Four winners of the Piolets d’Or have been announced and the recipients are Czech, American and Japanese climbers. The awards are considered the most prestigious in mountaineering and recognise climbs from the previous year.
This year’s winners are Marek Holecek and Zdenek Hak, both Czech, for climbing Chamlang (7,321m); Alan Rousseau and Tino Villanueva, both from the US, for climbing Tengi Ragi Tau (6,938m); Mark Richey, Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Graham Zimmerman, all Americans, for climbing Link Sar (7,041m); and Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima, from Japan, for climbing Rakaposhi (7,788m).
Also, Catherine Destivelle will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, having made a name for herself in mountaineering in the 1980s, before switching to sport climbing. She then moved back to the mountains and cemented her place among the pantheon of greats in the 1990s by opening a new route on the west face of the Petit Dru, above Chamonix, spending over 11 days on the mountain.
Holecek and Hak climbed the northwest face of Chamlang, in Nepal, in May 2019. They traversed the mountain and made a round-trip back to base camp. Many had tried and failed to climb the face and even for this pair it proved harder than expected. Of their six days on the mountain, they spent the last two without food, trying to make it back to the valley floor.
In October, Rousseau and Villanueva climbed the west face of Tengi Ragi Tau, also in Nepal. The pair was familiar with the mountain, having made the first ascent of a nearby peak in 2012. It was during that trip that the west face caught their imagination.
After three days of ascent on Tengi Ragi Tau, they were faced with an ice crux high on the route followed by a steep slope of unpredictable snow. The Piolets d’Or said “this technical and elegant line on one of the most outstanding unclimbed faces … was just reward for the perseverance of two experienced alpine guides”.
Richey, Swenson, Wright and Zimmerman’s ascent was in Pakistan at the end of July and start of August. There have been at least eight other attempts on Link Sar, including some by members of the successful 2019 team. Swenson’s first attempt was as far back as 2001.
It took the team six days to reach the top from base camp. But their ascent included a 36 hour wait in a storm, a 35m fall on summit day due to an avalanche and a treacherous final pitch. It then took two days to get back down.
Hiraide and Nakajima climbed the southwest face and southeast ridge of Rakaposhi, in Pakistan, at the end of June to the start July. The face had remained untouched as climbers were unable to find a route until now.
The pair first climbed the south face to acclimatise and confirm their route along the ridge. They then made for the ridge only to be caught in bad weather and were forced to wait out the storm for two days. The route was not as technical as other winners, but merits its spot on the list due to its length (3,600m) and the fact that the mountain is rarely climbed at all, let alone by this unclimbed route.