Piolets d’Or Winners Announced

Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies
Overview of the Emperor Face of Mount Robson, with Berg Lake at its foot. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Each year, the Piolets d’Or awards, mountaineering’s highest honor, are given for alpine-style achievements realized in the previous year. Long considered the foremost evaluator of mountaineering performance, it recognizes figures who best embody the pure alpinist ethos: fastidiousness, fortitude, and respect toward nature.

Recipients will gather in Briancon, France from November 26-29 for the formal award ceremony, but the committee has announced its honorees ahead of the in-person event:

To reflect the mountaineering activity of 2020, the 2021 Piolets d’Or International Jury has decided to award one altitude and one non-altitude ascent, both, in different ways, meeting our high mountaineering values.

Following, the Piolets d’Or recipients for 2021.

‘Revers Gagnant’ on Sani Pakkush

The south face of Sani Pakkush. Photo: Shutterstock

The south face of Sani Pakkush. Photo: Shutterstock

From October 16-19, 2020, French alpinists Pierrick Fine and Symon Welfringer executed the push up Revers Gagnant (ca 2,500m, M4+ WI4+ 90°)  on the previously untouched south face and southwest ridge of Sani Pakkush (6,952m), in the remote Tolltar Valley region of Pakistan.

The mission was thoroughly exploratory: There were no records of attempts up or surveys of the glacial south face of Sani Pakkush. Furthermore, October is typically too late in the season to attempt high-altitude climbing in Pakistan. The two men had chosen to risk it by force of the pandemic. Pakistan was the only country with expeditionary climbing that permitted entrants at the time.

After two weeks of acclimatization, and in the midst of a frigid but clean weather window, the climbers started up. They followed the mixed face’s far-left spur from their 4,100m base camp. After three full days, they nabbed the ascent and rapped down to safety. The 2,500m-long line goes at M4+ WI4+, with 90-degree sections.

‘Running in the Shadows’ on Mount Robson

Running in the Shadows route on Mt Robson

‘Running in the Shadows’ on the Emperor Face of Mount Robson. Photo: Ethan Berman

Between September 30 and October 1, 2020, an American/British team of Ethan Berman and Uisdea Hawthorn put up Running in the Shadows (2,300m, US VI, M6 AI5 A0) on the northwest, Emperor Face of Mount Robson.

The Piolets d’Or committee reports, “All technical climbing was on new terrain, with the hard pitches through thinly iced, steep rock barriers that often had a very Scottish feel. Next day, in poor weather with bad visibility, they made a complex one-kilometre traverse along the west flank of the Emperor Ridge to gain the summit.”

The iconic peak, the highest in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954m, boasts some of North America’s most revered low-altitude multi-pitch routes. The Emperor Face is the biggest mixed substrate wall in the Rockies and received development attention in the late 1970s.

Fun fact: Berman and Hawthorn were only the second team (and the first for almost 40 years) to summit a new line on the face without catching a helicopter ride in or out.

Special honoree: Silvia Vidal

Silvia Vidal is the Piolets d’Or special mention honoree for her contributions to big wall route development. Vidal is best known as a prolific solo big-wall specialist. Over the past 20-plus years, the Spaniard has climbed big-wall and capsule-style routes the world over — Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, Chile, India, Mali, Pakistan, and Peru.

In 2020, Vidal single-handedly established Sincronia Magica in El Chileno Grande, Chile (1,180m, 6a+ A3+). Development of the aid route demanded 49 days. Vidal used 16 days to ferry supplies and prepare the site, and 33 days to climb the wall.

In its dedication, the Piolets d’Or jury wrote: “Her most notable ascents have been achieved mainly in total autonomy: entirely alone, no radio, no mobile, no GPS, no weather forecasts, no communication. Drilling tends to be minimal, and always by hand.”

Silvia Vidal’s remarkable solo ascents include:

  • Life is Lilac (870m, 6a A4+), Shipton Spire, Pakistan – 2007
  • Naufragi (1,050m, 6a+ A4+), Raldang, India – 2010
  • Espiadimonis (1,500m, 6b A4), Serrinia Avalancha, Chile – 2012
  • Un Pas Més (530m, 6a A4+), Xanadu, Alaska – 2017

For more information on the awards, past and present recipients, and more, head to pioletsdor.net.

Emblem of the Piolets d’Or, or Golden Ice Axes.

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About the Author

Jilli Cluff

Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college.
After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life.
She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network.
She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago

Stunning photo of Mt. Robson, I hope to see it someday.

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