In December 2019, UNESCO recognised alpinism as an intangible world cultural heritage.
After 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted international mobility, 2021 saw increased activity, despite ongoing restrictions. As a result, in 2022, the international jury consisted of Conrad Anker, Alex Bluemel, Genki Narumi, Paul Ramsden, Patrick Wagnon, and Mikel Zabalza selected two 2022 Piolet d’Or ascents – alpinism's highest honour: the first ascent of Saraghar Northwest in Pakistan, and the Moonwalk Traverse in Patagonia. Also, a special jury award was given to a Ukrainian team's ascent of the 24,780-foot Annapurna III in Nepal.
The Saraghrar Massif, just south of the Afghan border in Pakistan, has several summits, but few climbers have ever reached them. Despite prolonged and valiant attempts on the southwest buttress by three Spanish expeditions in the 1970s and early 1980s, Saraghrar Northwest (7,300m) remained unclimbed until 2021 when three Georgians – Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili, and Giorgi Tepnadze conquered the previously unattempted northwest face, in its upper part a steep rock wall merging into the northwest ridge. This was the fourth ascent of the peak but the first from Pakistan. Naturally, the fact ended up as breaking news on Pakistani TV.
From 3 to 10 September 2021, the Georgians Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili, and Giorgi Tepnadze climbed the Northwest Face of Saraghrar Northwest, an imposing massif that straddles the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for the first ascent of the mountain. They called their route the Northwest Face.
The Georgian trio began climbing the northwest face of Saraghrar Northwest at around 5,000m, continuing unroped up the massive snow and ice couloir that characterises the lower half to make the first bivouac at 6,200m. Above, a steep granite face formed the meat of the route. Overcoming hard mixed, free and aid climbing, they bivouacked at 6,400m, 6,600m, 6,750m, 6,850m, and circa 7,000m at the top of the face.
Days five and six were spent on the challenging, vertical, 250m headwall, one pitch taking seven hours to lead. During the worst moments, the climber belaying the one opening the route would sing aloud to encourage his mate, according to the Georgian tradition. "We spent the nights on tiny ledges in our single-wall tent. Once, we had to stay outside, in a very exposed place," Badriashvili recalled about their uncomfortable bivouacs later.
Above the top of the wall lay a long complex and corniced ridge with 300m of vertical gain. The Georgian trio made their last bivouac near the exit to the Spanish route and slogged up to the summit on their eighth day. They managed to reverse the course to the bivouac above the headwall on the same day, and the next morning they began rappelling the northwest face, continuing through the night until they reached the bottom.
Their route can be best understood through a first-person account by Archil Badriashvili in the 2022 American Alpine Journal: "Steep faces, isolation, undescribed areas, and neither an easy way up nor down – it felt almost like going to our home mountains in Georgia!"
In a press release about the ascent, the Piolets d'Or jury said they felt the choice of a high, unclimbed peak in a less well-known area, a conventional fair-means approach, a previous unattempted face, a small team, a long climb in pure alpine style with significant technical difficulties above 6,200 meters and a crux section between 6,750 meters and 7,000 meters, and the need for a high level of commitment all exemplify the Piolets d'Or Charter.
ExplorersWeb has documented incredible adventures in climbing, cycling, running, walking, skiing, and anything involving a force of will and dedication to a dream in the outdoors. Based on their data, the famous web portal presented the Top 10 Expeditions of 2021. Their Number 7 from the Top 10 are "three tough guys from Georgia" – Archil, Baqar, and Giorgi – who dared to venture into the barren Wakhan Corridor, near the Afghan border, at the same time as American troops withdrew and the Taliban took back the country. They had set their eyes on Sharaghrar, an isolated peak in the legendary Hindu Kush and climbed the new route. "Despite the lack of advertising, no daily posts on social media, and scant media attention, it has deserved a place among the extremely best climbs in a remarkable year", Angela Benavides concluded.
"The entire mountaineering community is very happy and proud. This award is the highest award for mountaineering in the world; there is nothing more than that," said Avtandil Tsintsadze, President of the Federation of Mountaineers of Georgia.
Archil Badriashvili, born in a mountaineering family in Tbilisi, has been a climber from an early age, later becoming a part-time guide. After repeating hard distant climbs and his first winter or solo ascents, he focused on finding and fulfilling a dream to explore further in his home mountains, in the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Hindu Kush, also the summits of Kyrgyzstan and Nanga Parbat.
Baqar Gelashvili was born in Borjomi, Georgia, a region famous for forests, springs, and a ski resort. Baqar works as a ski rescue there. A successful guide, he climbed some hard Caucasus classics; Chatyn North Wall in tough October 2016 should be highlighted. Baqar has climbed with Giorgi and Archil in Nepal and Pakistan, achieving four first ascents, Larkya 6,425 in 2017, Pangpoche I and II in Nepal, 2019, Saraghrar NW in 2021, and Makalu this year.
Giorgi Tepnadze from Tbilisi is one of the leading mountaineers in Georgia. After 2014 he climbs hard and continuously, with a taste for different kinds of challenging and steep mountaineering, from low to very high. Numerous first ascents and new routes, primarily done in pairs with Archil, include mountain regions of the Caucasus, Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Tian Shan, also other hard classics in Kyrgyzstan and the summits of Nanga Parbat and Makalu.