000 to attempt the unclimbed Mugu Peaks (5340m) in the Karnali area of Nepal. According to the American Alpine Journal, “Germans Nils Beste and Bernhard Emmerich briefly explored the peak in October , finding that the serious rock climbing began at 4,800 meters,” the AAJ reports. The peaks are characterized by an unusual arch–the Mugu Arch/Eye–in the ridge that connects them.
The Grit & Rock press release states that these women “have demonstrated long-standing commitment to practicing alpinism at a high-performance level. Their individual stellar resume includes opening of new rock and ice routes, as well as first alpine ascents. Anna Torretta, a mother of two, [is] ranked globally in the top five on the ice-climbing competition circuit. The team’s objective to becoming the first humans to stand on the twin summits [of the] Mugu Peaks is complemented by a technically challenging big wall ascent of the Mugu Eye.”
Clark, McKee (both US) and Caro North (Switzerland) are also receiving a Performance Award for $3,000 to attempt a new route on Mt. Arjuna (6,230m) in India’s Kishtwar Province. Clark is a regular Alpinist contributor who has made previous expeditions to India and South America, and often explores new routes in California’s Sierra Nevada Range. She also received an American Alpine Club Cutting Edge Grant for this expedition. McKee is a Yosemite veteran who completed seven big walls in seven days with Quinn Brett in 2016, and has done first ascents in California, Mexico and Chile. North made the first all-female ascent of Cerro Torre via the Ragni Route with Christina Huber in 2015. According to the Grit & Rock press release, North is “an aspirant guide and has done 14 expeditions in the last 10 years ranging from Iran to India.”
Bono and Jesse (both US) are receiving $2,000 to attempt a new route in Alaska’s Hayes Range. Bono set the women’s speed record on Denali last June (21 hours, six minutes) despite high winds, snowdrifts and whiteouts that slowed her usual pace along the West Buttress.
Grit & Rock reports that Jesse and Bono “have a long list of completed challenging rock and mixed-alpine routes. Katie Bono started climbing in earnest in 2012 after retiring from professional cross-country ski racing. Since then she has competed extensively on World Cup ice-climbing circuit and have become the first American woman to climb M13-.”
The Apprenticeship award of $1,000 is going to 22-year-old Neverov (France) and 20-year-old Panova (Russia) to attempt a new route on Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Tor (4180m), which was first climbed by a Russian team in January 2016, according to the American Alpine Journal. Sergey and Evgeny Glazunov added a second route to the peak as well that same year in February. Neverov and Panova’s proposed route starts on a huge rock buttress to the left of the original route and joins it on the summit ridge.
According to Grit & Rock’s press release, the young women have been “climbing extensively under the tutelage of strong Russian climbers Sergey and Evgeny Glazunov” in the Siberian town of Irkutsk, and the women have been nominated for the “Steel Angel prize” for an ascent they made last summer. Jury member Trommsdorff explains, “The jury was impressed with the quality of many applications where a high ambition of projects was matched with strong climbing CVs. In the coming few months, we will be watching these four teams with great interest make attempts on their chosen objectives. These journeys will no doubt inspire others to dream up a first ascent goal for the 2019 Award and further female achievement in alpinism.”
Last year was the first year of the Grit & Rock First Ascent Award. The inaugural award winners included Galina Chibitok, Nasim Eshqui, Maryna Kopteva, Natalya Martinez, Anastasia Petrova, Christina Pogacean, Dawa Sherpa and Elisabeth Revol. The organization’s press release states, “The award-funded expeditions took these remarkable women to ground-breaking ascents in China, Nepal, India and Argentina. Two teams have claimed ascents of the previously unclimbed peaks and two opened new beautiful routes in remote parts of the world.”
Revol recently completed the second winter ascent of Nanga Parbat, which became a rescue effort after she and her partner Tomek Mackiewicz were caught in a storm on the descent. Mackiewicz died and Revol is currently recovering from frostbite. (A story about the rescue can be found here.) In December, Dawa Yangzum Sherpa made the first winter ascent of Mt. Langdung (6357m) in Nepal with Dawa Gyalje Sherpa, Pasang Kidar Sherpa and Nima Tenji Sherpa.