Piolet d'or 2009: the six candidates
The 6 nominees for the 17th Piolet d'Or, scheduled for 25 April 2009: Dave Turner (USA) for his solo ascent on the East Face of Cerro Escudo (Torres del Paine, Chile), Simon Anthamatten and Ueli Steck (Switzerland) for their new route up the N Face of Tengkampoche (Nepal), Stéphane Benoist and Patrice Glairon Rappaz (France) for their new route up the South Face of Nuptse (Nepal). These are in the running with three Japanese teams: Kazuya Hiraide and Kei Taniguchi for their first ascent up the SE Face of Kamet (India), Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Kazuki Amano for their ascent up the North Face of Kalanka (India) and, last but not least, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Katsutaka Yokoyama for the enchainment of two difficult routes on McKinley, Alaska.
The eagerly awaited six candidates of the Piolet d'Or 2009 have now been rendered public, despite there being no statement on behalf of the organisation about the contested Jury member Dodo Kopold, publicly denounced by the Slovenian Alpine Club for having lied about his summits on GI, GII and Broad Peak and for having abandoned his companion in difficulty (Vlado Plulik, who died on Broad Peak). Without wishing to jeopardise Kopold's right to defend himself, we have already defined this choice untimely, if not completely mistaken. Furthermore, the Piolet organisation has now published the official candidates despite John Harlin III, editor of the American Alpine Journal, denying what was written in the official press release, by stating (as can be read on montagna.tv): "The AAC and the AAJ are not officially endorsing the new Piolet d'Or, even if they are participating and appreciate the new spirit of the award."* So the Piolet, one could say, continues inbetween shadow and light.
If on the one hand there can be no doubt that the ascents are all of undisputed valor, on the other there are some perplexities as to some important exclusions. First and foremost, the most strikingly obvious, is the exclusion of Valory Babanow and Victor Afanasiev. Perhaps two new routes in alpine style, without supplementary oxygen and within 20 days on two Himalayan giants (Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I) don't suffice for the Piolet d'Or? Or perhaps they are simply too much because each merit a nomination in their own right? Those who follow planetmountain regularly know that it's not our habit to contest Jury decisions, especially if they are presided by Doug Scott and include, other than Kopold, valid mountaineers such as Peter Habeler and Jim Donini and journalists such as Im Duck Yong and Dario Rodriguez.
We are well aware of the fact that someone always has to remain excluded. But in this case it seems truly peculiar that the Russian team wasn't included. Especially since the new "Charter" states that the Piolet can be awarded to various parties. Why not, therefore, extend this "elastic" concept to the nominations, too? A malignant mind would state this may be because Babanov is one of the witnesses in the Broad Peak case, which Kopold is involved in...
Having said that, Dave Turner's 34 solitary days spent on the wall carrying out the first ascent of his difficult route (up to A4) on the East Face of Cerro Escudo (Torres del Paine) are extremely important. Just like Ueli Steck and Simon Anthmatten's fast and perfect 4 day ascent of Checkmate, the new 2000m line up the North Face of Tengkampoche (6500m, Nepal) with difficulties up M7, 5, 6/A0. And just like the great first ascent up the beautiful and difficult South Face of Nuptse (7861m, Nepal) at the hands of Stéphane Benoist and Patrice Glairon Rappaz.
Another important ascent in the running is the North Face of Kalanka (6931m) by the Japanese team Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Kazuaki Amano. This 2000m alpine-style ascent with difficulties up to M5 impressed so much that it has already won the last Piolet d'Asia. Fellow countrymen Kazuya Hiraide and Kei Taniguchi are in the running too, with their fantastic Samurai direct, 1800m, M5+ and 5+ up the SE Face of Kamet (7756m), the highest mountain in the Indian Garwal. Last but not least, the jury will also consider the marathon (Japanese, once again) enchainment on behalf of Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato (possibly the first ever double nomination) and Katsutaka Yokoyama, who climbed the 2350m high Isis Face (Alaska Grade 6), descended the Ramp and then ascended the Slovenian Direct (2900m, Alaska Grade 6) before returning back to their basecamp.
Having previously mentioned who we feel is conspicuously absent, and after having talked about the "shadows" and also the light, all that is now left to do is to wait until 25 April when the winner will be announced in Chamonix, together with the lifetime's achievement award. We will hazard a guess for the winner. Better still, for the winners, since the Piolet bet is that there will be more than one winner including, first and foremost, France. We'll soon know if this prediction turns out to be true...
* Editor's note. On 13/03/2009 Phil Powers (American Alpine Club Executive Director) and John Harlin III (Editor, American Alpine Journal), on behalf of the American Alpine Club issued the following statement: "The American Alpine Club embraces the new spirit of the Piolet d’Or as it celebrates the best in modern alpinism. Through the resources of the American Alpine Journal, the AAC will continue to support the Piolets with information and consultation. We are also very pleased that our immediate past president, Jim Donini, sits on this year’s jury."