2009 Golden Piton Awards
2009 has been a year of hardship and strife. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that the “recession” (OK, full-blown depression) continues. Or that America seems split down the middle on Big Issues like health care, climate change, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At Climbing, 2009 has spelled diminished resources and staff (only 1.5 editors, an intern, and an art director on the creative side), though more stress. Our story is the same as everywhere.
Still, climbers will climb, and it’s nice to see that — at least on the rocks and in the hills — the movement hasn’t been retrograde. In fact, it’s been a damn good year for climbing. Harder, younger, older, bolder, more visionary — the sport continues to advance in inspiring, unpredictable ways. So on the good-news front, we’re proud to present the 2009 Golden Piton Awards. Winners in each of the seven categories receive a customized “gold”-plated 1” angle, compliments of Black Diamond Equipment; plus, recognition at an awards ceremony, co-hosted by Marmot, at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show. We’ve detailed their accomplishments — as well as those of the climbers cited for Honorable Mentions — below.
AND THE SEVEN 2009 WINNERS FOR Sport, Trad, Bouldering, Big Wall, Alpine, Humanitarian and Breakaway Success are …
When Chris Sharma, Dave Graham, Ethan Pringle et al. in the 1990s shot up through the ranks as off-the-charts teen prodigies, the “elder” generations (folks in their 20s, 30s, and 40s) couldn’t help but notice. Suddenly, longstanding projects that had resisted — like Necessary Evil (5.14c), climbed by Sharma in 1997; and The Fly (5.14d), climbed by Graham in 2000 — went down, and sport-climbing standards were again on the uphill march. With these 90s prodigies now in their late 20s but just as strong as ever, it’s amazing to think that a generation is coming up below them. But when you look at Adam Ondra, 16, of the Czech Republic, you see the future of sport climbing.
Wherever Ondra goes, he demolishes. To wit: 12 5.14d redpoints in 2009, including a repeat of the Alex Huber testpiece Om. And, most impressively in the same year, four 5.15a ascents, including the long-awaited first repeat of Huber’s hardest, the 5.15a Open Air; a repeat of Chris Sharma’s power-endurance-till-you-puke Oliana, Spain, route Papichulo (5.15a); an eight-try ascent of Markus Bock’s thin-pocket climb Corona (5.15a), said to be the hardest in the Frankenjura; and then, the icing on the cake — Ondra’s Sardinia, Italy, first ascent Marina Superstar, which he gave 5.15a/b. As Ondra wrote on his scorecard: “Beautiful line 35m line in very steep cave. It took me 4 days this year and 3 goes last year.
So happy to have some really hard FA! Well, I am not sure about the grade. Definitely [sic] my hardest yet, but probably not 9b, thus I go for 9a+/b.” Ondra then adds, “I have to try more routes from Chris to compare.”
This year, Ondra also flashed two V13s — The Vice and Armed Response — at Rocklands, as well as onsighted a slew of 5.14s. With his thin, lanky frame, constant-motion, loose-and-easy dynamic style, and a European-sport CV perhaps unparalleled in history (he did his first 5.14 at age 11 and has been ticking consistently since then), Ondra has already taken our sport to the next level.
- Charlotte Durif, of France, for establishing two 5.14c’s in a month, then going on, with a 100-meter rope, to string together the first four pitches (5.13c, 5.13b, 5.13c, 5.13a) of the Verdon Gorge’s Ultime Démence, rending a 5.14a mega-pitch done onsight.
- Enzo Oddo, 14, of France, for bringing an Adam Ondra-like game to the European sport world, ticking three 5.14d’s in less than two weeks, the second ascent of Dai Koyamada’s Inga (5.14d; Gorges du Loup), and the likely second ascent of the V13/14 traverse Katharsis, Fontainebleau.
Mentally recreate the painful, pumpy insecurity of being wedged inside an offwidth. Now imagine you’re completely upside down in that wide, flaring crack. And finally imagine you must swing down from that inverted position and then back up — rotating a total of 360 degrees — into an inverted position. That’s just a sampling of the insane moves Pamela Pack wrestled with during her likely first free ascent of Gabriel, a solid-5.13 wide-crack beastie at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park.
Starting deep in a sandstone cave, the 65-foot fissure travels out a nearly horizontal belly for 40 feet and then up a grovelly headwall. Over the years, many “wizards of the wide” have attempted this fearsome OW, considered by some the nation’s toughest offwidth roof. After projecting the route for several-week stints over the course of 18 months, Pack redpointed it mid-November 2009, calling it her most difficult to date.
