This past weekend, the 2014 winners for the Piolets d’Or were announced. Often referred to as the “Oscars of Mountaineering” the awards are given out annually to the climbers that pull off the most inspiring and pioneering climbs from the previous year. A jury of accomplished mountaineers judge the nominees based on a number of criteria, not the least of which is respect for the sport and the ability to push it in new directions. The award itself is appropriately enough, a golden ice axe.
There were three winners this year including Canadians Raphael Slawinski and Ian Welsted for their impressive first ascent of K6 West, a 7040 meter (23,097 ft) peak located in the Karakoram. The duo went up a new route along the Northwest Face that was both highly technical and physically demanding. The third award went to Swiss climber Ueli Steck, for his solo summit of Annapurna, in which he went from Advanced Base Camp to the top, and back, in a mere 28 hours. That expedition was amongst the most audacious that the mountaineering community has seen in recent years, and even the amazing Steck admitted that it pushed him to his vary limits.
Ueli’s win was not without some controversy. As I reported last week, there are some who feel that he hasn’t provided sufficient proof of an actual summit, since there are no photos (he lost his camera in an avalanche on the ascent), nor GPS data to back up his claims. Ueli’s teammates say they did see him less than 200 meters below the summit however, and even the Sherpas on the expedition back up his claims. The jury for the Piolets d’Or ignored that controversy however, and wisely awarded Steck the prize.
Congratulations to the winners. All three men are very deserving of this honor.