Monthly Archives: April 2011

North Face of Les Droites: Richard Cranium Memorial

Two vids of the Richard Cranium Memorial, a route that Barry Blanchard and Mark Twight’s put up on the North Face of Les Droites in 1991. They rated the route IV, 5, 5c, 800m, 85˚ max.

Both of these vids were posted in 2011: TVMountain in February, Roelandvanoss just a few days ago in April. Interesting to compare the differences in route conditions, climbing styles, amount of sunlight, etc.


Climbing Porn Smackdown: Ueli Steck vs Fred Beckey

Since we’re all caught up in the heady competitive spirit of last week I thought I might as well throw in this bit of one-upmanship and ask if anyone else out there finds it an unlikely coincidence that the two vids arrived at about the same time. I smell a smackdown…

In  the blue corner, weighing in at 80 kilos…

In the red corner, weighing in at 165 pounds…

Which one blows your hair back? Both, either, neither. Would your answer be the same if the soundtracks were switched? The one thing that’s clear is that you have to be a driven individual to put up speed records like Ueli or as many new routes as Fred. With that in mind, if Steck and Beckey met in a dark, deserted, iced-up chimney, and each stood in the other’s way of a new route (or speed record) would they be tied in as they emerged from the top? Would either of them be bleeding?

19e Piolets d’Or Awards, or … The Night I Partied With Walter #Tigerblood Bonatti

19e Piolets dOr recipients with president of the jury Greg Child (far right)

The 19e Piolets d’Or happened this weekend and if you’re the kind of person who likes to hear stories of the triumph of the human spirit over impossible odds, all from the comfort of a well-appointed, air-conditioned ballroom then Chamonix was the place to be. This year’s Piolets d’Or went to…

Katsutaka Yokoyama and Yasushi Okada for their route on the  southeast face of Mount Logan called I-TO (ED+, WI5, M6, 2500m)


Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Ben Ditto and Captain Bob Shepton for nine new big wall routes in Greenland’s south coast including Devil’s Brew (7c, 850m).

Fine job gentlemen. Full respect for all the imagination, creativity, persistence, strength, courage, luck and grit this hard-earned award represents. How the highly-qualified jury was able to select just two teams to receive Piolets d’Or from the group of six extraordinary nominees I’ll never know. But then again I guess that’s just one of the many reasons I wasn’t invited to be on the jury. But don’t think for a minute that’s going to stop me from presenting my own darn awards…

Thanks, But No Thanks award

Kyle Dempster, Bruce Logan

Mt. Edgar, east face, The Rose of No Man’s Land (WI5, M6, 1100m) – What makes two seemingly clear-thinking individuals like Kyle Dempster and Bruce Normand want to march into the shooting gallery that killed Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson just two years earlier and think they can come back alive? Whatever it is, they were right. The two completed their route, the first on the east face of China’s Mount Edgar, in eight days and returned home with all the body parts they walked in with. Amazing, considering the objective dangers these two faced just getting on and off the climb. When one jury member asked if he would ever consider repeating the route, Dempster’s face dropped into an astonished look that clearly read, ‘Have you not been listening to everything we just said?’ but left it with a simple, “Um, no.”

Kyle Dempster: As we were descending on Day 7, having already dealt with so much objective danger throughout the climb,  we got lost and stumbled out the wrong gully and just started walking out this disgusting, heavily-broken glacier with tons of crevasses everywhere. And as we got further and further down it started getting warmer and warmer and wetter and wetter, foggy and cloudy, rain or snow or both. And there was just instability everywhere, steep granite walls all around us, rock slides, threat everywhere whether it was snow avalanche, rock slide or falling in a crevasse. The anchors for rappels got shittier and more difficult to find and we’re like V-threading off a serac and when you’re that tired you sort of become … less caring. Just kind of over the danger and unable to really engage  anymore.

