A prize therefore for those who have decided to dedicate their lives and their jobs to the mountains and the culture of mountaineering. This is the spirit of the Saint Vincent Awards for mountain professionals, presented to the public last Thursday at Aosta by the President of the Region Valle d'Aosta who, together with Casino de la Vallée, Forte di Bard and Grivel Mont Blanc, are promoting the event.
This recognition is destined to two categories, Mountain Guides and uniformed professionals belonging to government institutions working in alpine environments (for example Alpine Army Corps, Park Rangers etc). The Awards will be handed out to the winners of the five different categories on 7 March in a special evening celebration at Saint-Vincent in Valle d’Aosta.
The winners of the first edition were announced last Thursday, and the first "Grolla d’oro" for the "finest international alpinist achievement by an alpine guide" was awarded to Valery Babanov from Russia for his new route, first ascended last October with Sergey Kofanov, up the hitherto unclimbed Jannu West pillar (7710m). This is definitely one of the best ascents in recent years, both in terms of style and beauty (both the mountain and line of ascent) and the route is yet another confirmation of the absolute greatness of this mountaineer. The routes climbed by the two-times winner of the Piolet d'Or and UIAGM Guide are a true sign of quality which unite beauty, difficulty and great mountaineering. The "Grolla" is well deserved therefore, without any "contention" whatsoever.
The Grolla d'ora for the "finest international alpinist achievement by an alpine guide from the Aosta Valley" goes to Hervé Barmasse for the first solo ascent and the first repeat of the Matterhorn South Directissima. Hervé is the son of another great climber and mountain guide who in 1983 carried out the first ascent of this route together with Walter Cazzanelli and Vittorio De Tuoni. Thw recent April ascent distinguishes itself not only for its difficulty and the truly wild and adventurous south face terrain, but also by the fact that it demonstrates how the Mountain Guide profession is a tradition, a true culture transmitted from one generation to the next.
Barmasse is undoubtedly one of the strongest and versatile Italian mountaineers. He proved this not only with his solo ascent and first repeat which netted him the Grolla d'oro, but also with three other solos on "his" south face, the Matterhorn of course. To these must be added his ascents in the Karakorum and Patagonia, and it is on these mountains at the end of the world that in 2006 he made the first ascent of San Lorenzo's North Face (together with Bernasconi, Lanfranchi and Ongaro). He "struck gold" just recently with a new route up the virgin NW Face of Cerro Piergiorgio, climbed with Cristian Brenna a few weeks ago.
The third Grolla d'oro for the finest mountaineering achievement in the category "uniformed professionals" goes to the Alpine Regiment Training Centre – Military School, in particular to First Officers Ettore Taufer and Giovanni Amort, Officer Elio Sganga and Corporal VFP4 Marco Farina for the recent autonomous Antarctic traverse and ascent of Mount Vinson. The 270km crossing culminated in a successful ascent of the highest peak on the Antarctic continent. This expedition coincided with the end of the International Polar Year and reconfirmed the Training Camp's long-term project of high quality mountaineering in the Alps and the Greater Ranges. In this sense the expedition by Taufer, Amort, Sganga and Farina was a true success for the Alpine Training Camp.
The fourth award is dedicated entirely to Mountain Guides and is named after, not by chance, Toni Gobbi, the famous mountaineer but above all Mountain Guide who dedicated all his energies in modernising this profession. The Gobbi Award for the "finest international alpinist achievement by an alpine guide with a client" goes to Christophe Profit for his 10th ascent of the Eiger North Face, carried out with a client on 9 April 2007 up the Heckmair route. Most will realise immediately that this is "the" Profit, the one who revolutionised mountaineering in the 1980's with his solo ascents and fast enchainments of the great north faces in the Alps. The same Profit, we'd like to add, who now chooses to climb a great route such as the Heckmair "slowly", so as to share the experience with his client. A sign that great mountaineering (the so-called cutting edge) can be shared completely with mountaineering of all shapes and sizes. A good award and a good choice.
Last but by no means least, the fifth Forte di Bard Award for ethics and solidarity goes to the late Pemba Doma Sherpa, i.e. the woman who in her lifetime managed to stand testament to her immense love for the mountains and her valley (the magnificent home of Mount Everest). She managed to display this love without renouncing her culture, on the contrary, it is probably thanks to this culture that she managed to interpret the mountains so well. This strong and passionate climber ascended Everest first from the North, then the South (the first Nepalese to accomplish such a feat), then Cho Oyu and Lhotse. After reaching the summit of Lhotse this great small woman from the Khumbu valley failed to return. Many still regret her death, in particular her people whom she aided through her “Save the Himalayan Kingdom” foundation. She was an example for many reasons, for her ethical values and her solidarity; it is correct to recognise this and award her.
The Awards ceremony will take place on 7 March at 20.30 at the Grand Hôtel Billia, Saint-Vincent - Valle d’Aosta. See you there.