With a slew of other monster offwidths under her belt — including a 2008 onsight of Vedauwoo’s notorious Lucille (5.12+) — Pack is quickly chickenwinging, inverting, kneebarring, and squeeze-chimneying her way to the top of the trad game, adding grace to the grovel along the way.
- Justin Edl, for his first ascent of the 50-foot flared splitter Home on the Range(5.14-), Coyote Rocks, Vedauwoo — the hardest trad pitch at Vedauwoo.
- Matt Wilder, for his FA of Cheating Reality (5.14a R), a fantastical, gear-only scarefest up the Devil’s Thumb, Flatirons, Colorado, headpointed on October 17.
While American superstars like Chris Sharma and Alex Honnold have been heating up climbing media lately, Finland’s Nalle Hukkataival has been crushing hard projects around the world, most notably in South Africa’s Rocklands and Hueco Tanks, Texas. Hukkataival has been on the bouldering scene since 1998, placing first in several international comps such as Arco Rockmaster (2006) and the Nordic Championships (2004).
Perhaps Hukkataival’s most impressive 2009 send was his 26-foot V15 FA, Livin’ Large, in the Rocklands. Says Hukkataival of the problem, “Livin’ Large is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever climbed… The movement is anything but simple.” His attempts spanned 12 days, dialing the technical arête’s 24 moves. Earlier this year, Hukkataival also repeated the Japanese slab testpiece Bansousha (had been given V15; Hukkataival suggested V13) and grabbed the fourth ascent of Colorado’s lone V15, Jade, after having worked it for only two days in RMNP’s snowy conditions.
Another remarkable high note is Hukkataival’s February 2009 trip to Hueco Tanks, where he flashed four V12s, including Fred Nicole’s Full Monty, and established two V13s, The Machinist and Tequila Sunrise. “[The Machinist] is a long problem that climbs out a big roof with long moves,” blogged Hukkataival. “Moves on it are just awesome.” He also sent two V14s, Couer de Leon and Nagual, and several more V13s, including Full Throttle, Algerita, and Alma Blanca.
- Kevin Jorgeson, of California, for his FA of Ambrosia, a 45-foot 5.14 X highball on Grandpa Peabody, at the Buttermilk, Bishop. That same afternoon, he made the second ascent of Shawn Diamond’s scary highball Luminance (V11) on his third try.
- Tony Lamprecht, 37, of Germany, for his FA of a possible V16 at Altantiswand, in Kochel, Germany. After working the problem since October 2008, he finally sent this 20-move link-up of the blocs Bokassa’s Fridge and Assassin, Monkey and Man, rating it as one of the hardest in the world.
MIKHAIL MIKHAILOV AND ALEXANDER RUCHKIN
Russian climbers Mikhail Mikhailov and Alexander Ruchkin had journeyed to Sichuan, China, last spring hoping to climb Mount Edgar (a.k.a. E Gongga, 6,618m/21,713′) — the same peak where Americans Jonny Copp, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson would lose their lives in an avalanche just a few weeks later. In miserable weather, the Russian climbers waited two weeks without even seeing their target face. But during an acclimatization hike in a neighboring valley, the clouds suddenly parted to reveal a stunning granite pillar on unnamed Peak 6,134m. The Russians quickly switched plans, and when the gloomy weather cleared in mid-May, they raced up that pillar to bag the 20,125-foot virgin peak.
The south-facing pillar on Peak 6,134m is bigger than El Cap, with its base at over 16,500 feet and an overhanging headwall at nearly 20,000 feet. After a 12-hour approach to the pillar, the Russians climbed the 3,600-foot route over five hard days. Surprised and delighted by sunny, mostly snow-free rock, the two men climbed 90 percent of the route free, with vertical and overhanging pitches up to solid 5.11. But this was no California cruise: the men, climbing alpine-style, lugged heavy packs full of ice-climbing gear and extra food and fuel, and they carried a tent to endure the cold nights. (Even so, tiny ledges forced them to sit up for two bivouacs.) After a final bivy on Peak 6,134m’s southeast summit, they traversed over the top and descended the snowy southwest face in 24 hours of rappelling and downclimbing. Their route, Carte Blanche, was perhaps the most technical climb ever done in mountainous Sichuan Province. In early December, the climb won the Russian version of the Piolet d’Or, and now Mikhailov and Ruchkin can add a Golden Piton to their rack.
- Dodo Kopold, of Slovakia, for his solo first ascent of the direct southeast face of 7,219-meter (23,684-foot) Annapurna South. Foiled by poor snow conditions on Annapurna Main’s south face, Kopold climbed this testy, 7,500-foot route on Annapurna South in a 40-hour, single-push round trip.
