Thursday, 3 April 2014

An open Letter to the Organizer of the Piolets d’Or

The 2014 Piolets d’Or – fails yet again to live up to its true potential

The Piolets d’Or is a fantastic idea and very cool event but its constantly fails to live up its potential. Surrounded with controversy and constantly struggling with its identity, organization and format it’s a doomed event. In recent years, GHM, the main organizer of the event and its patron Christian Trommsdorff have implemented some minor change in a desperate effort to stay relevant, but this years event shows the need for a major overhaul of the charter and structure of the Piolets d’Or if its going to survive as the prime event celebrating alpinism. 

The international jury of the 2014 Piolets d’Or was chaired by George Lowe who once was at the forefront of cutting edge alpinism when he along with Jeff Lowe, Michel Kennedy and Jim Donini where forced to turn around on the famous and still unfinished North Ridge of Latok in 1978. 

Legendary French female alpinist, Catherine Destivelle who unquestionably is one of the most distinguished female alpinist in modern times also served on the jury together with Denis Urubko who is a outstanding high altitude alpinist. The rest of the jury I have no idea how or why they where selected or what their merits where to be judging in an event such as this. But frankly speaking I think the rest of the jury lacked the insight necessary to judge today’s cutting edge alpinism. 

The jury and the nominations

The first singe that some thing was off with the 2014 Piolets d’Or came when the list of nominated accents was published. One of 2013 unquestionably most notable accents, the French South Face route of Gaurichankar was missing. I’m not saying any of the nominated teams did not deserve being nominated but leaving the Gaurichankar team out was truly bizarre given how significant that first accent was both in terms commitment, technical level and dedication to outstanding ethics. 

The Mount Laurens route was carried out in the finest of styles and with the highest degree of integrity and commitment but it was an effort comparable to other impressive Alaska accents in 2013 such as David Lama and Dani Arnolds accent of Moses Tooth so why was that accent not nominated? On top of that the Laurens accent is difficult to compare with the other nominated climbs.

It’s not an easy task to find a balance and in order to do so maybe the Piolets d’Or would be better off with a new format comparing comparable efforts or simply avoid trying to distinguish between outstanding efforts and stick to celebrate the nominated accents. 

The Jury and the Q&A with the teams

On Friday the 28th I sat in on a roughly three hour session where the teams presented their climbs and explain the decission making process behind the climbs. This was to my understanding the jury’s designated main opportunity to gain detailed insight to the team’s efforts. This was the decisive moment where the jury should get a deeper understanding of what the teams went through and how they dealt with the various issues they where face with on their climbs and trips. This is where detailed questions about grade, difficulties, judgment calls and other issues should be penetrated and claims verified. But none of that happened.

Each team where to make a 20 min and then the jury was meant to ask question. 

Media where allowed to sit in and listen and as a media observer I have to say I was very surprised that the jury virtually had no questions at all to any the teams. Of the few questions the jury asked the lack of relevance was even more surprising. This exercise was both pointless and utterly embarrassing in the sense that jury seamed to totally disengaged. 

I had expected a structured format where the jury followed some kind of script with questions tailored to give the jury context serving as platform for the jury’s deliberations and final decisions. Instead some random questions about the weight of the backpacks were asked. 

If this session is any indication of how the final jury deliberations where conducted I’m not surprised that the 2013 Piolets d’Or failed to award one of the most impressive teams of the nominees, again I don’t want to taking away any thing from the K6 team or Ueli Steck but its embarrassing on an unprecedented scale not to give an Piolets d’Or to the Kunyag Chhish East team. 

The organization of the Piolets d’Or have plenty of homework to do in terms of how the jury is selected and how it’s to conduct its work in the future. It’s pivotal for the jury to have clear instructions to lean back on when making its decission. Now its seams totally random and that dilutes the value of the event. 

Change the format

Even if the event has been surrounded by controversy for a long time it serves a very important purpose in celebrating cutting edge alpinism, but that is lost in the constant controversies the current format are creating. Maybe its wrong to look at the Piolets d’Or as an awards event and instead of just recognize the larger purposes an event like the Piolets d’Or serves. It’s very much an event where two countries situated on each side of Mt Blanc, comes together in a tremendous effort to pay tribute to modern alpinism. Is that not enough? 

Steve House who embodies the spirit of the ambitions the Piolets d’Or charter outlines was in Chamonix during the event week but House was no where near any of the celebrations, that if any thing is an indication that some thing is fundamentally wrong.  

The lack of ability by GHM to get the community of leading alpinists engaged is a formidable display of the lack of relevance the event is suffering from. It should be a natural meeting point and a week where alpinist comes together and share their experiences in an open forum discuss the future of alpinism.  

Kunyag Chhish East

The first accent of the impressive Southwest face (2700 meters) of Kunyag Chhish East, 7400m was carried out by Simon Anthamatten and the brothers Hansjörg and Matthias Auer over six days on the third attempt during the same expedition. This face has been the target of many expeditions and strong climbers such as Steve House who was forced to turn around very close to the summit on his attempt. In my opinion the success of this team was a magnificent display of exceptional alpinism, true passion, teamwork and determination. Very few alpinists can stay motivated for so long time in a remote basecamp being shut down twice and forced to endure a decent involving 41 abseils. To have the mental stamina to go back up a third time speaks volumes of the skills this team represent. Now they where left with out a Piolet d’Or. Can some one explain that to me? Not awarding this accent with a Piolet d’Or speaks volumes about the fundamental need for change. 

After the Piolet d’Or was finished Hansjörg Auer posted the following on his Facebook Page: 

”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.”

I think its fair to say that the Piolets d’Or has yet again reached an all time low point. 

David Falt

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

I'm getting one! Are you?

Very good review of the new Metolius rope bag in dp climbing who wrote this about the Vortex bag.

