As with Damien, I was at the Courmayeur POs award celebration. Better even than with their five precedent participations, always superbly professional, our Italian friends made it a fantastically entertaining event. They had a young and talented local band from their mountains (L'Orage i.e. The Thunderstorm) entertaining us in interludes. The band adapted their songs to the "wisdom sentences of great ancient alpinists " of whom the PO career, Kurt Diemberger, displayed on the screen of the cinema. All the people I know in both the Chamonix and Courmayeur valleys were very happy with the PO jury's decision and I also shared a good glass of wine with Stephen at Ruggiero Montesano's home in Courmayeur, one of Walter Bonatti's best friends where he was warmly congratulated by all, including the president of the Courmayeur's guides association.
What is quite despicable is the way Manu Rivaud, Montagnes magazine chief editor used his newspaper to deal with a feud started years ago with the POs chairman (in fact in 2009 when the then PO chairman of the jury, Doug Scott, managed to give 3 POs after having threatened to resign - 2 given in 2010, 2 in 2011 and 3 in 2012) and used the 2013 PO's jury as a sgapegoat, accusing it and so Stephen Venables, its chairman of no less than "despising the public and private partnerships which make the event exist (i.e. the towns of Chamonix, Courmayeur, Rhône Alpes and Aoste regions, a set of private and institutional parternships dedicated to mountaineering)" and even worse "...this jury has harmed alpinism... in neglecting to praise the commitments factors, problems linked to altitude and the capacities of men to innovate. .. it is betraying the history of alpinism. It is neglecting the art of climbing the highest summits and their artits and also making fun of the ascent nominated during the first 20 POs events... "
On the blog of Montagne Magazine, a counter-attack was made quoting Doug Scott's position:
"Subject: Piolets d'Or
Piolets d'Or have evolved over the last 21 years through many highs and lows and now, to the satisfaction of all climbers I know who primarily climb for its own sake, the organisers of the Piolets d'Or and the judge and jury have taken a brave step into the unknown by awarding the Piolets d'Or to all climbers nominated for 2012 rather than as before, deciding that one was better than the other.
The Piolets d'Or has thus become a marker in the sand, sending out the message that climbing cannot be quantified, that any judgement that one climb, even one's own climbs, are better than another, is doomed to subjectivity since it is an impossibility to compare like with like. This was realised long ago in 1912 by the Swedish IOC official Eric Ullen, when tasked with having to decide if mountaineering could become an Olympic event. He decided that it was an inappropriate pastime for the Olympics.
The climbing magazine editor/proprietor has to make a choice between upholding great traditions or taking the easy option of going with the flow of all those who would subvert climbing for their own ends. They could either promote the modern Piolets d'Or award as it now is, make it the flagship award it now deserves to be, or they can ridicule the Piolets d'Or if they see it as in their interests to promote winners and losers and indulge in show business and razzmatazz that goes with competition.
There are editors who might find life easier if they applied their journalistic skills to reporting on athletics or the intricacies of golf. These days there is no guarantee that outdoor press editors have known the exhilaration of leading across an exposed rock face or of commitment high in the thin, cold air going Alpine Style where no-one has gone before, day after day, always at the mercy of a change in the weather.
Responsible editors should enquire of the rationale behind Piolets d'Or judge and jury decision making. Manu Rivaud of Montagnes rightly questioned the judgements made last month in Chamonix. Such examination ensures Piolets d'Or abides by its own criteria. In fact criteria were met - the climbs were original, climbed in commiting style without drilling, the team members looked out for the environment, for local people and each other and better still, came back as friends having climbed just for the sake of the climb. It would be a great step forward if the climbing magazines' editors helped the Piolets d'Or award to extend these virtues far and wide.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
24 April 2013
and Kurt Diemberger:
From: kurt diemberger
To: christian trommsdorff
Dear Christian, thank you for calling and telling me about some negativ opinions for giving the piolet d'or to each nominated party; however, if the jury thought, that they all did outstanding climbs - what is the matter? To put a higher value to one than to the other of these different climbs seems to me, as if one should decide - assuming the first ascent of the Eigernorthface, the Matterhornnorthface and the Walkerspur would have happened all in 2012 - to grant different ranking piolets d'or to the Heckmair-Voerg-Kasparek-Harrer-teams versus the Schmid-brothers and the brilliant Cassin-Team of the Walker!
