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Spirit of Alpinism Strong at 2011 Piolet d’Or

The two teams of 2011 Piolet D’Or on stage after accepting their award in Chamonix. The award celebrates the finest mountaineering accomplishment(s) of the year using a criterion of style, commitment, difficulty and ethics. [Photo] Keese Lane

The 2011 Piolet d’Or recipients were announced today at the ceremonies in Chamonix, France. In its nineteenth year, the award is presented by the French magazine Montagnes, and the Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM). The award recognizes the finest mountaineering accomplishment of the year using a criterion of style, commitment, difficulty and ethics.

For past two years, the Piolet d’Or has been a constant topic of controversy. Climbers have questioned the award’s motivation, process and the ethics that the awards represent. After a hiatus in 2008, the awards returned with a new charter emphasizing climbs done in good style and spirit. Now in their third year under the new charter, the awards have put aside much of the lingering controversy.

Critiques of the 2005 award, which was given to a team that left much of the equipment from their siege-style ascent on Jannu, will be pleased to note the combined amount of equipment left behind by this year’s six nominated teams amounts to some slings and a handful of nuts and cams. Jury member Simon Anthamatten made it very clear in his interrogation of the nominees during their presentations that commitment and style would be key considerations in determining the recipients of the Piolet d’Or 2011.

As for the athletes themselves, most were honored by simply being nominated. When asked about his feelings on the award, Paul Figg told Alpinist that “winning the Piolet would be the cherry on the cake, but I’ve already won (in reference to the climb he did with Malcolm Bass on Vasuki Parbat).”

Anthamatten described his criteria for selecting the finalists as “climbs that make me say ‘wow.'” The climbers impressed the audience with their audacity and spirit with each of their presentations. Norwegian Bjorn-Eivind Aartun and American Colin Haley recalled their 71-hour push on Foraker. The pair climbed in ultra-light style, with daypacks and a “safety margin” that Aartun described as “having two ropes instead one and some extra fuel”.

Malcolm Bass and Paul Figg gave an impressive slide show, relying on a friend’s charcoal paintings to illustrate their ascent of Vasuki Parbat. In addition to losing a tent pole, they also dropped their only camera while on the face. Their narrative heavy presentation contrasted with the Greenland explorers’ video, photo and musical documentary of their time sailing to previously unclimbed walls on Greenland’s coast. Belgians Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse and Sean Vilanueva, and American Ben Ditto were “lured” to Greenland with photos of a virgin wall whose location their Scottish skipper, Bob Shepton, refused to disclose unless the team agreed to travel with him and help him sail the boat back across the Atlantic to the U.K.

During their presentation, Kyle Dempster and Bruce Normand strongly advised against repeat ascents of the east face of Mt. Edgar, because of the objective dangers the pair faced during the approach. The French team of Mathieu Detrie, Mathieu Meynadier and Sebastien Ratel’s ascent of Lunag II was overshadowed by the recent death of their teammate and fellow nominee Max Belleville, who died in a crevasse fall. And lastly, Alpinist readers will remember Yasushi Okada and Katsutaka Yokoyama’s ascent of Mt. Logan’s southeast face from the Alpinist 31 Mountain Profile.

Nominees and jury members enjoy a day of sport climbing during the 2011 Piolet d’Or. [Photo] Keese Lane

Just a few hours ago, the recipients of the 2011 Piolet d’Or were announced:

Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Sean Villanueva Ben Ditto and Bob Shepton for their vertical exploration on the coast of Greenland.

Katsutaka Yokoyama and Yasushi Okada for I-TO (ED+: WI5 M6, 2500m) on Mt. Logan’s southeast face.

Greg Child, president of the jury, explained that their decision was made because they felt these climbs truly represented the spirit of alpinism. The award was given to teams that demonstrated a “root” of climbing or between the climbers and the mountain. For Okada and Yokoyama, the jury felt that the amount of work the team spent preparing and executing the massive climb was truly in the spirit of alpinism.

The Greenland expedition overwhelmed the audience and jury with their sense of camaraderie. As many members of the jury told Alpinist, it was the climb that everyone wished they were on. Originally seen as a wildcard, the Greenland expedition’s antics and relaxed atmosphere were infectious, infusing the ceremonies with spontaneous outbursts of laughter and music.

Child was confronted about the necessity of climbing a peak, or mountain, for a team to receive the Piolet d’Or. Child responded, saying that “climbing is not about numbers or statistics, but about the feeling in your gut.” He noted that while the Greenland expedition is not the type of climb that usually wins such awards the fact that the team did all their climbing without using bolts or pitons was a style choice that should be celebrated as an example of what is possible on exploratory big-wall expeditions. This year’s nominees all climbed with excellent style, completing difficult routes that each presented unique dangers and difficulties, he said. As organizer Christian Trommsdorff pointed out throughout the ceremonies, the Piolet d’Or is not a competition, but a recognition of alpinism. Trommsdorff said his hope for the event is that it will provide young climbers with role models who keep not only the ethics, but the spirit of alpinism strong. In closing, he noted that the Piolet d’Or seems to have finally put the past controversies behind it, and is now a celebration of alpinism.

Correction: The Greenland expedition placed one bolt over the course of their nine climbs. The team’s written report stated the placement of a bolt, but when asked about it after the ceremony, several jury members said that they were unaware of that fact. -Ed.

Bigwall Shanty from Alpinist Magazine on Vimeo.

(Video taken during the Greenland expedition’s presentation.)

Sources: Simon Anthamatten, Bjorn-Eivind Aartun, Malcolm Bass, Kyle Dempster, Mathieu Detrie, Ben Ditto, Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Paul Figg, Colin Haley, Mathieu Meynadier, Bruce Normand, Yasushi Okada, Sebastien Ratel, Christian Trommsdorff, Sean Vilanueva, Katsutaka Yokoyama.