The 2017 Piolet d’Or has been awarded to Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden for a new route on Nyainqentangla and to Russians Dmitry Golovchenko, Dmitry Grigoriev and Sergey Nilov for a new route on Thalay Sagar. Press release below.

The Piolets d’Or try to bring to the “stage” a superb representation from the previous year of bold, technical, innovative, imaginative climbing, executed in what is felt as the best possible style.

Whilst competition climbing is now an Olympic sport, and has a standardized playing field, Alpinism is not, so trying to compare one fine ascent with another is at best subjective. There is also the question of commitment, and it is notable that the main ascents awarded this year went over the summit, descending by a different route, in one case over completely unknown ground.

There were many great ascents this year, and as usual there was much interesting discussion amongst jury members to arrive at a fair representation. In the end it has been decided to make only two awards of the Piolets d’Or this year, but to make also two special mentions.

Nyainqentangla is a 7,000-metre massif in central Tibet. A rarely visited mountain, with currently difficult bureaucratic access, virtually no one had seen the north side of it, let alone been there.

A distant photograph by the Japanese explorer Tom Nakamura led to the first ascent of the 1,600-metre north face of the 7,046-metre southeast summit by British climbers Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden. This was highly exploratory, technical climbing (ED+), with a tricky descent in poor weather of the previously untouched east ridge into a completely different valley system.

The second award goes to a different type of exploration; a high peak with a north face that has received many different lines, but still had remaining a virgin buttress, both elegant and direct. For the Russians, Dmitry Golovchenko, Dmitry Grigoriev and Sergey Nilov, a tried and tested team on the big mountains for half a dozen or more years, the North Buttress of 6,904-metre Thalay Sagar in the Indian Gangotri gave a really sustained alpine style ascent requiring eight bivouacs and with an overall difficulty of ED2 and pitches of 5.10a A3 WI5 M7.

And as other parties have found on the north face, one of the most taxing sections comes right at the top, climbing through the overhanging shattered shale band. From the summit the Russians then went down the normal route on the west ridge.

Thalay Sagar

Thalay Sagar

The Piolets d’Or would like to mention the ascent of a new route up the south face of Gangapurna (7,455 metres) in the Annapurna Sanctuary, by the accomplished Korean trio of Cho Seok-mun, Kim Chang-ho, and Park Joung-yong.

Although this might be seen as a direct variation on the quite remarkable and possibly little known 1981 Canadian ascent, the Korean’s style, the fact that they almost made the first ever ascent of the 7,000-metre Gangapurna West as a warm up, the speed on the face given the highly complex approach, the difficult technical climbing above 7,000 metres (overall grade of ED+), and the fact that it is the first new route at that altitude climbed by Koreans in alpine style, merits a mention.

The second is again a entirely different form of exploration, and that is the exploration of athleticism. Whilst there is no geographic exploration and the event was arguably a culmination of rehearsal, the sheer technical accomplishment of Americans Colin Haley and Alex Honnold of being able to complete the Torres Traverse in what is for more or less everyone else is an almost incomprehensible fast time, a single day, has greatly impressed much of the climbing community.

The 1981 Canadian route on Gangapurna was climbed by James Blench and John Lauchlan and was called by Chic Scott, “One of the great exploits of Canadian mountaineering.” In a year when Mount Everest was  all the media cared about, the Canadian route on Gangapurna has stood the test of time as being one of our country’s most highly regarded lines in the Himalayas.

James Blench  on Gangapurna in 1981. Photo John Lauchlan

James Blench on Gangapurna in 1981. Photo John Lauchlan