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Four “significant ascents” announced for 2020 Piolets d’Or

The northwest face of Chamlang (7321m) with UFO Line (ABO: M6, WI5, 2500m) marked in red. [Photo] Zdenek Hak and Marek Holecek collection

The northwest face of Chamlang (7321m) with UFO Line (ABO: M6, WI5, 2500m) marked in red. [Photo] Zdenek Hak and Marek Holecek collection

The Piolets d’Or committee has announced the selection of four “significant ascents” from 2019 that will be recognized on September 19-22 during the Ladek Mountain Film Festival in Poland, which is still on schedule to be held from September 11 through September 22 in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This is the third year that the Piolets will be hosted at the Ladek Festival.

Out of the 51 noteworthy alpine-style ascents from 2019 that are listed on the Piolets d’Or website, the four standout climbs selected by the eight-person international jury are (in chronological order):

UFO Line (ABO: M6, WI5, 2500m) on the northwest face of Chamlang (7321m), Nepal. Marek Holecek and Zdenek Hak (Czech Republic) climbed the route on May 17-23, round trip from base camp. This is Holecek and Hak’s second time being recognized by the Piolets d’Or since 2018, when they were honored for their 2017 ascent of Satisfaction! on Gasherbrum I.

The south face of Rakaposhi (7788m) with the line of ascent. [Photo] Courtesy of Asian Alpine E-News

The south face of Rakaposhi (7788m) with the line of ascent. [Photo] Courtesy of Asian Alpine E-News

– Rakaposhi (7,788m), first ascent of the South Face and Southeast Ridge, Pakistan. Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima (Japan) completed the route up the mountain’s more inaccessible aspect on June 27 through July 3 in a round trip from base camp. (The Piolets press release notes: “Although the route does not feature the high technical difficulties of the three other awarded ascents, its huge length, and the commitment and style of Hiraide and Nakajima’s determined ascent on a rarely climbed mountain, makes it of equal merit for a 2020 Piolet d’Or.”)

A view of the Southeast Face of Link Sar from base camp with the line of the first ascent. [Photo] Mark Richey

A view of the Southeast Face of Link Sar from base camp with the line of the first ascent (AI4 M6+ 90?, 2300m). [Photo] Mark Richey

Link Sar (7041m), first ascent of the peak via the Southeast Face (AI4 M6+ 90?, 2300m), Pakistan. Mark Richey, Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Graham Zimmerman completed the route on July 31 through August 8 in a round trip from an advanced base camp at 4700m.

The west face of Tengi Ragi Tau (6938m) with Release the Kraken (AI5 M5+, 1600m) drawn in red. [Photo] Alan Rousseau

The west face of Tengi Ragi Tau (6938m) with Release the Kraken (AI5 M5+, 1600m) drawn in red. [Photo] Alan Rousseau

Release the Kraken (AI5 M5+, 1600m) on the west face of Tengi Ragi Tau (6938m), Nepal. Alan Rousseau and Tino Villanueva (USA) climbed the route on October 13-17 from a glacier camp below the face.

The Piolets d’Or press release reads:

The year 2019 turned out to be very rich for modern alpinism, with a substantial number of significant first ascents from all over the globe. The protagonists were alpinists of wide diversity. There were notable ascents by the “old guard” of highly experienced high-altitude climbers, but also fine achievements by a promising new generation of “young guns.”

Our eight-member international technical jury had the difficult task of making a choice, the intention being not to discard any remarkable climbs, but to choose a few significant ascents as “ambassadors” for modern, alpine-style mountaineering. In the end the jury chose what we believe to be a consistent selection….

The jury members are Kazuaki Amano, Nikita Balabanov, Ales Cesen, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Helias Millerioux, Enrico Rosso, Victor Saunders and Raphael Slawinski.

The charter for the Piolets reads:

In modern mountaineering, questions of style and means of ascent take precedence over reaching the objective itself…. The Piolets d’Or throw the spotlight on imaginative and innovative new routes, using a minimum amount of equipment, and building on experience….

