Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rock Trip

Off on a road trip to enjoy some of the best sport climbing in south of Europe. I hope the weather will cooperate so I can get some nice climbing done. This will be my sport climbing comeback after my tendon injury last October. Spring is here and so its time to jump on the bike and start getting fit for Latok. On the fun side. The other day I got 9 boxes of gear from Mountain Hardwear for our Latok Expedition. Lots of great stuff and I can't wait to get out and test my new clothing system. Might get a shoot in Alaska as I will skip the Oscars in Chamonix and go for trip to Mt Hunter.

Photo: Courtesy Maxime Turgeon

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Piolet d'Or 2010 The Alpinism Oscars

What's the point in having an "Oscars" for Alpinism? If we look at the Piolets d'Or in the same way we look at grading, something which is highly subjective and only interesting to climbers who aspire to do the route being graded, it can be a fun event to follow. First of all, we have to remember the controversy that has surrounded this event in the past. Having a few guys telling a few other guys that they did a route unworthy of the award is crazy. It’s all a strange game and some climbers try to make a statement by refusing to be nominated while others try to be part of the circus and influence the outcome.

I'm in the latter category. For me personally, it's a fun event and a great way to meet friends, socialize and climb. The organizers have tried to take the edge off some of the past emotions by introducing a new format where five or six teams are nominated and more than one award can be given, for example in categories emphasizing "technical difficulty", "commitment" and "exploration". I guess in theory one team can grab all three awards but this is a highly unlikely scenario. In this year's bag is a nice mix of great achievements, some maybe better than others, some more hyped than others but the key element is that they are all great achievements, illustrating the beauty of the pure alpine challenge and in the age of relentless commercialism, over-hyping of 8000m 'heroes' and even blatant fraudulence to gain entry to this club, the appeal of the alpine ideal should not be allowed to dim.

To further widen the event and make it less about comparing and judging, the organizers have also included a "life-time achievement" award. Last year's recipient, to everyone's joy, was the rehabilitated Walter Bonatti. This year, Reinhold Messner will be honored with the award, and again I think few will object. It's hard to see that this can really upset anyone as long as it recognizes style before public glory.

I personally will pay most attention to the "Spirit of Mountaineering" award. This is given to climbers who risk it all in order to try and save fellow climbers stuck where no one else can get to them. This might not be the coolest award in alpine climbing, but in my opinion, and up against the possible style squabbles separating the achievements of the Piolet d'Or contenders, it is only truly interesting and unequivocally deserved award on offer.

At the end of the day, the Piolet d'Or is like most things in life a matter of taste and choice. I think that, independent of who walks away with the axe(s), it's a great way to promote alpinism and alpine climbing. I think it's a great way for climbers who do not prioritize the running of a well-oiled PR machine to end up in the spotlight and receive some public recognition for their efforts in the Greater Ranges, which remain an enduring bastion of adventure on our over-civilized planet. Let's face it: at the end of the day, an award has a huge value to the recipient, not only privately, in terms of that recognition for many years of quiet striving, but also commercially. It might not change the world, but it can certainly change the opportunities to find sponsors and partners for future projects, and thus act as a springboard for a climbing career.

5 nominees in contention for the 18th Piolets d’Or

The jury of the 18th Piolets d’Or has named the five nominee ascents out of 52 accents undertaken on mountains all over the world during 2009. There is no big surprise among the nominated climbs and unlike last year there is no report of climbers who has declined to be nominated. It will be interesting to see how the jury will handle the new format of the Piolet d’Or where three awards are given out, one for the most technical accent, one for the most committing and for exploring unknown territory. Also notably in this years selection is the heavy representation of climbers from the former eastern block. Maybe this is a sign that the era of siege style accents is becoming part of the history.


Cho Oyu, 8201 m - Nepal

Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Boris Dedechko opened a new route on the South East Face in May (Nepalese side). With this ascent, Urubko becomes the fifteenth man to have successfully climbed all fourteen 8000ers, and the ninth person to do it without oxygen. At 36 years of age, the Kazakh has taken nine years to accomplish this feat. He did not choose the easy option when opening a new route, alpine-style, on three 8000ers including this one, an ascent which won him a Piolet d’Or Asia.

Name of the route: Kazakh Dedechko-Urubko

Length: 2600m

Difficulty announced: M6, 6b, A2/A3

Date of the ascent: from 11th to 15th May 2009

Chang Himal, 6750 m - Nepal

At the beginning of November, Brits Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman successfully completed a first on the central pillar of the North Face of Chang Himal, not far from Kanchenjunga. The two men took five days to climb this technical route of 1800 metres of mixed difficulty evaluated at M6. The route had previously been attempted without success in 2007 by Slovenian climbers.

Name of the route: Bullock-Houseman

Length: 1800m

Difficulty announced: M6

Date of the ascent: from 29th October to 2nd November 2009

Gongga North-West Peak 6134m - China

The first ascent of this summit, situated in Sichuan province, was successfully completed in May by Russians Mikhail Mikhailov and Alexander Ruchkin. They climbed the 1100 metre rock pillar over five days. It presented mixed difficulty on the lower section and a fabulous free-climb on the upper section. These two alpinists, members of the expedition to the North Face of Jannu in January 2004, specified that they used no bolts to open this route. They were awarded the Russian Piolet d’Or for this ascent.

Name of the route: Carte Blanche

Length: 1100m

Difficulty announced: 6c free climbing, mixed climbing with an ice passage of 75°

Date of the ascent: April 2009

Xuelian Feng (West), 6422 m China

Over five days, Americans Jed Brown and Kyle Dempster along with Scotsman Bruce Normand completed a first accent of the North Face of the previously unclimbed west summit of Xuelian Feng (Chinese Tien Shan). This was a ground up alpine style accent involving hard mixed, ice and rock climbing on a beautiful spur in an are where not much climbing has been done.

Name of the route: The Great White Jade Heist

Length: 2650m

Difficulty announced: ice 5, rock 5.7, mixed M6.

Date of the ascent: from 26th to 30th August 2009

Pic Pobeda, 7439m Kirghizstan

At the end of August, Russian climbers Vitaly Gorelik and Gleb Sokolov opened a difficult new route on the North Face of Peak Pobeda, the highest summit in the Tien Shan massif. The two men climbed a difficult 2400 metre buttress alpine-style in seven and a half days, in bad weather conditions, until they reached a minor peak along the long summit. They then took one and a half days to descend. They encountered numerous passages of black ice and delicate zones of mixed terrain which slowed their progress. Sokolov, 56 and Gorelik aged 42 are both experienced Russian alpinists. They were both members of the victorious K2 expedition in 2007.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Piolets d’Or 2010 and the nominees are....

Its time for the annual event of the Piolets d’Or to revel the nominees. The Oscars of Alpinism. It will be interesting to see who gets on the short list but I have a hunch Bruce Normand, Kyle Dempster and Jed Brown will be on the list.

The life time achievement will be awarded to Messner and who can complain? What an outstanding alpinist who has been lead by style rather than blind ambition. It will be interesting to see who is on the list of nominations as you might remember I did a short list of some worthy candidates late 2009. I think we will see a few of the names from my short list.