Bruce Normand: For me, the biggest question mark was on Day 5, that day where we were heading up on the last of the technical climbing and the ice was becoming more and more broken. I was spending more time looking down the mountain at all this horrible stuff we had just come up – a few hundred meters down the really technical stuff, a few hundred meters down the low angle ice, and another few thousand meters down the serac drainage gully and out the stream beds that spit rocks at you – and thinking how going back down didn’t seem terribly appealing. Kyle was on the lead and the ice was getting more broken and he had to spend more time cleaning it off and dry tooling the rock beneath. And it was starting to look like we might not find a line at all and that we would have to run the same gauntlet that we’d had to pass to get in. For me, that was the day that was mentally the most difficult, not sure whether we would make it or not.

The day that got Kyle’s goat was Day 7, going down through the broken glacier, when we ended up at 4300 meters, stuck on a ledge with no obvious thread. The ropes were icing and I was starting to clean them while Kyle was scouting for places to abseil off and all you could see were these slabs going down into the mist and slabs going up into the mist and we didn’t know what was about to fall on us. We had a little snow ledge that was covered in crap and he set up another sling, pulled on it, and it blew so it was like ‘OK, we’re not going any further tonight.’

Colin Haley, Bjørn-Eivind Årtun

Mt. Foraker, southeast face, Dracula (M6 R, AI4+, A0, 3200m) – After a long spell of bad weather, Colin Haley and Bjørn-Eivind Årtun left their base camp and headed up the 3200m southeast face of Mt Foraker … without bivvy gear. Their 71-hour push resulted in Dracula (M6, AI4+, A0, 3200m).

Bjorn-Eivind: “There were two critical moments. One was when we had to decide whether to go or not because it was a short weather window: one-and-a-half days. We could have easily decided not to go but we’d had bad weather for 30 days and we were hungry. We’d also already decided to do it in a single push and counting the hours, and based on our experience on Hunter the year before, I knew we could do it.

The second critical moment came on the descent after we summitted and descended the East Ridge. We’d been moving 35 or 36 hours when we took shelter in a crevasse to eat and brew up. After an hour, we emerged from the crevasse into a full-on blizzard. We had expected it to descend upon us slowly but it was like, bam! There was no visibility, we had problems standing up and I almost walked off a big cornice. So this is a really remote area, it’s far from base camp, we had no food, we had no sleeping bags, but the weather was just crazy. We weren’t going anywhere. So we decided to dig in and wait. But we had no bivvy gear, we had half a canister of gas, some nuts, no sleeping pad, no sleeping bag. And this is kind of … we had a sense of humor about it, not feeling very stressed but we had this sense of standing on the brink of the possibility that we would either stay here for a long time with no bivvy gear or have an incredible fight to get down. So … phew … So that’s what we did, always moving in and out to check for a clearing, we just needed a little bit of visibility to find our way down an alternate route. I wasn’t directly scared but for me it was the closest I’ve ever come to thinking this was maybe a little out of control. But we never panicked and that’s important because if you’re calm then you’re in control of the situation. The critical moment comes when you realize there is the possibility of real suffering or freezing to death if the storm lasts. But this option is always there on big climbs. In the end we made it down and it didn’t result in any big epic for us – especially compared to what Doug Scott [this year’s Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award winner] went through, breaking both legs and taking eight days to crawl down The Ogre – I mean, pffft, this is nothing.”

19the Piolets d'Or Katsutaka Yokoyama Yasushi Okada

Katsutaka Yokoyama, Yasushi Okada. Giri Gir Boys represent.

Mt Logan, southeast face, I-TO (ED+, WI5, M6, 2500m) – To put Katsutaka Yokoyama and Yasushi Okada‘s new route on Mount Logan  into perspective, try to wrap  your head around the fact that their acclimatization climb alone was 60 frikkin kilometers long. Yep, you read it right, that was the warmup. So with that in mind, try to envision a point in the middle of this massive, remote face, two totally exhausted climbers, weather threatening and unknown terrain ahead…

Katsutaka Yokoyama: “From base camp we had been moving for four days. The sky was perfectly blue but we were worried that it would be getting worse very soon. So we had a long discussion about whether we should go up or down. We didn’t have any idea what was above us and because we had been climbing for so long we were super exhausted by that time – we hadn’t been able to sleep at all and we’d eaten very little. So probably the reason we were so nervous and so afraid and had such hesitation is because we were so exhausted. If the weather got bad there was the strong possibility we would really suffer. Yasushi thought for a bit, then shouted at me, “We’re going!”

