After chosing from a short list of 58 notable climbs around the world, the 2018 Piolets d’Or jury bestowed the award on Zdeněk Hák and Marek Holeček (Czech Republic) for their ascent of Gasherbrum I’s southwest face, Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima (Japan) for their ascent of the northeast face of Shispare, and Frédéric Degoulet, Benjamin Guigonnet and Hélias Millerioux (France) for their ascent of Nupste’s south face.
Chantel Astorga, Anne Gilbert Chase and Jason Thompson (USA) were awarded special mention for their first ascent of the southwest face on India’s Nilkantha (6,596 m/21,640 ft) in a route they dubbed Obscured Perception (WI5 M6 A0 70°, 1,400m). Alex Honnold also received special mention for his overall contributions to the sport during 2017.
The Czech climbers Hák and Holeček, 38 and 44, respectively, spent six days climbing Gasherbrum I’s southwest face in July of 2017, from July 25 to August 1. The pair battled up a route they named Satisfaction! (ED+ M7 WI5+ 70°, 3,000 m), summiting July 30. Though it was Holeček’s fifth attempt on the route, Hák had little high-altitude experience. He had never even summited an 8,000 meter peak before Gasherbrum I (8,080 m/26,509 ft) and the pair had never climbed together prior, outside of “three short sport climbing routes during one afternoon,” Hák said in an Alpinist article published post-ascent. Notably, one of Holeček’s former partners on the route, Zdenek Hruby, perished during their 2013 attempt after falling from a belay stance. Hruby took all the pair’s hardware and rope with him when he fell, forcing Holeček to downclimb the entire face.
Last year, however, Holeček finally conquered the face along with Hák. “Climbing the headwall took us three whole days,” he wrote in a trip report published on Planet Mountain. “Thin layers of loose snow and rotten granite proved to be a terrible combination! In some sections the actual climbing was so thin that we had to take off our gloves and look for unstable holds to pull on in order to make slow progress upwards.”
Hiraide and Nakajima of Japan claimed the first ascent of the northeast face (2,700 m) on Shispare (7,611 m/ 24,970 ft), on August 22, 2017, completing a dream Hiraide had harbored since 2002. The team found climbing up to M6 and WI5 on the route. Hiraide made four attempts on the peak, beginning in 2007 with the northeast face. He then attempted Shispare from the southwest face twice, once with Takuya Mitoro in 2012, where the pair surrendered to foul weather at 5,350 meters, and then in 2013 with Kei Taniguchi. During this attempt, Hiraide and Taniguchi Taniguchi, made it to 5,700 meters, however, “a serac high on the route terrified us, so we retreated,” Hiraide wrote in the American Alpine Journal. Taniguchi, also Hiraide’s partner on the southeast face of Kamet in India, a climb which earned a Piolet d’Or, perished in a mountaineering accident in Japan in 2015. “The sudden tragedy made me question my motivation for mountaineering,” Hiraide wrote. “At the end of much pondering, I decided to continue climbing, with her climbing alongside in spirit.” The Japanese mountaineer went on to complete a first ascent of the north face on Tibet’s Loinbo Kangri (7,095m), partnering with Nakajima, but Shispare was always in the back of his mind. “My heart was still restless,” he wrote. “I decided that I needed to settle with Shispare. If I could only climb the mountain that started it all, I could forge a new path for myself.”
The pair came to Shispare in 2017, hell-bent on climbing the peak once and for all, and summited August 22 via the virgin northeast face, after stashing their gear 400 meters below the summit and continuing under snowfall with one rope, a minimal set of pro, and a bit of food. “There’s no view, and we’re worried about the way down,” Nakajima wrote of the summit in the American Alpine Journal. “Hiraide’s frozen beard makes him look like Santa Claus. We make a quick phone call, and he scrapes a hole in the snow and places a photo of Kei Taniguchi inside it, and then we start down right away.” Navigating via compass, the pair managed to find their cache just before dark, descending the next day via the east face, amidst a blizzard. “Arriving at base camp … is much, much more emotional than reaching the summit,” wrote Nakajima. “We are off the mountain—alive.”
The third Piolet d’Or went to Frédéric Degoulet, Benjamin Guigonnet and Hélias Millerioux, Le Gang des Moustaches (Moustache Gang), three Frenchmen united by their belief in the good fortune brought by hairy upper lips. They completed their six day ascent of Nuptse II’s south face (M5+ WI6, 65°) on October 21, after summiting on the 19th. The route clocked in at 2,200 meters (the peak measures is 7,742 m/ 25,659 ft at the top). The trio became famous for their 2014 first ascent of the west face of Peru’s Siula Chico (6265m), Looking for the Void (M7 WI6 R, 865 m).
Guigonnet and Millerioux first attempted the Nuptse line in 2015 but were rebuffed. “The face was too dry,” Millerioux said in an Outdoor Journal article. “Lots of rockfall and icefall. It was a very warm year. We decided not to try the project because it was too dangerous.” Still, Millerioux continued, “When we finished in 2015, we said, ‘We have to come back.’ The wall is like a magnet.” In 2016, they did return, along with Revest and Degoulet. Though the three Mustachios were all together for this attempt and conditions were near perfect, again they were defeated. The quartet pushed to within a few hundred meters of the top, but daylight was spent and they worried they wouldn’t be able to make it back to their last camp safely.
In 2017, sans-Revest, they returned to knock the peak off once and for all. Though conditions were in worse shape than 2016, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. “The whole route was super dangerous this year,” Millerioux said in The Outdoor Journal. “We accepted a lot of risk. We’re all mountain guides in France, and in the Alps I would never accept that same level of risk.” Still, they managed to summit after a six day push. Degoulet reported 11 pitches of WI5 on the Nuptse route, including some WI6, along with several more technical pitches at slightly easier grades. Though Millerioux was struck by a large falling rock during the descent, injuring his arm, the trio managed to safely descend, claiming the first ascent of the peak’s south face.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Slovenian alpinist Andrej Štremfelj. More can be read about Štremfelj and the award here. The jury for the 2018 Piolet’s d’Or consisted of Valeri Babanov, Kelly Cordes, Jordi Corominas, Mick Fowler, Yannick Graziani, Silvo Karo and Raphael Slawinsky. The award ceremony will be held September 20-23 in Ladek-Zdroj, Poland. -Owen Clarke