Two Washington climbers are just returning from France and Italy, where they were finalists for the prestigious Piolet d’Or (French for “Golden Ice Axe”), a juried climbing award given by the French magazine Montagnes (“Mountains”) and The Groupe de Haute Mantagne since 1991.
The award recognizes a particular mountain climb for originality, innovative nature of the ascent, respect for the mountains and other criteria. Controversy has arisen at times over the award’s injection of competition into alpinism and the difficulty in quantifying climbing accomplishments.
But to be a finalist is considered a significant achievement in the mountaineering world, likened to the Academy Awards of filmdom.
Graham Zimmerman, 28, of Seattle, and Mark Allen, 35, of Mazama, Okanogan County, were nominated for their May 2013 first ascent of the Northeast Buttress of Alaska’s 10,042-foot Mount Laurens, off the southwest fork of the Lacuna Glacier.
According to Seattle-based Outdoor Research, which sponsors the climbers, the pair made two unsuccessful attempts on the East Buttress before starting up the Northeast Buttress. After two bivouacs and negotiating unprotected climbing and large cornices, they reached the top for the peak’s second ascent. The climb took 67 hours. See Zimmerman’s account of the climb here.
The Piolet d’Or traditionally goes to climbers who’ve made ascents requiring a high technical ability and commitment level, in alpine-style — meaning a small climbing team moving light and fast with no outside support and leaving terrain unmarred.
The Washington climbers’ ascent of Mount Laurens was the only climb nominated this year outside of Nepal and Pakistan. The 2014 award was given March 29 to two ascents: the northwest face of Pakistan’s K6, climbed by Raphael Slawinsky and Ian Welsted, of Canada, and the south face of Nepal’s Annapurna, climbed solo by Ueli Steck, of Switzerland.