Climbing has always been a sport that has venerated its pioneers, ambassadors and overachievers, and the 23rd Piolets d'Or celebrations in Chamonix and Courmayeur have done it in style.
Festivities kicked off by paying homage to one of the giants, Jeff Lowe, with a screening of his film 'Metanoia' here in Chamonix, before Friday night saw this year's winners introduced to the kind of crowd you'd expect in the home of alpinism.
Saturday 11th April saw the Official Awards Ceremony take place at the Palanoir Cinema in Courmayeur in the shadow of Monte Bianco.
The event was scheduled for 9pm but the piazzetta was bustling long before with a diverse crowd. Ubiquitous cameramen, the well-dressed and the dirtbags mingled with representatives of the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) in their traditional garb. The diversity of dress extended to the Piolets d'Or winners, and whether suited or climbing-booted, they all had one thing in common; the legends of climbing without exception seemed humbled to be there.
We caught up with Tommy Caldwell, who is pretty much a household name after his Dawn Wall ascent was widely covered by the mainstream media. He told us "I never thought I'd be in this place, being mostly a rock climber, and now I'm here with some of my all time heroes. It's a huge honour."
Caldwell, along with Alex Honnold who could not attend, was honoured for his traverse of the Fitz Roy range in Patagonia, and in a gesture of huge respect for those mountains, has named his son Fitz.
The audience were treated to more insight as Russian climbers Aleksander Gukov and Aleksey Lonchinskiy - awarded a Piolet d'Or for their first ascent of the 1,620m high Southwest Face of Thamserku - revealed they had originally intended to climb the north face but were beaten to it by a Japanese team even as they were travelling to Nepal. Their guide suggested they could attempt the second ascent, but the Russians replied "No, we want a Piolet d'Or"!! They then spent hours on Google Earth in Kathmandu to research this alternative route; time well spent.
The third team to be recognised were Ales Cesen, Luka Lindic and Marko Prezelj of Slovenia for the first ascent of the 1,350m North face of Hagshu in the Indian Himalaya. This difficult ascent on bullet hard 90 degree ice took far longer than expected and resulted in the team climbing until 2am on the first day in search of a place to bivvy. The achievement represents Marko's third Piolet d'Or and his reaction focussed primarily on the value of passing on his experience to his two much younger climbing partners.
Arguably the highlight of the evening was a poignant film featuring the Piolet d'Or Carriere winner, Sir Chris Bonington. A visibly moved Bonington talked openly for 20 minutes on all the widely-discussed issues of climbing. Despite being over 80 years old, Bonington sees the world with the elegant simplicity of a child - reducing these complex philosophical questions of risk, motivation and ego to their most basic parts. This world view moved the audience as much as the glimpse of his heart on his sleeve.
Upon being presented with his award by long-time friend, and previous Piolet d'Or recipient Doug Scott, Bonington said simply "I'm an emotional old soul." And what meant the most to him about the award was that it was "from all my peers and friends."
- Festival / Fiesta