Congratulations to Steve Swenson On His 2020 Piolet d'Or Award

In August 2019, Steve Swenson, Mountaineers Books author and a member of our Board of Directors, made the first ascent of Link Sar with climbing partners Graham Zimmerman, Chris Wright, and Mark Richey. For this pioneering ascent, Steve and his partners have been awarded the prestigious Piolet d’Or. It’s the second Piolet d’Or Steve has received.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
August 11, 2020
Congratulations to Steve Swenson On His 2020 Piolet d'Or Award

Eighteen years after his first attempt to reach the summit of Link Sar, Steve Swenson, legendary alpinist, Mountaineers Board Director, Mountaineers Books author, and past president of the American Alpine Club, finally stood atop the notoriously technical peak in Pakistan’s Karakoram. He was joined by alpinists Mark Richey, 61; expedition leader Graham Zimmerman, 33; and Chris Wright, 36. “The climbers succeeded because they were persistent, used their 126 years of combined climbing experience, and understood what partnership meant,” and for this they are being awarded the prestigious 2020 Piolet d’Or.

Steve has been climbing for more than 50 years. With nearly 20 expeditions to mountains in South Asia, Steve has made ascents of K2 and Everest, both without supplemental oxygen. In 2012, he and his partners made the first ascent of Saser Kangri II (7518 meters), then the second-highest unclimbed mountain in the world, for which they were awarded a Piolet d’Or. French for ‘golden ice axe,’ the Piolet d’Or is considered mountaineering's highest honor, dubbed the "Oscars" of mountaineering and climbing. Receiving one in a lifetime is a huge honor, let alone two. Steve truly climbs among the greats.

In an endeavor that was uncertain right up to the last moment, the team summitted the 7,041 m peak via its Southeast Face (M6+ WI4 90°, 2300m), topping out at sunset on August 5, 2019. In total, the route took six days of difficult climbing, during which they ascended over 30 technical pitches and covered roughly 8,000 vertical feet from their advanced base camp.

“It's humbling to be presented with such an honor and I'd like to recognize the other three great climbs that were also awarded. There were also many ascents in 2019 that didn't receive this kind of recognition, but were also significant and we can read about them soon in the 2020 AAJ!  It's a bit sobering for Mark Richey and me to be the only living Americans who have two Piolets.  I'd like to remember and honor the achievements of Hayden Kennedy and Kyle Dempster who achieved this distinction before but are no longer with us." - Steve Swenson

For Steve, a renowned Karakorum veteran, this expedition would be his third and final attempt of Link Sar. The summit demanded every ounce of the team’s physical and mental strength, and their collective climbing experience. Only together could they weather the storms, hazards, technical pitches, and difficult decision-making that ultimately led them to summit of one of the highest unclimbed peaks left in the world. They were proud that the intense decision-making required for a safe ascent came from a very democratic, discussion-oriented process, without which they do not feel the summit of this elusive and beautiful mountain would have been reached.


We’re fortunate to have Steve as a member of The Mountaineers community and thrilled to see him be recognized with his second Piolet d’Or. Please join us in congratulating Steve and his teammates for this incredible achievement!

To learn more about Steve and his Link Sar expedition, read the full blog about this groundbreaking climb. You can also read our in depth interview with him about his book Karakorum: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict.

OCT 13 | Link Sar's First Ascent: An Evening with Steve Swenson

Join us on October 13 for a special event where Steve will take us on a journey to Link Sar. He’ll share stories from all of his expeditions, highlighting what makes Link Sar so unique and the special partnerships that collectively allowed the 2019 expedition to reach the summit.

Get Tickets

Proceeds from ticket sales and additional donations will directly benefit Mountaineers Books, a nonprofit publisher, in honor of our 60th anniversary and as a reflection of the tremendous work to educate and inspire alpinists around the world.

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Vik Sahney
Vik Sahney says:
Aug 11, 2020 05:23 PM

Congratulations Steve! And a huge thank you for all that you do for The Mountaineers.

For those in the club who don't know, Steve was and is a driving force behind the Alpine Ambassadors program which provides up and coming Mountaineers leaders the opportunity to hone their craft with Steve and local guides rock climbing in Squamish and ice climbing in Canmore for a week. Really an incredible and unparalleled experience for those participants to climb with and hear expedition and life stories from a leader of his caliber.