Piolets d'Or 2014

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The Piolets d'Or 2014 mountaineering awards were announced at a ceremony in Courmayeur on 29 March. The winning climbs were the first ascent of K6 West (Karakoram, Pakistan) by Raphael Slawinsky and Ian Welsted, and the first ascent, solo, of the South Face Direct on Annapurna (Himalaya, Nepal) by Ueli Steck.

Stephane Benoist and Yannick Graziani received a special mention from the jury for their repeat of the South Face Direct of Annapurna shortly after Steck's ascent.

A Lifetime Achievement award was given to US climber John Roskelley. His climbs include the first ascent of Great Trango in 1977, the first ascent of Uli Biaho Tower in 1979 and new routes on Nanda Devi and K2.

This year's Piolets d'Or winners were picked from a short-list of five ascents nominated out of 76 climbs identified by as more or less meeting the Piolets d'Or criteria. The other nominated climbs were Kunyang Chhish East (Karakoram, Pakistan), climbed by Simon Anthamatten, Hansjörg Auer and Matthias Auer; the north face of Talung (Himalaya, Nepal), climbed by Marek Holeček, and Zdeněk Hrubý; and a new route on Mount Laurens (Alaska) climbed by Mark Allen and Graham Zimmerman.

The winners were picked by an international jury of 6 mountaineers - George Lowe (US, president of the jury), Erri de Luca (Italy), Catherine Destivelle (France), Denis Urubko (Russia), Sungmuk Lim (Korea) and Karin Steinbach (Germany).

Against the whole spirit of Alpinism

Last year's Piolets d'Or ceremony sparked controversy when the jury, presided over by British climber Stephen Venables, gave the award jointly to all 6 nominated ascents. The editors of Montagnes and Vertical magazines complained that this decision devalued the prize, and resigned from the Piolets d'Or Steering Committee.

Stephen Venables later wrote a pull-no-punches response saying that to choose a single winner "goes completely against the whole spirit of alpinism." He said that the jury had taken "a deliberate decision, agreed unanimously, to suggest what we felt should be the future direction of the event, representing the best traditions of alpinism."

This year's jury president, George Lowe, mindful no doubt of the thin ice beneath his feet, said "personally I would have preferred giving the award to all five nominations, but the decision of the jury was a democratic compromise."

There probably won't be too many complaints this time. K6 West was a long-standing mountaineering challenge that Slawinsky and Welsted solved through a mix of boldness and careful judgement. For the jury, as well as for the climbers themselves, the ascent was in part a gesture of solidarity with the Pakistani climbing scene (and the Pakistani climbing industry), devastated by the massacre of 11 people at Nanga Parbat base camp last summer.

And Ueli Steck's solo of the south face of Annapurna was simply the stuff of legend.