ChamonixInsider: “What’s next for you guys?”                                                                Katsutaka: “Cigarette.”

Gotta love the Giri-Giri boys.

You Really Shoulda Been There award

Paul Figg, Malcolm Bass

Vasuki Parbat, west face (M6, 1600m) – While the Piolets d’Or tends to be dominated by professional climbers who have the luxury of climbing full-time throughout the year, working stiffs Malcolm Bass’s (a clinical psychologist) and Paul Figg‘s (an arborist) gorgeous new route on the west face of Vasuki Parbat (M6, 1600m) was accomplished in the kind of perfect weather conditions that all Brits hope for when they leave on their summer holiday. The pair’s unabashedly enthusiastic description of the route and typical British downplaying of the sustained mixed difficulties made me wish I’d been along for the ride on this one although the reality is that I probably would have been left at the bottom of the route crying for mama.

Malcolm Bass: “The critical moment for me was when we saw the route, thought about it for a little while – it had been failed on by two really, really good British alpinists – and I made the decision that we were gong to climb it. Once I made that decision I trained really hard for it and I was absolutely, bloody determined that we were going to do it if we got the weather for it. I’ve not felt that way about every other climb that I’ve done in my life, I’ve never had that absolute sense of certain determination that it was going to get done.”

Sébastien Ratel, Mathieu Détrie, Mathieu Maynadier

Lunag I, Southeast Face, Close the Door (IV/5, 5, 1200m) – All I can say is that it’s a bittersweet tribute to a team when their fantastic effort on a big peak in Nepal is recognized by the international climbing community but one of the teammates is not there to receive it. Max Belleville, Mathieu Détrie, Mathieu Maynadier and Sébastien Ratel climbed a beautiful, all-time route in great style. Although Max died tragically in an accident on the Vallée Blanche this spring, Mathieu, Mathieu and Sébastien represented their team with strength and grace.

Mathieu Détrie: It’s a good moment. It’s interesting to meet the other teams and other people. It’s good for promoting alpinism in general. It’s great.

Sébastien Ratel: I think the most important thing is that we can talk about modern alpinism, with fresh ideas and good feeling. That’s more important than the award.

Initially, the Te Crew was started by five local boys from Chamonix. But now they have opened it to other guys who have the same spirit. It’s good, because we are young and we can all share expensive equipment like the phone, the portaledge, and the bags.

The Climb That Looked Like One Helluva a Good Time award

Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Sean Villanueva ODriscoll, Ben Ditto, Bob Shepton

Greenland big wallsNicolas and Olivier Favresse, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and Ben Ditto are four of the nicest, most fun-loving guys you’ll ever meet. Throw them in a 10-meter sailboat captained by an animated 75-year-old Scottish priest, point the boat in the direction of an amazing passage from the west to the south coast of Greenland, bring musical instruments up the wall for late afternoon jam sessions, tack on a post-climb trans-Atlantic crossing for good measure and this adventure almost looked like too much fun to be considered alpinism. And it should be noted that as juror Simon Anthamatten pointed out, if the Favresse brothers rate a pitch 7c you best be prepared for 8a.

Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll: “It feels great, we just can’t believe it really.  Obviously, we don’t do these climbs for this kind of reward or anything, the best prize is obviously the climb. But it’s a big surprise for us and it definitely feels nice for us to get the recognition. It’s also kind of like a message for the future of climbing and alpinism in general about how the style will be in the future. All the teams that were nominated here used really nice style on really nice ascents and it’s great to see that the values promoted in this event – like team spirit, respect for the mountain, and clean, alpine [style] pushes – are really good values. Another thing is the communication and recognition that we can share with the general public about what we do. Because we don’t climb 8000-meter peaks the big media doesn’t know what we’re doing, but a prize like this helps bring attention to it.

Ben Ditto: It shows the fun side of it. [Climbing] is not just about the suffering and the manliness. [For us] it’s more like going out and having a good time and seeing what happens.

Mission accomplished, gentlemen.

Long Overdue Award

Sir Chris Bonington Lifetime Achievement Award Doug Scott

Sir Chris Bonington presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Doug Scott. ‘Nuf said.