The jury judges these ascents irrespective of a climber’s nationality and against the following criteria, both on a point-by-point basis and as a whole:

– Style of ascent.
– Spirit of exploration: original (previously unclimbed) route and/or mountain, creative and innovative approach.
– Level of commitment and self-sufficiency.
– High level of technical ability required.
– Suitability of route in light of objective dangers.
– Efficient and sparing use of resources.
– Transparency regarding the use of these resources.
– Respect for people, climbing partners, members of other teams, porters and local agents.
– Respect for the environment.
– Respect for future generations of mountaineers by leaving them the possibility of enjoying the same kind of experiences and adventures.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Catherine Destivelle. [Photo] Pascal Tournaire/Piolets d'Or

Catherine Destivelle. [Photo] Pascal Tournaire/Piolets d’Or

Catherine Destivelle is receiving the 12th annual Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award on September 19. The press release reads:

Catherine Destivelle started making a name for herself in the climbing world during the 1980s, a time when sport climbing was exploding in popularity and grades were rising rapidly. The media focused its attention on this new discipline, ignoring the fact that Catherine had been an alpinist from a young age. Shortly after discovering climbing at Fontainebleau at the age of 12, she was tackling big routes in the Mont Blanc massif. However, by the mid-1980s she had started participating in sport-climbing competitions and her success in these, and the fact she became the first woman to redpoint 8a [5.13b], turned her into a rock-climbing star. But few people knew that as a teenager she had climbed some of the biggest routes in the Alps.

In 1990, the rock star made her comeback [to the mountains] with an impressive solo ascent of the Bonatti Pillar on the Petit Dru. This finally gained her recognition as an alpinist. She went on to open a new route on the west face of the Petit Dru over 11 days before completing a solo winter trilogy: the north face of the Eiger in 1992, the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in 1993, and the Bonatti route on the north face of the Matterhorn in 1994. This latter route is still rarely climbed today. It was her second big Bonatti route and the first time a woman had climbed at such a high standard in the Alps. However, Catherine didn’t just want to be known as an accomplished female climber, she wanted her performances to be measured against those of any alpinist, no matter their gender. How many people could claim to operate at this standard? Catherine had proved that women could climb just as hard as men.

She went on to embrace the world of high-altitude, technical alpinism. In the Himalaya and Karakoram she made the second free ascent of the Slovenian Route on Trango Tower, climbed the southwest face to the summit ridge of Xixabangma, and attempted the south face of Annapurna, the west pillar of Makalu and the nort ridge of Latok I. She made two significant first ascents in the Sentinel Range of Antarctica. She also climbed in America and on the desert rock spires of Mali and the Sinai.

Catherine inevitably attracted the attention of mountain photographers and filmmakers. In 2007, she starred in Remy Tezier’s “Au-dela des cimes,” a film that showcased alpine climbing with superb imagery. In the film, Catherine climbs Voyage selon Gulliver–a difficult rock climb on the Grand Capucin. However, the main focus is on the beauty of movement, the pleasure of bivouacking on the summit of the Grepon with her sister and an ascent of the Aiguille Verte with friends. The title of the film translates as “beyond the summits” and expresses the idea that the value of alpinism goes beyond the difficulty of an ascent. The immersion in the mountain landscape and the bond of friendship between climbing partners provide memories that last much longer than an elevated grade or a fast time.

After writing a charming autobiography [Ascensions], it came as no surprise when Catherine established her own publishing house, Les Editions du Mont Blanc. Through this, she published outstanding texts from little-known writers and quickly gained a reputation for her sound editorial judgment and the quality of her productions. As with mountain climbing, she has gone on to leave her mark in the publishing world. Her creed has always been to keep moving forwards, without ever worrying about her status as an alpinist or an editor.

Gathering During a Pandemic

Regarding the concerns of holding the celebrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, two separate press releases note:

Dealing with uncertainties is an essential skill in alpinism…. We are quite confident that our Plan A–to hold a physical event over the four days of September 19-22–will take place, but our Plan B, in case a new outbreak of COVID-19 prevents this happening, is to hold an online event over a longer time period. There will, naturally, be some restrictions…but we are happy to be in the position to provide a full edition of the Piolets d’Or…. Access to a large area and the adoption of precautionary measures will allow us to safely welcome over 1,000 members of the public.