A weekend marked by great mountaineering in Seoul for the first edition of an event entitled "Piolet d'or". Yes, you're read correctly, we're talking about the Asian version of the famous "Golden ice axe", the annual award now in its 11th year organised by the French Montagnes Magazine and the "Groupe de Haute Montagne" for the most significant mountaineering achievement worldwide. Last Friday the South Korean capital celebrated the "Piolet d'or Asia" which, naturally, recognised the best ascent carried out by Asian climbers in 2006. The initiative came about thanks to the collaboration between the Korean magazine Men and Mountain, the French Montagnes Magazine and, obviously Grivel. The company based in Courmayeur is not only a member of the organisation but has also, since the outset, created the much desired Trophy (the golden ice axe, of course).
Let's start off by saying that the first two to add their names to the Piolet d'or Asia Honour's List were two mountaineers well-known in both the classic Piolet d'or circuit and to those who follow Himalayan mountaineering. The newly created award was won by the Kazakh mountaineers Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov for their new route up the NE Face of Manaslu (8163 m). This great ascent (read: new route, fast, alpine style) was carried out by the duo on 4 - 9 May 2005. It's worth noting that this is their second new route on another 8000m peak: in 2005 they climbed the virgin SW Face of Broad Peak (8048m). Understandably the strong Kazakh mountaineers had received a nomination for this ascent in the Piolet d'or 2006 (which refers to ascents carried out in 2005) in its "classic" and "worldwide" version hosted in France (and which was ultimately won by the duo House - Anderson for their ascent up Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face).
This Asian event used the tried and tested "nominations" system, from which the Jury chose the "best realisation" of the year. So in the running for the Asia's maximum mountaineering recognition, apart from Urubko and Samilov for "their" Manaslu, were two other teams. The first were Katsutaka Yokoyama and Fumitaka Ichimura from Japan for the new route "Before dawn" (1000m with difficulties up to 5 - 5.9, WI4+, M6) climbed last September on the North Face of Broken Tooth (2760m) in Alaska. While the second team with title hopes were the Koreans Gu Eun-Su and Yu Sang-Beom for their new route (third overall and first Korean) via Thalay Sagar's North Face (6904m) in the Indian Himalaya.
As mentioned previously the international jury - comprised of Im Duc Young (mountaineer, stylist and journalist working for some of the most important Korean magazines), Philippe Descamp (chief editor of Montagnes magazine), Valery Babanov (mountaineer), Tsunemichi Ikeda (journalist for Rock and snow, the most important Japanese climbing magazine), 2 journalists from the Korean Climber magazine and a journalist from the Korean Man and Mountain magazine - chose to award the prize to the Kazakh duo on Manaslu. And there's no doubt that this is a decision we agree with as (and you can bet on this) we'll be seeing Urubko and Samilov in the list of nominations for the next edition of the Piolet d'or, in its classic worldwide version which takes place in the starting months of each new year in France.
All that needs to be added is the fact that the success of the event exceeded all expectations. The evening was celebrated with a dinner at which 500 people were invited and the interest, on behalf of the media and public, was enormous. As if to say: let's hope there will be a hundred more of these Asian Piolet which (let's hope) will help us to discover in the next editions just a bit (and there's plenty) of their mountaineering which is "submerged" and so rarely sees the light here in the west. Ah, before we forget: did you know the Korean alpine federation has more than 1,200,00 members?
Photo: Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov celebrating with the first Piolet d'or Asia (arch. G. Gobbi)