"Metolius rope bags have long been the benchmark for durable quality and their newest model, the Vortex, is no exception. Withou"

Saturday, 25 January 2014

What in the cards for 2014?

Pre Spray is pointless but aspirations are king!

For 2014 I have some loosely defined plans involving staying fit enough to finally go and climb Das Phantom Der Zinnen on Cima Grande ground up ideally leading all pitches myself.

I alos HAVE to go back and send AKUT on Cima Ovest. So its business as usual with the Dolomites in the picture and allow plenty of time for the projects I so much want to do. The Dolomites have so much o toutstanding climbing offer, it should be on top of the TO GO TO places for any one interested in Alpine rock climbing.

As for sport climbing goals I have set some very HIGH goals for 2014, not in terms of grades but in terms of settings... I will go to Chamonix for a week or so and try to send Digital Crack an 8a placed at 3800 meters. The picture is showing the amazing tower where Digital Crack goes up straight in the middle ob that spiky tower.

Below is a nice video from an ascent of Digital Crack!

In the near future its winter and I hope to go back to Patagonia very soon or to dedicate some time for a project back in the Alps. Spring will involve plenty of sport climbing and training for a bigger trip in the fall to the greeter ranges i.e India, Nepal or Patagonia.

There is pretty shitty ice conditions so not much getting done on that front at the moment but its possible to sport climb on the odd days and pretty sweet conditions for skiing.

I also like to take this opportunity to thank my sponsors Patagonia, Metolius and Clif Bra.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Patagonia the brand and the HERITAGE

Patagonia is more than just a bran, its epitomizing the word HERITAGE. Watch this movie about the adventures PAtagonia athletes have endured and enjoyed over the years.

© Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved David Falt

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cold Feet in Super Canaleta

The early spring weather has been cold in Patagonia with only marginal weather windows open for climbing so far. The first thing we did was to hike up the Torre valley and have a look at Tomahawk, a ice route meant to be of exceptional quality and length. However the lack of ice prevented any progress so we hiked around, (shelter from the wind by Standhart, Egger and Cerro Torre) on the glacier to see if any thing else was in condition, allowing for progress with a minimal rock rack and ice tools. Not much luck there...

Most things where bone-dry or not even existing. A dry winter had left its marks. Our goal was the much trafficked West Face of Cerro Torre, but up on learning that a strong Slovenian team had backed off and being severely cold when attempting the Super Canaleta on Fitz Roy, options run low and motivation soon faded away.

The Super Canaleta is a childhood dream and this was my second hike in to the formidable face of Fitz Roy hosting the Canaleta. We had a very marginal weather window, judging from the forecast 24h at best. The Canaleta was in prime conditions, nothing to complain about. We started late however, with the benefit of hindsight way too late. We crossed bergschrund at around 5.40 Am according to my estimate. We clearly underestimated the time the snow slog up the first 1100 vertical meters would take us. Even if we made good progress it was a 4h "plod" up to the first belay (1180m according to my altimeter).

We roped up after a sketchy solo traverse and started on the upper part of the route in perfect but brittle route conditions. I was cold.. like really cold with less than zero circulation in my feet having opted for light but cold spring/fall boots (note to myself, bring proper boots or stay at home next time…) so I took out the soles in order to try and get some circulation going. No luck doing that. The climbing on the first ten or so pitches to the approximate level of the read tower was amazing. The mixed parts (5.9 plus) where full on action with crampons and tools, good fun and nothing I would have wanted to solo in those conditions.

When we had our first and only brew in stop (in the sun) at ledge from where you abseil in to the ice under the read tower we hydrated as well as we could and had plenty of gels and bars, but I did not recovery at all. I was shivering badly with all my layers on some thing very alien to me as I rarely freeze on mountain outings. Some thing was wrong, I was meant to go fast and be psyched being so high on some thing I so much have craved to climb for such a long time. I remember sending a postal letter in the early 90th to a climber in Argentina asking for a topo of the Canaleta.

This was my opportunity to climb this classic line, but again I was not happy with my lack of recovery and low energy. Going on big routes is never to be underestimated even if its not a hard route. Fitz Roy is big mountain and getting off is a big undertaking (I estimate we did some 25/28 abseils back to the bergschrund). I complained to my partners who where much more upbeat and at peace with our relative low point given the time of the day.

It was 3.45 or so and we had initially said we would have to start abseiling the route no later than 8pm, that was now out the window. There was no way we would get up and down in a day, reaching the summit would not have been an issue but getting off might not be so smooth. We had a bivy bag and a jetboil, but that was it. I felt that the mature and responsible decision was to turn around and start the endless abseil work. I had no desire to just tag along on such an iconic route with no spare energy in the tank. I had even less desire to spend a night out already being cold sitting in the sun and eating, that would have been outright stupid, I know my body. I was getting ill and I later learned I had caught a bad chest infection.

My call for us to turn around was a disappointment to all of us and I felt very bad for my two friends who now had to go back down with me, but thats the nature of the game. It was the right call. I have zero regrets. We where too low too late and I was not well. We also waisted some time on P 1 with a swap of lead climber, things like that can't be happening on routes like that. I was unhappy with how event unfolded and being in the mountains is about having fund and some times taking uncomfortable decisions. I can always go back and so can my friends. Even if rapping that route is a bitch its better to go back and climb it with margins and in good health, having a blast. Team dynamics are interesting. For me a route loses its appeal if its not a team effort where every one pulls his weight. The sense of having achieved some thing must be present for me in order to truly enjoy a mountain outing.

I still have sore toes from some minor frost bites… Well that will pass and its all about getting back up there and try again. Alpinism is a process not a given or a zero sume game. Thanks for a nice day out my friends, I had a few great days in the mountains.

© Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved David Falt