Piolet d’Or Nomination for Saser Kangri II Team
Perhaps the most significant ascent by Americans in 2011 was Saser Kangri II (7518 meters) in India’s Eastern Karakoram. In August, Mark Richey (Past AAC President), Steve Swenson (Current AAC President), and AAC member Freddie Wilkinson climbed the Southwest face for the first ascent of the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. The Club recently received word that the three men were nominated for the prestigious Piolet D’Or.
The Piolet D’Or awards exist to recognize climbers of all nationalities for individual or team adventures that “perpetuate the ideal of climbing summits by the most beautiful means possible, because the mountains exist—and offer a ‘fair means’ challenge.”
We caught up with the Saser Kangri II team (not the easiest task in the world—they’re busy guys, especially with the AAC Annual Dinner right around the corner) to get their thoughts on their nomination.
Mark Richey: I’m totally physched to get nominated for the award. It’s a huge honor for a climb done—frankly—in the twilight of my Himalayan climbing career. At 53 and 57, Swenson and I are certainly some of the oldest guys attempting big Himalayan climbs in alpine style, so I´m really delighted to get the nomination.
Choosing the team was easy: Steve is one of my best friends and most dependable climbing partners—not to mention one of the strongest and experienced Himalayan climbers around. He was also part of our first attempt in 2009. Freddie was an obvious 3rd member. He is younger—at the peak of his career maybe—and a really close friend. Being a local New Englander was also helpful because we could train together.
It’s a huge honor for a climb done—frankly—in the twilight of my Himalayan climbing career.
Steve Swenson: I started climbing at age 14 in 1968 in the Boy Scouts. My leader, Marty Dahlgren, taught me the most important things in mountaineering are to take responsibility for yourself and to help other climbers when they need it. I received other early inspiration from older members of The American Alpine Club such as Bob Bates, Ad Carter, Nick Clinch, Willi Unsoeld, and Tom Hornbein. All encouraged me when I was young. I got inspiration on style from George Lowe, and Doug Scott and from climbing partners Alex Lowe, Greg Child, Doug Chabot, and Mark Richey.
…I learned to climb in the Washington Cascade range, so that’s always inspiring, but the Alaska Range, Yosemite,the Canadian Rockies, the Alps, and 16 expeditions to the Karakoram & Himalaya remain very inspirational to me as well. I think that this route [Saser Kangri II] is really a continuation—or a culmination—of my career in all these ranges. It definitely sits at the top of my favorite or most notable climbs:
• Kwangde Nup, North Face (new route), 1989, with Alex Lowe
• K2, North Ridge (third ascent), 1990, with Greg Child, Greg Mortimer, & Phil Ershler
• Everest, North Ridge, 1994, solo, (without Oxygen)
• Nanga Parbat, Mazeno Ridge (first ascent) to Schell Route, 2004, with Doug Chabot
• Latok 2, South Ridge (2nd ascent – 1st alpine style), 2006, with Mark Richey & Doug Chabot
• Sasser Kangri II (1st ascent), Southwest Face, 2011, Mark Richey, Freddie Wilkinson
My primary motivation is to enjoy climbing in beautiful mountain settings and to follow the traditional mountaineering values of partnership, fortitude, stewardship of the environment, personal responsibility, and to make sure that I teach and help other climbers…
I have been climbing for 44 years and I am now 58 years old. This nominated climb comes closer to the end of my mountaineering story than the beginning. But I feel very fortunate that I can still enjoy the mountains in this way. The mountains and my partners have taught me the most important things in life. I wish it could go on forever.
The mountains and my partners have taught me the most important things in life. I wish it could go on forever.
Freddie Wilkinson: It’s a great honor to be nominated! I feel more like I’m representing a style of climbing—exploratory ascents in the Himalaya—than I am one climb. I think Mark, Steve, and I had a combined skillset that proved to be stronger than any one of us. If it wasn’t for their work in 2009, with Mark Wilford and Jim Lowther, we wouldn’t have known how to get to the mountain. Mountaineering achievements like this are always the culmination of the efforts of many people, and that is the essence of partnership…
Mountaineering achievements like this are always the culmination of the efforts of many people, and that is the essence of partnership…
The story of their expedition provides more than a glimpse into the future of exploratory alpinism. It highlights the powerful tradition long exemplified by the New England climbing community and The American Alpine Club: Partnership Across Generations. The team will be the keynote presenters at this year’s AAC Annual Benefit Dinner—showing the premiere of The Old Breed, Wilkinson’s movie about the ascent [Watch Trailer]. For a limited time, one ticket holder will win a prize package including VIP passes, an ice axe signed by the Saser Kangri II team, $100 toward the silent auction, and an AAC backpack filled with goodies, including a signed copy of Freddie’s book. All ticket holders that have purchased their ticket before February 20 are eligible to win!
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