Celebrating the new Piolets d’Ors.
By John Harlin III, Editor
After a year in rehab, the Piolet d’Or—the “golden ice axe” prize in world alpinism—reinvented itself as the Piolets d’Or. In case you missed it, the change is an “s,” which in French makes a word plural. The editors of the AAJ were among the many voices disapproving of the original Piolet d’Or because judges picked a single “winner” from the year’s climbs. We feel that climbing, and especially climbing mountains, is a deeply personal pursuit; we like to see it driven by private goals and a love of the mountain environment. And we look to climbing events and media for inspiration that helps to keep our minds in the clouds even when we’re sitting at our desks. From our perspective, a highvisibility event like the Piolet d’Or should celebrate our shared passions, not promote a competitive spirit.
When Marko Prezelj used the stage to turn down a Piolet d’Or that had been offered him (for his new route on Chomolhari—see AAJ 2007, cover and p. 14), the controversy went public. As the rhetoric boiled over, the organizers, spearheaded by Montagnes magazine, decided it was time for a rethink. They reached out widely, including to the AAJ, and drafted a new charter recasting the event as a celebration rather than a competition. But not everyone was convinced, and so in January 2008, shortly before the 17th annual Piolet d’Or ceremony was to take place, the award was suspended.
Now please welcome the Piolets d’Or. In the words of Doug Scott, president of this year’s international jury, “This edition signals the rebirth of the Piolet d’Or. For us there are no winners, no losers. The honored are the ambassadors of an art, a passion.” The new awards “aim to celebrate the taste for adventure and sense of exploration that lie behind the art of climbing in the world’s great mountain ranges.” Criteria include style, exploratory spirit, commitment, respect for objective dangers, respect for people on and off the team, respect for the environment, and respect for the needs of future generations who will tread these hills. A lot of respect.
Because these are things we all hold dear, the AAJ’s editors support the Piolets d’Or organizers’ efforts to live up to these ideals. Not only is the AAJ the world’s reference for new mountain routes, we’ve long chosen our feature articles by informal criteria much akin to the Piolets d’Or’s new charter. We provided the jury with extensive information about climbs in 2008, a role we’ll likely continue as long as the Piolets d’Or is more celebration than competition.
The ceremony last April—honoring 2008 climbs—was a great initial effort. Our associate editor Dougald MacDonald traveled to France to observe. He saw that the French love alpinism, and they know how to throw a party. Walter Bonatti earned a golden axe for lifetime achievement, and three teams took home axes for their ascents: Kazuya Hiraide and Kei Taniguchi on the southwest face of Kamet in India; Kazauki Amano, Fumitaka Ichimura, and Yusuke Sato on the north face of Kalanka, also in India; and Simon Anthamatten and Ueli Steck on the north face of Tengkangpoche, Nepal.
All three ascents are featured in the following pages. There you’ll see why they deserve praise and attention. But, were their climbs somehow “better” than the other ascents covered in these pages? Only if they had more fun—and left the mountain clean and earned friendship from those they met along their journey.
These are goals that inspire us all.