Monday, 12 April 2010

Piolet d'Or and its Identity crisis

The Piolets d'Or 2010

Photo: David Falt

The revived version of the controversial Piolets d'Or event held its second event since its abrupt ending a few years back in Chamonix Mont-Blanc and Courmayeur over the weekend of April 7th to 10th. Last year the event was back in a new promising format with a career award. Group Haute Montnage (GHM) had also joined forces with the Alpine Club in the UK and created the Spirit of Mountaineering award to honour alpinists who risk everything in order to rescue fellow climbers. Last year the award was given to 4 out of 5 nominees based on what was perceived as different categories. I was how ever quite disappointed that the Nuptse accent who I think was the fines but did not top out (Benoist and his partner did a judgement call and returned from the ridge when all interesting climbing was finished due to feeling they where approaching the limit) did not get an golden axe.

This year five outstanding accents was nominated all meeting the standards of the charter adapted by GHM. The GHM charter is the guide line for the jury when they are deliberating and selecting the final award winning candidates.

The new career achievement award was given to Reinhold Messner who was quite vocal in his criticism of modern high altitude climbing and the focus on 8000 meter tourism. Messner made an interesting observation when he pointed out that todays Basque and Japanese (both female) expeditions working on Annapurna are much heavier in style and tactics compared to the expedition lead by Maurice Herzog 1950. Hertzog who was present in Chamonix and participated in a panel discussion with Messner agreed that some of today's expeditions performance is not that impressive. The achievements of the nominees how ever impressed both Hertzog and Messner who both praised the light style chosen by all nominated teams.

In the press briefing I asked Messner the following questions:

- Messner Is the Piolet d'Or important?

" This is like the Oscars for alpinism, its a celebration of the alpine tradition. Alpinism starts where tourism stops. To days trade routes on the 8000 meter peeks climbed by commercial expeditions using fixed ropes, camps and Sherpas are pure tourism that has nothing to do with alpinism. The Piolet d'Or celebrate Alpinism that's whats beyond this tourism."

- Messner on the development of Alpinism

"To day its not about being a hero. This is some thing that belongs to the past where mountaineers where received as hero's up on there return from the mountains. To days hero's are climbers like Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra. The internet has changed the focus on what's interesting to the younger generations."

"To days alpinist can't find much unknown terrain but they find new lines that are technically hard and a the same time intelligent. When Hertzog and other climbers went to Himalayas nothing was know about the next valley or what the human body was able to with stain."

This years golden axes were given to two of the five nominees. The jury motivation this year was quite different in comparison to last year`s. The motivation this year was that these two expeditions best meet the criteria outlined in the GHM charter. Christian Thrommsdorff who is the chairman of GHM emphasised that two winners just got more than the other three rather than looking at it as the other nominees did not measure up to the charter. I found this quite lame and I think that in the end this unclear approach will dilute the importance of the event. I also think it can open up for new controversies. All accents nominated was great achievements and for some one to put one in front of an other on quite vague grounds makes the Jury look quite silly in my opinion.

I would argue that GHM must opt for a format where they award in categories. In its current format and given the outcome of this years event I think that more and more climbers will decline nomination as its kind of interesting to be par of some thing that is "changing" its format from year to year.

The Piolet d'Or is struggling to find a new identity and time is essential if this award wants to stay relevant and interesting to the climbing community. "The new Oscar style as Christina Trommsdorff describes the event will only stay relevant and avoid future controversy if the award criteria and process is clear and predictable. I also think jury presentations should be open to the public." That was one comment from a nominee.

Finlay it was hugely disappointing that the Alpine Club did not award one or two of the extraordinary sacrifices made in 2009 in the Himalayas in terms of mounting rescue missions to fellow climbers.

The 2010 winners was

Cho Oyu (8201m) southeast face, Nepal. The Kazakh climbers Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko climbed a very difficult and direct new route on this 2600-meter wall, during a 10-day round trip from base camp in May. With this climb, they discovered a bold and difficult new way to the summit of a popular Himalayan summit. For Urubko, the climb was a stylish conclusion to his quest to climb all 14 of the world’s 8000-metre peaks.

Xuelian West (6422m), north face, China. Bruce Normand from Scotland and Americans Jed Brown and Kyle Dempster are among the first climbers to explore the north side of this impressive massif. After climbing several virgin faces during acclimatization, they completed the first ascent of the 2650-metre north wall of Xuelian West, with five days of difficult and insecure technical climbing.