La Ginat, Les Droites

Matthias Scherer. Photo: Tanja Schmitt

Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard enough of your moaning about what a poopy season it’s been because of the lack of snow. Well, amigos, if you use your imagination a bit you’ll see that this year’s low tide has been nothing but pure joy from the climbers in the crew. However, before you grab your eis pickels and head out for a quick scamper up Les Droites you might want to ponder the words of François Damilano. In his guidebook Neige, Glace et Mixte he states, “An ascent of any of the routes on this face is a milestone in any mountaineer’s career.”

La Ginat (IV, 5)

But if you’re still keen and you’re wondering about conditions then check out this vid sent in by alert reader Marion Schmitz of her friends Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer on La Ginat (IV, 5) last Friday. The 1000m ice route looks to be in fine condition.

The first ascent of La Ginat was made on 24 July 1978 by Jean Ginat, Gilles Modica, Jean-Pierre Simond and Jean-Marc Troussier. Sadly, Jean Ginat died on the descent so take every precaution to make sure the same doesn’t happen to you.

Matthias Scherer. Photo: Tanja Schmitt

Matthias Scherer. Photo: Tanja Schmitt

Tanja Schmitt. Photo: Matthias Scherer

Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer.

19e Piolets d’Or 2011 Nominees … and cute girls in bikinis

Time once again for the annual Piolets d’Or, the climbing world’s equivalent to the Cannes Film Festival but without all the supermodels and yacht parties. And yes, I know, supermodels and yacht parties are the whole point of Cannes, but bear with me. The Piolets d’Or has something that Cannes, with its mercurial actors, megalomaniacal directors and bunga-bunga hangers-on, hasn’t. Y’see, while the entire film industry throws bazillions of dollars into packaging the triumph and tragedy of the human spirit into a one-hour and 25-minute multiplex mega-hit starring Vin Diesel and Lindsay Lohan in their most demanding roles ever, the Piolets d’Or is something that Cannes or the Oscars or surreality TV can never be. The Piolets d’Or is about the world’s hardest men and women staring the impossible straight in the eye and charging it with every ounce of strength, courage, wisdom and luck they can muster. The Piolets d’Or, gentle reader, is the real deal.

In 1991, Guy Chaumereuil (editor-in-chief of Montagne magazine) and the Groupe Haute Montagne launched the initiative “to raise awareness about the year’s greatest ascents across the world.” A list of recipients can be found here starting with the first Piolet d’Or, awarded in 1992, to Marko Prezelj and Andrej Stremfelj for opening a bold 3000-meter route on the south pillar of Kangchenjunga (8476m).

Certainly a lot has changed in the 19 years since the first Piolet d’Or was first presented and 2011 represents the third year of a new and improved Piolets d’Or. The updated charter states…

In modern mountaineering, questions of style and means of ascent take precedence over reaching the objective itself. It is no longer a matter of employing huge financial and technical resources (bottled oxygen, fixed ropes, high-altitude porters, so-called ‘performance-enhancing’ substances…) and large numbers of people to reach the top at all costs. The Piolets d’Or throw the spotlight on imaginative and innovative new routes, using a minimum amount of equipment, and building on experience.

19th Piolets d’Or Nominees

Colin Haley and Bjørn-Eivind Årtun – Southeast face of Mount Foraker, Dracula (M6R, AI4+, A0, 3170m)

Colin Haley, Bjørn-Eivind Årtun

Southeast face of Mount Foraker (5304m), Alaska

Yasushi Okada and Katsutaka YokoyamaSoutheast face of Mount Logan, I-TO (ED+, WI5 M6, 2500m)

Katsutaka Yokoyama and Yasushi Okada

Southeast face of Mount Logan (5959m), Canada

Malcom Bass and Paul Figg Vasuki Parbat, West Face (6792m)

Malcom Bass and Paul Figg

Wasr face of Vasuki Parbat (6792m), India

Max Belleville, Mathieu Détrie, Mathieu Meynadier and Sébastien RatelLunag 1, Close the Door (IV/5, F5, 1,200m)

Couldn't find a photo of the Lunag crew. Please accept this image as a token of my sincerest apology.