These great northfaces are very different and in my opinion impossible to compare, besides their climbing conditions!
Therefore nobody today would ever think of different ranking values for those great climbs... and the 2013 jury simply respected all teams of the very different climbs
I cannot see a problem. Best wishes! Kurt.
Manu Rivaud has accepted that his article could have been seen as an attack and he has published in the May issue of his magazine the 'very civil' response of Stephen Venables to a set of questions he sent him as follows:
"1. Nanga Parbat, Shiva, Kyashar, Kamet, Mustagh tower and Baintha Brakk, these were the six climbs nominated, very promising to be discussed.
Did you spend a good moment with the climbers during the nominated climbs presentations ? Did you get more informations about the climbs thanks to these slide shows and climbers answers ?
2. After this, did you have all together a good discussion to clarify your ideas, thanks to the new elements whitch had been put in the light during the presentations?
Did someone remember you what criteria had to be study for each climbs in order to evaluate how proximate these climbs were to the pur alpine style and how proximate these climbs were from the Piolers d'Or Charter?
3. I am rather curious about two ascents facts.
a) On Baintha Brakk, Kyle Dempster and Hayden Kennedy left Josh Wharton, not in good form, at the last bivouac around 6900 m., and pushed to the summit. They got back, picked up Josh and then had a long and hard down climb. This is their story, nobody can "judge" it. But, does this "rope team spirit" deserve a Piolet d'Or ?
b) About Mustagh tower, the team has pushed the limits in the bad weather, was coaching from the base, apparently has lost the way few times, certainly because of a lack of past experiences… and "the russian spirit". Does it deserve a Piolet d'Or ?"
I have not read the magazine May issue yet, but I give you a copy of the mail that Stephen sent to me:
I was sorry not to see you at the Piolets d’Or and even more sorry to hear that you have decided to withdraw from the event. I was also appalled by some of your public criticisms of me and my jury. I was shortlisted for the first ever Piolets and I have been involved with the event at various stages over the last twenty years, promoting it in the press and serving once before as president. As for my fellow jurors, all three of them are amongst the finest mountaineers in the world, so I think you were rash to question their judgement so aggressively.
I will answer your specific questions in a moment, but first the general principle behind our decisions. Over the last few years it has become increasingly obvious that choosing a single ‘winnner’ – or two winners, or three winners – from a shortlist of outstanding climbs is highly haphazard and subjective. More important, it goes completely against the whole spirit of alpinism. Mountaineering is not an Olympic sport with simple quantifiable criteria. It is creative and diverse and every ascent is unique. Amongst a shortlist of six outstanding climbs, we will never be comparing like with like. That is why previous Jury presidents were so reluctant to choose ‘winners’ and that is why several prominent nominees decided to boycott past events.
This year’s jury relied considerably on the expertise of the Piolets d’Or organisers and advisers, in particular Christian Trommsdorff, Rolando Garibotti and Lindsay Griffin. (The latter has far more detailed knowledge of current world climbing than anyone on the Jury, and probably anyone else in the world!). We were also grateful for the advice of former presidents, such as Michael Kennedy. It was with all these people's expert advice and support that we all decided, before Christmas, that we would like, ideally, to award Piolets d’Or to all the nominees. This was a deliberate decision, agreed unanimously, to suggest what we felt should be the future direction of the event, representing the best traditions of alpinism.
I should also point out that in February, whilst I was away leading an expedition in Antarctica, the organisers relied heavily on advice from Silvo Karo, who is of course a hugely experienced Patagonian expert. It was he who suggested that the Cerro Torre ascents should be highlighted with a ‘special mention’ rather than a Piolet d’Or.
As for the shortlist of six ascents, of course it is very, very hard to say that there was not a seventh, or eighth, equally valid ascent worthy of inclusion. However, as you know, the event is constrained by its budget, so we had to have a limit of six teams. Thanks to expert advice from Lindsay Griffin, however, we felt quite confident that each of the six teams finally selected shared the kind of qualities which the Piolets d’Or seeks to celebrate. In particular, every one of the six shortlisted ascents, shared a huge sense of commitment.
