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