Piolet d'Or 2015: the grande finale at Courmayeur
On Saturday 11 April the awards ceremony of the 23rd Piolets d'Or, the Oscars of alpinism, were held at Courmayeur, Italy. Americans Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, Russians Aleksander Gukov and Aleksey Lonchinsky and Slovenians Marko Prezelj, Ales Cesen and Luka Lindic were awarded the Piolet d'Or 2015. Britain’s Chris Bonington received the Piolet d'Or Carrière.
On Saturday night the little town of Courmayeur, Italy, hosted a great evening dedicated to the Piolet d’Or and this unique celebration of alpinism and art rounded off the highly anticipated 23rd edition. After a picture perfect day with the parade - the local band and the mountain guides from both Courmayeur and Cervinia walked through the cobbled streets - one of those evenings that will remain etched in memory began. When the lights in the crowded Palanoir hall dipped expectations were high and the start certainly didn’t disappoint: a duet between two "big guns" from the Aosta Valley (and beyond), namely the music groups L’Orage and Trouveur Valdotèn who performed together for the first time ever. Their performance immediately transmitted the immense cultural wealth of this valley, and it also transported the audience to the most beautiful and highest mountains in the world.
A dream perfectly realized by three remarkable expeditions who were awarded the prestigious Piolet d’Or this year. When called on stage by the impeccable evening host Kay Rush, the Russians Aleksander Gukov and Aleksey Lonchinskiy explained how, when they departed from the main path in the Khumbu Valley, some trekkers shouted out to warn them they were heading the wrong way. "In fact, when we arrived in Kathmandu" Gukov told the spectators "we did not know where to go. Our main aim was just been climbed by a Japanese team, and we chose what to do by having a look at Google Earth ..." Their choice, the SW Face of Thamserku, hitherto unclimbed and... worthy of the Piolet d'or.
Their decision netted the coveted award, along with the American Tommy Caldwell who climbed up on stage alone since Alex Honnold, his climbing partner on the legendary Fitz Roy traverse in Patagonia, unfortunately couldn’t take part in the festivities. Caldwell spoke about the technical difficulties, but also about their gratitude towards Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley who lent them the right crampons, despite they too sharing exactly the same dream. A "noble gesture" that perfectly fits in to the long tradition of mountaineering which, this year, celebrates the Age d'Or, the golden age of mountaineering with the 150th anniversary of the first ascents of a host of 'symbolic' mountains in the Alps.
Speaking about tradition: the Slovenians Aleš Česen, Luka Lindič and Marko Prezelj took to the stage for their beautiful ascent of Hagshu in India. It was Prezelj - the most experienced of the three - who explained how important it is to hand down from one generation to the next what has been learnt in the mountains. Tradition that evolves into the future, this was the clear message, for an alpinism which is increasingly at the cutting-edge.
After these presentations, and after the interpretation of the touching song "J'Inventerais" written by the unforgettable singer Aosta valley singer Magui Bétemps to celebrate her land, the mountains and the culture of its people, the time finally came for the evening’s highlight: the Piolet d'Or Carrière. This year the Walter Bonatti Lifetime Achievement award went to Chris Bonington and the film dedicated to him, created specifically for the event by the Planetmountain.com team and directed by Vinicio Stefanello, evidently touched a cord. The excitement was palpable and the audience rose to their feet and gave Bonington a standing ovation. As he received the award from his long-term climbing partner Doug Scott, the ‘Sir’ of alpinism, explained that he regarded this as a truly special award "I've received so many in my career," he said, "but this one is given by my peers and is a great honor. " Bonington was visibly moved. So too were all the spectators who had travelled to Courmayeur on Saturday night to celebrate this 23rd Piolet d'Or.
THE VIDEOS OF THE ASCENTS
PIOLET D'OR 2015 - The traverse of the Fitz Roy range - Argentina, Patagonia (3405m)
From 12th16th February 2014, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold succeeded in completing the full traverse of the range, from north to south. They had to climb seven summits: Aguja Guillaumet, Aguja Mermoz, Cerro Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot, Aguja Rafael Juarez, Aguja Saint-Exupery and Aguja S, a total of 4,000m of ascent, a maximum grade of 7a, with ice sections at 65°. Such a traverse could only be contemplated by very fast climbers. Info
PIOLET D'OR 2015 - Thamserku, Nepal, Khumbu (6618m)
Alexander Gukov and Alexey Lonchinsky (Russia) have opened up a route on the South Face, at 1,620m. Their route, which required six bivies, has been named Shy Girl. They estimated it as grade 6a/6b (Russian grading), presenting some passages on steep ice with mixed sections M4-M5, and passages requiring artificial climbing (A2). The descent was via the South Ridge and the South-West Face in twenty-two abseils. Info
PIOLET D'OR 2015 - Hagshu, India, Kisthwar (6657m)
Aleš Česen, Luka Lindič and Marko Prezelj (Slovenia) opened a route on the North face of 1,350 meters high, ED, ice at 90°. The steepness and difficulty of the ice forced them to climb until two o’clock in the morning, on the first day. They summited the next day, 30th September, at 5pm, then descended by the original route, first opened in 1989 by Polish climbers. Info