The 2011 Piolets d’Or and Where We Go Next

You’ve probably heard about the winners of the 2011 Piolet d’Or by now. Two expeditions received the Golden Ice Axe: One team of climbers from various nations sailed around Greenland’s coast and climbed almost a dozen of its big walls and another team, a Japanese duo, ascended an unclimbed wall on Mount Logan (19,551 ft./5,959 m.) The award has been given annually since the early 1990s “to publicise the greatest ascents achieved in the mountains the world over, and given recognition to climbers of all nationalities for their individual or team ventures.”

The award is presented by the mountaineering organization Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM), the publishing house of Montagnes Magazine and Vertical and the Regional Authority of the Aosta Valley. In analyzing their selection, they have emphasized style and approach above much else. Specifically, they highly valued the ability to climb cleanly, without bolts or pitons, and to traverse the massifs once atop.

Greenland Big Walls Sailing Expedition

The Greenland Sailing expedition is inspiring for the carefree nature these climbers took even along the way to excelling at climbing alpine style. Much has been published on this expedition, thanks largely to Patagonia’s production crews. Patagonia projects the carefree vagabond adventure that in the videos that it is well known for in its catalog. The journey borders on the whimsical, and combined with the credible climbing accomplished, is why this team won a Piolet d’Or this year.

First Ascent of Southeast Face of Mount Logan

The other group that also won the 2011 award has been less heralded. In May 2010, members of the so-called Giri-Giri boys, Yasushi Okada and Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama, from Japan sended a new line to the top of Mount Logan. Because this line was previously unclimbed on a major peak — the highest mountain in Canada and the second highest in North America — the route was referred to as one of the last (and possibly final) great problem.

These climbers did not get up this wall in one massive 48 hour push like Mark Twight or Barry Blanchard are known for on other ascents, mainly because the conditions and the challenge were so severe. The southeast face is a massive, steep slope of snow, ice and rock, 8,200 ft./2,500 m. high. They climbed alpine-style en route to the summit crest, reached the East Summit (19,357 ft./5,900 m.) and descended by the East Ridge.

This ascent was deserving a 2011 Piolet d’Or. The route had been attempted in the past couple of decades, including two attempts by Alaskan mountaineering specialist Jack Tackle, who is the 2009-11 Treasurer of the American Alpine Club and according to the American Alpine Journal has 28 Alaskan expeditions on his resume. This climb was significant for reasons of the size of the challenge, the clean climbing they employed and, probably, a little bit of sentimentality for new routes on the bigger mountains (which doesn’t diminish the accomplishment or its status.)

There are some decent photos from the ascent on this webpage.

What’s Next in Climbing?

From here, the feats of mountaineering only get more interesting, not less. The next round of great climbs will be all about refining the ascents and first in categories, such as the first ascent by a woman or by other nationalities of alpinists. It will also be about style and approach.

Well, thanks again for visiting. I’ll get back to posting at least twice per week just as soon as I get settled into my new position at my day job. In the mean time, I will try to complete the two posts suggested by some of you, my readers, soon as well.

Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter.


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