The 2014 Piolets d'Or will take place in Chamonix and Courmayeur from March 26-29, and this year's jury has just announced its nominations for the awards.
In 2014 the jury of the Piolets d'Or comprises six members, some of whom will be very familiar to British climbers, others less so. But all provide very valuable input into the decision process.
President is the noted American mountaineer George Lowe, who needs little introduction. Although a physicist by profession, Lowe has made some remarkable climbs, including new routes on Everest, Hunter and Foraker. However, he believes that one of his best achievements was the historic first attempt on the North Ridge of Latok I, with Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy and cousin Jeff Lowe, which almost reached the summit.
Both Catherine Destivelle and Denis Urubko also need little in the way of introduction, Destivelle in her day the pre-eminent French female climber, and Urubko, himself the recipient of a Piolet d'Or, one of today's masters of high altitude mountaineering.
The Korean Sung-muk Lim is an editor with the main Korean mountaineering magazine Man and Mountains, and has climbed a number of new routes in Pakistan, notably on Great Trango Tower.
Karin Steinbach from Germany is an alpinist, author and journalist, who has written biographies of Peter Habeler, Ines Papert and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, as well as a book on women mountaineers.
Erri de Luca is extremely well known to aficionados of Italian literature. Perhaps not so well known is that he was the first 50-year old to redpoint 8b, has climbed extensively in the Dolomites, and travelled in the Himalaya.
This six-member jury, working with the Piolets d'Or technical committee, has nominated the following ascents from 2013
The first ascent of Khunyang Chhish East (7,400m) in Pakistan. Simon Anthamatten (Switzerland), Hansjörg and Matthias Auer (Austria) climbed the mixed 2,700m southwest face of this rather coveted Hispar peak, with difficulties that Anthamattten rationalized were M4/5 at 7,000m.
Also in Pakistan, the first ascent of another previously tried summit, K6 West (7,040m). Rafael Slawinski and Ian Welsted (Canada) climbed the northwest face and west ridge in five days from the Charakusa Glacier. A further day was needed for descent. Above a complex glacier approach the route gave 1,800m of technical climbing up to WI4+ M6+, while the complete ascent from base camp involved a vertical gain of ca 2,700m.
The first ascent of the north face of Talung (7,439m), a summit situated immediately south of Kangchenjunga in Nepal, was completed by Czechs Marek Holecek and Zdenek Hruby. This side of the mountain, previously the target of several attempts, gives a challenging 2,000m of vertical ascent and was climbed in four and a half days with difficulties rated WI6 M6+. Another one and half days were need to descend the west face, so making a traverse of the mountain. Sadly, only one of the party will be present at the award ceremony, as shortly after this ascent Zdenek Hruby died on Gasherbrum I.
Also in Nepal, the first ascent of a new route on the south face of Annapurna I (8,091m). Although estimates on the height of this face vary, 2,700m is a good average. The previously attempted central couloir/depression right of the 1970 British south pillar was climbed, up and down, in a remarkable 28 hours round trip from advanced base by the Swiss Ueli Steck
The jury wanted to encompass the diversity of climbing and not solely concentrate on the cutting edge Himalayan/Karakoram ascents. It therefore chose to nominate one of the notable successes not taking place at high altitude.
For this it chose the first ascent of the northeast buttress and north ridge of Mount Laurens (3,052m) in Alaska. Mark Allen (USA) and Graham Zimmerman (USA/New Zealand) made only the second ascent of this remote peak on the Lacuna Glacier south of Foraker. They made two bivouacs on this 1,400m climb rated V AI4 M7 A1. Their ascent, and subsequent descent via the east face, was completed in a total of 67 hours.
These are the five nominations for 2014. However, the jury has also chosen to make a Special Mention of the ascent of Annapurna south face by Stéphane Benoist and Yannick Graziani (France). A week or so after Ueli Steck's ascent, this pair chose to follow the same line, with a different start a number of variants through the headwall. Some sections of M5+/M6 were reported above 7,000m, and M4/M5 at around 7,500m. The descent proved taxing with Benoist suffering from a lung infection. The jury singled out this adventurous climb primarily for the team spirit that forced a successful conclusion.
Last, but not least, is the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award (Piolet d'Or Carrière), which will be presented to John Roskelly. The highly acclaimed American mountaineer is the sixth to receive this prestigious honour, after Walter Bonatti, Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Robert Paragot, and Kurt Diemberger.
Roskelly was instrumental in pioneering modern Himalayan ethics during the 1970s and 80s.
From his many notable achievements, some of the most outstanding are the first ascent of Uli Biaho Tower, which many feel was possibly the first US VII big wall in the Himalaya/Karakoram, the first ascent of Gaurishankar, arguably the hardest technical climb achieved in the Himalaya at that time, and possibly the hardest technical route ever climbed to make the first ascent of a major Himalayan peak, and the unrepeated and highly difficulty East Face of Tawoche.
But one should also remember that he made the third ascent of K2, via a new route, and without oxygen, only four months after Messner and Habeler's historic oxygenless ascent of Everest, and he also completed the difficult first ascent of the northwest face and north ridge of Nanda Devi, which featured hard rock climbing at high altitude.