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Jury selects two teams for Piolets d'Or awards this year for 2016 ascents

Posted on: April 15, 2017


LA GRAVE, FRANCE—The Piolets d'Or jury is giving awards to two climbing teams this week, along with two honorable mentions, at the annual international ceremony that acknowledges exemplary alpine ascents from the previous year.

This week the golden piolets are being presented to Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden for their first ascent of the North Buttress of Nyainqentangla South East (7046m) in Tibet (ED+ 1600m), and to the Russian team of Dmitry Golovchenko, Dmitry Grigoriev and Sergey Nilov for their new route on the North Buttress (ED2: M7 WI5 5.10a A3, 1400m) of Thalay Sagar (6904m) in the Indian Gangotri. The Russians were also awarded their country's version of a Piolet—a Russian Golden Axe—in December.

Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden's North Buttress route (ED+ 1600m) on Nyainqentangla South East. Their descent on the east ridge is marked in green. [Photo] Nick BullockNick Bullock and Paul Ramsden's North Buttress route (ED+ 1600m) on Nyainqentangla South East. Their descent on the east ridge is marked in green. [Photo] Nick Bullock

The red line marks the route and camps of Moveable Feast (ED2: M7 WI5 5.10a A3, 1400m) on Thalay Sagar (6904m), India. [Photo] Courtesy of Dmitry Golovchenko and Mountain.RU.The red line marks the route and camps of Moveable Feast (ED2: M7 WI5 5.10a A3, 1400m) on Thalay Sagar (6904m), India. [Photo] Courtesy of Dmitry Golovchenko and Mountain.RU.

Honorable mentions go to the Korean team of Cho Seok-mun, Kim Chang-ho, and Park Joung-yong for their new route up the south face of Gangapurna (7455m) in the Annapurna Sanctuary, and to Americans Colin Haley and Alex Honnold for completing the Torres Traverse in Patagonia in a day.

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The jury consisted of Kazu Amano (Japan), Valery Babanov (Russia, now living in Canada), Herve Barmasse (Italy), Kelly Cordes (USA), Andy Houseman (UK), Thomas Huber (Germany), Sebastien Ratel (France), and finally Raphael Slawinski (Canada).

American climber, inventor and mixed climbing pioneer Jeff Lowe is receiving the Piolet Lifetime Achievement Award, joining the ranks of eight others who have received the award since the first was given to Walter Bonatti in 2009.

Lowe during a September 1973 trip to the High Sierra where he and John Weiland climbed the Northeast Corner (V 5.10-) of Keeler Needle . During the ascent they carried 25 nuts and 25 pins. Lowe wrote in the 1975 American Alpine Journal, We could have used more nuts. [Photo] Jeff Lowe collection/jeffloweclimber.comLowe during a September 1973 trip to the High Sierra where he and John Weiland climbed the Northeast Corner (V 5.10-) of Keeler Needle . During the ascent they carried 25 nuts and 25 pins. Lowe wrote in the 1975 American Alpine Journal, "We could have used more nuts." [Photo] Jeff Lowe collection/jeffloweclimber.com

A press release for the event reads:

The Piolets d'Or try to bring to the "stage" a superb representation from the previous year of bold, technical, innovative, imaginative climbing, executed in what is felt as the best possible style. Whilst competition climbing is now an Olympic sport, and has a standardized playing field, Alpinism is not, so trying to compare one fine ascent with another is at best subjective. There is also the question of commitment, and it is notable that the main ascents awarded this year went over the summit, descending by a different route, in one case over completely unknown ground.

There were many great ascents this year, and as usual there was much interesting discussion amongst jury members to arrive at a fair representation. In the end it has been decided to make only two awards of the Piolets d'Or this year, but to make also two special mentions.

Bullock leading on day two, in which the climbers encountered the hardest pitches of the route. [Photo] Paul RamsdenBullock leading on day two, in which the climbers encountered the hardest pitches of their route on Nyainqentangla South East. [Photo] Paul Ramsden

Nyainqentangla South East

[Nyainqentangla] is a 7,000m massif in central Tibet. A rarely visited mountain, with currently difficult bureaucratic access, virtually no one had seen the north side of it, let alone been there. A distant photograph by the Japanese explorer Tom Nakamura led to the first ascent of the 1,600m north face of the 7,046m southeast summit by British climbers Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden. This was highly exploratory, technical climbing (ED+), with a tricky descent in poor weather of the previously untouched east ridge into a completely different valley system.

En route to the summit on Thalay Sagar. [Photo] Courtesy of Dmitry Golovchenko and Mountain.RU.En route to the summit of Thalay Sagar. [Photo] Courtesy of Dmitry Golovchenko and Mountain.RU

Thalay Sagar

The second award goes to a different type of exploration; a high peak with a north face that has received many different lines, but still had remaining a virgin buttress, both elegant and direct. For the Russians, Dmitry Golovchenko, Dmitry Grigoriev and Sergey Nilov, a tried and tested team on the big mountains for half a dozen or more years, the North Buttress of 6,904m Thalay Sagar in the Indian Gangotri gave a really sustained alpine style ascent requiring eight bivouacs and with an overall difficulty of ED2 and pitches of [5.10a] A3 WI5 M7. And as other parties have found on the north face, one of the most taxing sections comes right at the top, climbing through the overhanging shattered shale band. From the summit the Russians then went down the normal route on the west ridge.

Special Mentions

The Piolets d'Or would like to mention the ascent of a new route up the south face of Gangapurna (7,455m) in the Annapurna Sanctuary, by the accomplished Korean trio of Cho Seok-mun, Kim Chang-ho, and Park Joung-yong. Although this might be seen as a direct variation on the quite remarkable and possibly little known 1981 Canadian ascent, the Korean's style, the fact that they almost made the first ever ascent of the 7,000m Gangapurna West as a warm up, the speed on the face given the highly complex approach, the difficult technical climbing above 7,000m (overall grade of ED+), and the fact that it is the first new route at that altitude climbed by Koreans in alpine style, merits a mention.

The second is again a entirely different form of exploration, and that is the exploration of athleticism. Whilst there is no geographic exploration and the event was arguably a culmination of rehearsal, the sheer technical accomplishment of Americans Colin Haley and Alex Honnold of being able to complete the Torres Traverse in what is for more or less everyone else is an almost incomprehensible fast time, a single day, has greatly impressed much of the climbing community.

As a reminder, Part Two of the 2017 Piolet d'Or will take place in November, during the Rencontres Cine Montagne film festival in Grenoble. An entire evening will be dedicated to celebrating the winning 2016 ascents.

For all of the latest updates about the 2017 Piolet d'Or, please visit pioletsdor.net.

[Bullock wrote a feature on the Nyainqentangla climb titled "Threshold Shift" for Alpinist 57.—Ed.]

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