Piolets d'Or - 2022 Special Jury Award - Annapurna III, southeast ridge (7,555 m)

We are very delighted to announce that the 2024 edition of the “Piolets d’Or” will be held

in San Martino di Castrozza, in Trentino (Italy), on December 8th to 11th.


San Martino di Castrozza, 8th-11th Decem…

We are very delighted to announce that the 2024 edition of the “Piolets d’Or” will be held in San Martino di Castrozza, in Trentino, on December 8th to 11th.

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©Ukrainian Team/American Alpine Journal

The first ascent of the southeast ridge of Annapurna III (7,555m), Annapurna Himal, via the route Patience (2,950m, 6a A3 M6 80° ice and 90° snow), by Nikita Balabanov, Mikail Fomin, and Viacheslav Polezhaiko (Ukraine). Sixteen days (October 22 – November 6) to the summit from base camp. The three then descended new ground on the west face for a further three days.

The long-awaited first ascent of the southeast ridge of Annapurna III (7,555m) has widely been acclaimed as one of the greatest achievements in Himalayan alpinism in the last few years. Nikita Balabanov, Mikail Fomin, and Viacheslav Polezhaiko (Ukraine) spent 19 days on the mountain, succeeding where many other previous attempts, dating back to 1981 and including their own in 2019, had failed. The route is tactically complicated, extremely committing, and can likely only be achieved when the team has excellent skills, high levels of endurance, and judgement. It also lies in a sector of the country that notably receives worse weather than most of the Nepal Himalaya.

The three Ukrainians acclimatized by summiting a mountain of equal height, the adjacent 7,525m Annapurna IV. They more or less followed a line that had been climbed previously to the northwest ridge but not completed to the summit.

Well over a week later, with their sacs weighing 22-24kg, they crossed the bergschrund below the southeast ridge at 4,600m. They were carrying 12 days food and fuel. Despite an excellent forecast, the weather was poor throughout their ascent. However, conditions on the mountain were much drier than their previous attempt, making the climbing harder and slower. At 6,250m they met the technical rock crux; a steep crumbling chimney, climbed in crampons. At around 6,500m they reached the 1981 high point (equalled but not surpassed by several subsequent parties), where a ca 70m, unprotected, knife-edge snow ridge is interrupted by a very sharp drop. This section – the psychological crux - succumbed to prolonged and creative shovelling. At 7,100m the southeast ridge merges with the south ridge and from there the terrain to the summit is straightforward. Bitter cold and high winds made for a slow ascent and another bivouac at 7,400m.

From the summit, unwilling to descend the route due to its obvious danger, and unable to continue down the east ridge due to the powerful headwind, they opted for the unknown west face. This proved yet another ordeal, but eventually they reached the East Annapurna Glacier.

While such an ascent should clearly be awarded, certain aspects do not comply with the Piolets d’Or Charter.

Piolets d’Or Charter and helicopter use - ethical and environmental considerations

The southeast side of Annapurna III rises from the cirque at the head of the Seti Khola. Accessing this cirque was always considered very difficult and dangerous, traversing steep, unstable
ground above the Seti Khola Gorge. However, several landslide incidents resulted in expeditions in 2007 and 2010 failing to reach the mountain because team members or the porters themselves declared the terrain too dangerous. Since that time four expeditions, including the Ukrainians in 2019 and 2021, have used a helicopter to transport themselves and all equipment into the cirque.

After descending the far side of the mountain, the three Ukrainians were flown out by helicopter from 5,000m, low on the East Annapurna Glacier (they had asked for a pick-up at 4,500m). Shortly after, one member was flown back to the cirque to collect base camp. All were in Kathmandu the same day.

The purpose of the Piolets d’Or is not only to recognise the most significant ascents of the previous year, but also to use these ascents to promote distinct ethical messages regarding our practices as alpinists, in line with the UNESCO classification of Alpinism as an intangible cultural heritage.

The Charter states that “style and means of ascent take precedence over reaching the objective itself”. Access is not, as such, part of an ascent but is obviously becoming an important ethical and environmental issue. The spirit of the Piolets d'Or suggests that when a place cannot be reached through regular transport routes, or on the ground “by fair means”, it should be left for future generations.

The Charter also includes the criterion “respect for the environment”. In the last decade or so  the usage of helicopters for access in the Himalaya has grown massively, especially in Nepal where helicopter use has been largely unregulated. Hiring a private helicopter to reach the base camps of 8,000m peaks, and to fly from base camp to base camp to make a series of fast ascents, has become very common for those who have the financial resources. This in a country where, traditionally, base camps have been accessed on foot with the help of local porters.

Those who visit the high mountains see, more than most, the huge toll that global warming is extracting on the environment. True, a significant portion of an expedition’s carbon footprint can be attributed to the international flight, but the systematic use of helicopter charter in Nepal, and more generally elsewhere, is becoming highly problematic. It is incumbent on us as mountaineers to act responsibly and limit our impact.

The Piolets d’Or would like to send a clear message that the high mountains and the people who live beneath are being increasingly damaged by climate change. It therefore does not support the use of the helicopter for general access.

The Jury agrees that from a climbing perspective the new route on Annapurna III is one of the major ascents in recent years. However, it also agrees that it does not comply with all aspects of the Charter. After considering both points it has decided it cannot award a Piolet d’Or and has conferred instead a Special Jury Award.

What are the "Piolets d'Or" ?

A celebration of mountaineering

The purpose of the Piolets d'Or awards is to raise awareness about the year's greatest ascents across the world.  They aim to celebrate the taste for adventure, the bravery and sense of exploration that lie behind the art of climbing in the world's great mountain ranges. The Piolets d'Or draw their inspiration from mountaineering's rich history.  They are a celebration of a sense of partnership and solidarity, of shared experiences, and reward individual or collective achievement.

The Spirit of Modern Alpinism

More than just the recognition of a performance, the Piolets d'Or celebrates passion, spirit and values. The spirit of the Piolets d’Or draws its inspiration from the history of alpinism and the authenticity of true team spirit. The style should take precedence over the conquest of an objective.  Success is no longer about getting to the summit at all costs, employing all possible financial and technical means, (oxygen, fixed ropes, doping products, etc) or large-scale human resources (high-altitude porters or sherpas). The Piolets d’Or event encourages imagination in searching for innovative routes using a maximum of economy of means, making use of experience and respecting man and nature. The Piolets d’Or is attached to making climbing a shared and valued richness all over the world, capable of attracting the best of human ambitions whilst encompassing moral values and edifying behaviour. The Piolets d'Or event is therefore a celebration of an ethical alpinism, rich in emotion.



Les Piolets d'Or

Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award

In 2009, the first Lifetime Achievement Piolet d’Or was awarded to Walter Bonatti.  His style of mountaineering perfectly reflected the spirit of thePiolets d’Or.  He became a sort of godfather to those who would receive this award after him. In honour of the man and his spirit, it has been renamed the “Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement, Walter Bonatti Award”.

The Career Piolets d'Or was created to reward a career where the spirit has inspired the following generations, in the sense of criteria set down by the convention.
Recipients of the Piolet d'Or Career :
2009 : Walter BONATTI
2010 : Reinhold MESSNER
2011 : Doug SCOTT
2012 : Robert PARAGOT
2013 : Kurt DIEMBERGER
2014 : John ROSKELLEY
2015 : Chris BONINGTON
2016 : Wojciech KURTYKA
2017 : Jeff LOWE
2018 : Andrej ŠTREMFELJ
2019 : Krzysztof WIELICKI
2020 : Catherine DESTIVELLE
2021 : Yasushi YAMANOI
2022 : Silvo KARO

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