Piolets d’Or: Interview With Winner Archil Badriashvili

Georgians Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili, and Giorgi Tepnadze have won this year’s Piolet d’Or for their first ascent of 7,300m Saraghrar Northwest in the remote Hindu Kush. The Jury also awarded a golden ice ax to Belgium’s Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll for his solo traverse of the Fitz Roy massif.

Yesterday, we spoke to Archil Badriashvili. “It the biggest recognition of [Georgia’s] mountaineering culture since its independence,” Archil Badriashvili told Explorersweb. “The prize goes to the entire country.”

This is the first time that Georgian climbers have received a Piolet d’Or.

Award to exploratory alpinism values

The Georgians’ Saraghrar expedition, one of ExplorersWeb’s top expeditions of 2021, epitomized exploratory alpinism. Said the Piolet d’Or committee’s press release:

“The Jury felt the choice of a high unclimbed peak in a less well-known area, a conventional fair-means approach, a previously unattempted face, a small team, a long climb in pure alpine style with significant technical difficulties above 6,200m, and a crux section between 6,750m and 7,000m, and the need for a high level of commitment, all exemplify the Piolet d’Or Charter.”

Added Badriashvili: “It’s about finding new horizons and trying different ways to approach our old goals while not losing the simplicity inherent to alpine-style climbing.”

 

He went on: “Strangely, most media attention, even nowadays, focuses on  achievements related to mountain tourism…more with double standards than fair means, like those leaving their litter on the mountain.”

Georgian heroes

The award put the climbers on national television in Georgia, and climbing fans cheered as if their country had won a World Cup. Badriashvili hopes that the award and its attention will help promote mountaineering in the country.

A red line marks the route opened by the Georgians

The Georgian route on Saraghrar Northwest. Photo: Archil Vadriashvili/AAJ

Another Piolet d’Or for Patagonia solo traverse

The Georgians will share the glory with Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, who also won for his impressive solo Fitz Roy massif traverse.

The climb involved five horizontal kilometres and over 4,000m of total elevation gain over the massif’s 10 spires: Aguja de l‘S, over Aguja de Saint Exupéry, Aguja Rafael Juárez, Aguja Poincenot, Aguja Kakito, Cerro Fitz Roy, Aguja Val Biois, Aguja Mermoz, Aguja Guillaumet Sur, and finally Aguja Guillaumet.

Villanueva O’Driscoll completed the traverse despite a core-shot rope, a broken haul bag, some camps lost into the void, and a new definition of solo. He was absolutely, unexpectedly alone amid the Patagonian spires as most of the world endured the COVID lockdown.

The Moonwalk traverse by O’Driscoll with topos and notes by Rolando Garibotti/Patagonia Vertical

 

“He climbed free, mostly on-sight, and self-belayed with a Grigri on all
but the easiest (scrambling) pitches, resulting in him covering most of the ground
three times,” the Piolet d’Or jury noted.

“This was an elegant and sustained line, which had been attempted or
conceived by several parties, although no one appears to have considered it for a
solo outing — an adventure unattainable for most climbers.”

They added that his feat combined outstanding style, technical climbing, endurance, mental commitment, and considerable Patagonian experience.

 

Annapurna III jury prize comes with controversy

Finally, the Ukrainian team who achieved the first ascent of the SE ridge of Annapurna III received a jury prize. But the committee added a controversial postscript: “While such an ascent should clearly be awarded, certain aspects do not comply with the Piolet d’Or Charter.” They were referring to the use of a helicopter into and out of base camp.

Yet the airlift was not a whim. It was the only choice both for the Ukrainians and for the four previous expeditions that had attempted that face. Several landslides had made it inaccessible by foot.

There is much to say about the use of helicopters in the Greater Ranges, both for commercial teams and small alpine-style expeditions. We have asked the Ukrainian expedition leader, Mikhail Fomin, to comment for an upcoming story about this issue.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.