Southeast face, Lunag I (6830m), Nepal

Bruce Normand and Kyle Dempster East Face Mount Edgar, The Rose of No Man’s Land (VI, WI5+, M6, 2400m)

Quite possibly not Bruce Normand or Kyle Dempster.

East face of Mt Edgar (6618m), China

Sean Villanueva, Nicolas and Olivier Favressse (Belgium) and Ben DittoBig walls, Greenland

OK, I didn't even try to find an image of these guys. But you could at least give me credit for finding a photo with green land in it.

Devil's Brew, Seagull Wall, Greenland

The jury evaluates performances based on:

– Style of ascent.
– Spirit of exploration: original (previously unclimbed) route and/or mountain, creative and innovative approach.
– Level of commitment and self-sufficiency.
– High level of technical ability required.
– Suitability of route in light of objective dangers.
– Efficient and sparing use of resources.
– Transparency regarding the use of these resources.
– Respect for people, climbing partners, members of other teams, porters and local agents.
– Respect for the environment.
– Respect for future generations of mountaineers by leaving them the possibility of enjoying the same kind of experiences and adventures.

Lifetime Achievement Piolet d’Or

Doug Scott

In 2009, the “Piolet d’Or organising committee proposes an alpinist who, apart from their commitment and ethical stance, has profoundly marked their era.” The two previous winners were a couple of relative unknowns by the names of Walter Bonatti and Rheinhold Messner. The venerable Doug Scott will be in town to receive this year’s award.

Program of Events

Wednesday, 13 April, 21:00 – Chamonix, Cinéma Vox (€8.50)

Ascension du Mont Blanc 1903 (10 min.) – first filmed ascent of Mont Blanc.
Samsara (22 min.) Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin & Renan Ozturk on Mt. Meru
The Swiss Machine (20 min) – Ueli Steck, speed climber extraordinaire

Thursday, 14 April, 21:00 – Chamonix, Majestic Congress

– Greg Child – president of the Jury, author of Postcards from the Ledge and Over the Edge.
***Tribute to Maxime Belleville – nominated for the Piolets d’Or 2011 for Lunag I expedition.***

Max Belleville - R.I.P.

Friday, 15 April, Chamonix, Majestic Congress

15:00-17:00 Selection of mountain films (free admission)                                       17:00 Doug Scott, Greg Child, Mick Fowler & Chris Bonington book signing         21:00 Piolets d’Or 2011 – the ascents of the year. Doug Scott, Chris Bonington and Jean Afanassieff share memories. Presentation of the jury. Presentation of the six nominated ascents. Presentation of the 2011 Piolets d’Or.

Saturday, 16 April – Courmayeur, Palanoir Cinema

18:00 Procession through town center by Courmayeur Mountain Guides.                21:00 Presentation of 2011 Lifetime Contribution Award to Doug Scott.

Sunday, 17 April – Chamonix, Salle du Bicentenaire

19:00 Slideshow and presentation by Doug Scott. €15 with all proceeds going to Community Action Nepal.

First Descent of Grand Gendarme d’Envers du Plan – East Couloir

What a difference a year makes, right? Here we are in early April scraping for leftovers while this time last year Andreas Fransson was throwing down the first descent of the east couloir of the Grand Gendarme d’Envers du Plan. In a valley where first ascents are hard to come by you gotta respect a guy who rolls in from Sweden and snaps up one of the rare gems.

The east couloir is between the Grand Gendarme d'Envers du Plan and the Pain de Sucre

François Damilano’s Neige, Glace et Mixte, tome 2, gives a climbing grade of IV, 5, M (700m) and not much more. Andreas reckons “it was probably 40-50˚ the whole way.” Bear in mind that Andreas is Swedish, so for Americans it’s a solid 60-70˚ fer sure.

And here’s the POV shot by Andreas with interview and editing by Bjarne Sahlén

Me, I’m thinking I woulda skipped the rappels and opted instead for a straightline to my patented starfish helicopter (always a crowd pleaser), but that’s just me.

Andreas made the first ski descent on 8 April 2010. Happy first descent day. Respect. For more of his big mountain shenanigans, check out his blog at

And if you want to ski like him, you’ll need to get yourself some Haglöfs clothing, Nordica skis, Oakley eyewear, Dynafit boots/binders and POC protection.