Piolets d’Or Posthumously Honor David Lama and Hansjörg Auer

Yesterday the 2019 winners of the Piolets d’Or –– the “Golden Ice Axes” –– were announced, with three big, bold ascents being honored by the committee charged with sifting through all of the worthy nominees each year. The winners are all highly worthy however, but the honor or taking home this prize will be bittersweet as both David Lama and Hansjörg Auer earn their Piolets d’Or posthumously.

The three ascents that were honored by the committee include Lama’s first ascent of Lunag Ri, which he completed in solo fashion back in October of last year. At the time, the mountain was amongst the tallest unclimbed peak in Nepal at 6895 meters (22,621 ft). But beyond that, it is a technically challenging peak that requires a lot of skill and patience too.

Auer’s award comes for his ascent of the west face of Lupghar Sar, a 7157-meter (23,480 ft) mountain in the Karakoram. As with Lama, Auer climbed the mountain solo, making a major last-push to the top in order to get up and down as quickly as possible. Lupghar Sar is a highly technical climb, but beyond that the mountain is notorious for its rotten rock, which easily crumbles under axe or foot. Those conditions have made it incredibly difficult to climb, with only a handful of summits over the past 40 years.

Finally, the third expedition to earn a Piolets d’Or this year is successful attempt on Latok I by Aleš Česen, Luka Stražar, and Tom Livingstone, which was completed in August of 2018. The trio were just the second team to reach the summit of the 7145-meter (23,441 ft) peak, where they ascended along a new route that touched both the North Ridge and South Face of the notorious mountain. It took them three days of nearly constant climbing to knock off the new route, arriving back in Base Camp on August 9 of last year.

Lama and Auer were climbing partners who had worked together on several expeditions, but unfortunately they both lost their lives while climbing in the Canadian Rockies this past April. They were attempting to summit Howes Peak, along with American climber Jess Roskelley, when all three men were caught in an avalanche. The trio were some of the best and brightest climbers of their generation and their loss will be felt deeply within the climbing community for many years to come.

This year’s Piolets d’Or award ceremony will be held at the at the Ladek Mountain Festival, which runs from September 19-22. Expect it to be an emotional night for all in attendance.

Kraig Becker