2013: The most incredible climbs of the year

It's impossible to compare climbs but these epic ascents stand out for making us go 'holy cr*p'!
Climbing on thin ice © David Lama
By Toby Archer

Any other year, accomplished French alpinists Stéphane Benoist and Yannick Graziani’s 10 day epic ascent and descent of Annapurna’s massive South Face would have been the climb of the year.

But in 2013, their triumph only helps to put into context the superhuman performance of the 'Swiss machine' Ueli Steck who, just weeks before, climbed the same route, solo, in 28 hours.

As one observer said: “The French guys are brilliant Himalayan alpinists and it took them 10 days while Ueli did it in a tenth of that — it's just mental.”

It's the most impressive thing done in the last decade, maybe ever.

The year had started badly for Ueli, with the now infamous violence he and his team mates faced on Everest. But his quiet success on Annapurna (8,091m) has happily eclipsed that.

Steck has since said of his ascent:“I was at the limits of my physical and mental ability. To go to such limits changes your consciousness.”
“It's the most impressive thing done in the last decade, maybe ever,” says Steck climbing partner Jon Griffith.

Light, fast, alone - Steck ascends on Annapurna.
Light, fast, alone - Steck ascends on Annapurna. © Dan Patitucci/patitucciphoto.com

Is he an alpinist, trail runner or ski-mountaineer? Kilian Jornet's ability to transcend sports went to a new level in 2013 when the famously light-footed Catalan, best known for ultra-running, broke speed records on both Mt Blanc and the Matterhorn.

They may not be climbs in the traditional sense but they were certainly impressive. He ran from Chamonix to the summit of Mt Blanc — and back —in 4 hours and 57 minutes. In doing so he carved 14 minutes off the record that had stood for 23 years.

He then set his sights on the Matterhorn and, more specifically, Bruno Brunod's 'impossible record' of 3:14:44 set in 1995, which many believed to be impossible. He sliced 22 minutes off the record.

Of the Matterhorn ascent, Kilian said: “It was enjoyable and it's the kind of thing I love the most — physically technical and psychological.”

Check out our interview with Kilian here.

In April, the Austrian/Swiss team of David Lama and Dani Arnold impressed local and global audiences alike with their ascent of a new route “Bird of Prey” on the Moose’s Tooth, the Alaskan peak that has become iconic in American alpinism.

Lama and Arnold described the climbing as being hard, complex and at times very run-out — ie with no places to place protection — but not only this, they started up the route within hours of being dropped on the glacier by ski-plane on, what was for both of them, their first ever visit to Alaska.

“Starting out in Alaska by attempting a first ascent of this difficulty is certainly bold and a little brash,” Lama said afterwards. “But often it is that kind of impartiality that you need to open up new perspectives and get the idea to try a route like this for the first time.”


Mission accomplished © David Lama

British Alpinists Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden continued their now annual record of hard new alpine-style ascents in the Himalayas, this year climbing the southwest face of the unclimbed Kishtwar Kailash (6,451m). It is easy to overlook the difficulty and boldness of this team’s routes due to their understated approach — Fowler, for example, is prone to describing discomforts as 'impressive'.

Just check out the video below, which has the team in fits as laughter as they teeter on the edge of a huge precipice. And that was just on the way to the mountain! What's even more impressive? Fowler fits these expeditions in between his normal 9-5 life as a tax inspector in England.
“It was all very challenging and appropriately rewarding. We smiled a lot,” he said.


© Berghaus/Mick Fowler/Paul Ramsden

Canadians Rafael Slawinski and Ian Welsted’s ascent of the North West Face of K6 (7,100m) in Pakistan was notable in two ways. Firstly, as a fine example of modern high altitude alpinism: technical mixed climbing to a high, unclimbed Karakorum peak but secondly, for their refusal to cowed by extremist violence.

Climbing up the North West Face of the K6.
North West Face of K6 © Raphael Slawinski

The team were approaching their objective when the news of the murders by extremists at the not so far away Nanga Parbat base camp shocked the climbing world. The Canadians impressed not only with their climb but in their vocal support of the friendly and peace-loving people of Pakistan too.

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