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2022 Piolets d’Or Announced: O’Driscoll, Ukrainians Among Awarded Climbers

sean villanueva o'driscoll piolets d'orSean Villanueva O'Driscoll on the Guillaumet summit, near the end of "The Moonwalk Traverse" on the Fitz Roy Massif; (photo/O'Driscoll)
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This year’s Piolets d’Or ceremony will take the stage in Briancon, France, for the second straight year. Recipients include Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, the Ukrainian and Georgian teams, and Silvo Karo — who will receive the Lifetime Achievement award.

Only the world’s best and boldest climbers earn a spot in line for a “golden ice axe,” alpinism’s seminal award. Today, the Piolets d’Or announced 2022’s seven winners (across three teams).

The organization will celebrate the seven climbers alongside Silvo Karo, who won this year’s Walter Bonatti Lifetime Achievement award, in Briancon, France, from Nov. 18 to 20.


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Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, ‘Moonwalk Traverse’

Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll will hoist an axe for his solo first ascent of the “Moonwalk Traverse” in February 2021. It’s hard to overstate the sheer workload the climb demanded: 11,000-plus feet of climbing and descent along the Fitz Roy Massif. O’Driscoll’s 5-day effort constituted the second overall ascent of the massif and the first time anybody had tackled the iconic ridgeline from south to north.

Veteran Patagonia climber Colin Haley said at the time, “There is no doubt that this is the most impressive solo ascent ever done in Patagonia, and I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t simply the most impressive ascent ever done in Patagonia in general.”

Georgian Team Wins With Bold First Ascent

Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili, and Giorgi Tepnadze also earned Piolets for an all-out siege on Pakistan’s Saraghrar Northwest (23,950 feet) that resulted in a massive first ascent. The Georgians first chose a little-climbed peak in the quiet Hindu Kush valley as an objective.

Saraghrar Northwest had only seen one substantial ascent despite what the Piolets d’Or called “prolonged and valiant attempts” by Spanish teams in the 1970s and ‘80s. Badriashvili, Gelashvili, and Tepnadze chose to attempt it via a wide, showy chute on the northwest face. The group started climbing on Sept. 3, 2021, and made fast progress — until they reached a steep granite face near the top.

The three climbers endured five bivouacs between 21,000 and 23,000 feet, gutting out demanding mixed, aid, and free climbing. They summited on their eighth day of climbing and descended, bivying one more time before reaching the ground on Sept. 11. Their 7,500-foot route goes at 6b (5.11), M5+, A3+, 80- to 90-degree snow.

Ukrainians Persevere for Coveted Annapurna III FA

Nikita Balabanov, Mikail Fomin, and Viacheslav Polezhaiko from Ukraine received a Special Jury Award for their 16-day first ascent of the southeast ridge of Annapurna III (24,786 feet). The long-coveted line required 19 total days on the mountain and earned the group what the Piolets d’Or called “one of the greatest achievements in Himalayan alpinism in the last few years.”

The route demands solid tactics and high levels of judgment and endurance from climbers — which is part of the reason why it had suppressed frequent attempts between 1981 and 2019.

Piolets d’Or reported that the Ukrainians got an encouraging forecast but awful weather on the route from Oct. 22 to Nov. 6, 2021. Dry conditions forced slow climbing on snowy segments. A “steep, crumbling chimney” above 20,000 feet proved to be the rock climbing crux.

Slightly above that, they reached the all-time high point (established by the 1981 team): a 230-foot, unprotected, knife-edge snow ridge with sharp dropoffs. The “psychological crux succumbed to prolonged and creative shoveling,” Piolets d’Or said.

The Ukrainians prevailed. “Patience” (9,700 feet) reaches difficulties of 5.10b, A3, M6, 80-degree ice, and 90-degree snow.

annapurna III southeast ridge

Ukrainians Make First Ascent of Annapurna III Southeast Ridge, 40 Years After First Attempt

On Nov. 6, three Ukrainian climbers summited Annapurna III (24,786 feet) via the Southeast Ridge. The 7,500-feet route was highly coveted. Read more…

Karo Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Finally, Slovenian alpinist Silvo Karo won the 2022 Walter Bonatti Lifetime Achievement Award. Karo first started climbing as a teenager in 1977 and quickly put himself on the map with a first ascent on Fitz Roy in 1983. Pivotal contributions to Slovenian climbing followed, as did speed ascents in Yosemite.


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Karo captured the speed record on the “Regular Northwest Face” of Half Dome in 1996, a highly competitive era in the discipline. He went on to found the Mountain Film Festival in Slovenia, which promotes Slovenian mountain films and seeks to popularize climbing culture in the country. In 2010, he earned the Order of Merit for his contributions to his country’s culture and reputation.

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