Now, to answer your specific questions:
Yes, Jumbo and I did spend a whole morning paying very careful attention to the presentations by the six teams. If we had discovered anything negative about any of the climbs, we might have changed our minds about giving all of them awards. In fact the opposite was the case. For me, certainly, the presentations reinforced my admiration for every one of the climbs. In particular, I discovered just how impressive were the four climbs I had previously been less familiar with – Kyashar, Kamet, Mustagh Tower and Baintha Brakh. Most of all, I learned just how committed the Russian team had been on the Mustagh Tower.
After the presentation there was little need for discussion. Two members of the jury, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Silvo Karo, were unable to attend, but they had already agreed to the principle of giving everyone an award. Jumbo and I were so impressed by all the presentations that, as I said, it simply reinforced our decision. There was nothing more to discuss.
This is an interesting point. I did have some doubts about Kennedy and Dempster leaving Wharton at the high bivouac. However, after discussing this with the two climbers, we learned that they continued to the summit with the blessing of Wharton. They climbed very fast and efficiently, and one day later were still in perfectly fit condition to help Wharton down the mountain. I have been in similar positions myself in the past. On some occasions – eg Kusum Kanguru – we decided to descend with the sick partner; another time – on Everest – we let our sick companion descend alone. Every situation is different and it is not for me to judge. Kennedy and Dempster climb at a much harder standard than I have ever achieved and they are much, much faster. They were able to complete their route safely and look after their companion.
I am not sure what you mean about the Russians ‘losing their way’. Perhaps you are referring to the descent, where they took a different route from the one intended. My own feeling is that they made an astounding ascent and descent, showing fantastic tenacity – as remarkable – in its different way – as the seventeen day traverse of Nanga Parbat. As for your suggestion that they were rash to climb in such bad weather, that is for them to decide, not you. They operated as a highly efficient team, moving carefully and slowly, despite terrible condition during the first week. None of them suffered illness, injury or frostbite, and they succeeded in making a difficult, unplanned descent on sight. I think we should applaud their panache.
I hope this answers your questions. I also trust that you will publish this letter as a riposte to the wild accusations you made earlier this month. I am sorry that I have had to write this letter in English, but my French is not good enough to respond adequately to such harsh criticisms.
As one can see, there was nothing so 'revolutionnary' in the POs jury decision, nothing justifying the resignation of the two leading magazines of the event and certainly nothing justifying the 'ad personam' attack on Venables and his jurors. One must bear in mind, that French have the most elitist educational system in the world (notation starts at primary school and goes on throughout your working life - your diploma will still count far more than your past achievements and capabilities when you postulate for a job even after 50 years old - and 80% of all civil and public activities are chaired by our High schools elites created by Napoleon... the most selective in the world with an unchanged numerus clausus for a century) and it stays in their genes all their life. Usually climbing is such a place of freedom that it escapes such 'high intellectual and cartesian' feuds typical of the political arenas in France where insults and personal verbal agressions are very commonly used to weaken the opponent. There is nothing that French love more than a good argument (again this is due to our educational system the main topic in secondary school French classes and quite unique: the 'dissertation'. You would be surprised in knowing that the antithesis part is the the most loved one, easily averaging 8 pages while the synthesis i.e. the most important part in average is no longer than half a page. Demolishing the opponent is so much more fun! Finding a compromise is not French, we prefer the 'panache' in everything we do: 'tirez les premiers, messieurs les Anglais!" Fontenoy battle 11th May 1745 as written by Voltaire in his history of Louis the 15th, battle which by the way ended in a French victory!).
Let's hope that in the end reason will prevail and that the POs will remain, enlarge its international status to avoid such further typically French controversies. Whatever it is up to the young generations to decide what to make of alpinism not the old timers nor two mountain magazines chief editors whatever their past climbing talents. The future is for those who climb not to those who just talk about what they have climbed and cannot climb anymore or not much.
Last edited by ericvola
on Sat May 11, 2013 7:48 pm, edited 3 times in total.