- Dave Turner, for soloing a 4,700-foot new route on Broad Peak in Baffin Island’s super-remote Sam Ford Fjord. Turner climbed the elegant north arête and headwall (VI 5.10 A3 60°) in a 39-hour push.
When Sean Patrick was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, she was 45 and, in her words, “ridiculously healthy.” A year earlier, Patrick spent her free time climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and scuba diving — that is, when she wasn’t traveling 26 weeks per year for the Impact Group, a strategic marketing and design firm she founded in Western Colorado. “Then one day I didn’t feel right,” said Patrick in a 2007 telephone interview for the Daily Camera newspaper, in Boulder, Colorado. Like more than three-quarters of women with the disease, nearly a year passed before she was properly diagnosed with what became late-stage ovarian cancer.
In the following years, Patrick survived multiple surgeries, including one last-resort operation in 2001 that she was given a mere 20 percent chance of surviving. Patrick beat the odds and, remarkably, viewed her experience as an opportunity to develop awareness and to change the face of the disease. “Ninety percent of women with ovarian cancer do not have a family history of it, nor is it an ‘old woman’s disease.’ Instead of thinking, ‘why me?’ it should be, ‘why not me?’” she said in the interview. Patrick founded HERA (Health, Empowerment, Research, Awareness; LUKE LINK TO: herafoundation.org) in Carbondale, Colorado, in 2002; she was its Executive Director until she passed away January 20, 2009, from complications due to the disease.
One hallmark of Patrick’s legacy is the annual Climb4Life events, which raise money for and awareness about ovarian cancer. The eight-annual event, held in Salt Lake City over four days in 2009, raised more than $80,000 for, as Patrick explained in a 2008 telephone interview, “Outside-the-box solutions to the disease. There’s enough funding for chemo research. We fund research on high-risk/high-reward projects, just like climbing is a high-risk/high-reward activity. The current system suppresses creativity. What we’re trying to do is reward creativity. It’s gonna take a different approach.”
Sean Patrick thought outside the box by bringing ovarian cancer awareness to the national level via the climbing community. Her humanitarian efforts live on as HERA prepares for its next Climb4Life event, set for February 20 through 28, 2010, in Washington DC. For all she’s given to the climbing, health, and women’s communities, Sean Patrick posthumously wins the 2009 Humanitarian Golden Piton Award.
If you live in Colorado’s Front Range, chances are you’ve bumped into a friendly, low-key father-and-son team: Bob and Jon. Both lean, wiry, small-framed climbers, the pair get around: they always seem to be out in the hills trying something difficult. Bob, in this case, is Bob Siegrist, an understated hardman who redpoints 5.12-plus. And John is Jonathan “J-Star” Siegrist, 24, climbing only six years but having become a Front Range fixture for ascents like Vogue (5.14b), Grand Ole Opry (5.14b/c), Sarchasm (5.14a), and a placing-pro-on-lead tick of Tommy Caldwell’s Lumpy Ridge thin-crack nightmare Country Boy (5.13d). But while J-Star’s talent had become renowned locally, it was his October-November 2009 trip to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge that thrust him into the national spotlight. There, in the course of only 11 climbing days, Siegrist climbed nearly every major testpiece at the Red.
Siegrist’s Red ticklist is too long to cite here, but some highlights include a five-try ascent of Lucifer (5.14c), rapid-fire ticks of the 5.14c’s Southern Smoke and Fifty Words for Pump, three 5.14a flashes, three 5.13c onsights, onsights of 10 routes graded either 5.13a or 5.13b, and a flurry of other 5.13 flashes and rapid-fire 5.13+ or 5.14- redpoints. Sure, other climbers have nailed some of these milestones individually or in much smaller batches, but never, like Siegrist, in one fell swoop. So while it’s clear that Siegrist has had latent talent all along, he wins the 2009 Breakaway Success Golden Piton for focusing his hard work and gifts into a single, American-standard-redefining road trip.
- Zhenja Kazbekova, for redpointing 5.13d/14a (Zhuzha, Don’t Be Chicken!) at age 12. The Ukrainian, herself the daughter of two top Ukrainian climbers, also ticked a 5.13c/d in 2009, both routes at the Kransy Kramen cliff in the Crimea.
- Phil Schaal, an under-the-radar bouldering talent from Connecticut, for the fifth ascent of the Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, V15 Jade, and a tick of the V14 Ode to the Modern Man, at Mount Evans.