Climber wins 'mountaineering Oscar' after surviving deadly avalanche

Tim Miller was awarded the Piolet d'Or, or Golden Ice Axe, for his pioneering ascent of Nepal's notorious Jugal Spire. 

Glasgow climber wins ‘mountaineering Oscar’ after surviving deadly avalanche that killed friend Tim Miller

A Scottish climber has been honoured with one of the most prestigious awards in climbing five years after surviving a deadly avalanche that claimed his friend’s life. 

Tim Miller was awarded the Piolet d’Or, or Golden Ice Axe, for his pioneering ascent of Nepal’s notorious Jugal Spire. 

The award – widely recognised as the ‘Oscars of Mountaineering’ – is given to climbers who pursue uncharted territories with a deep-rooted respect for the mountains.

By winning climbing’s biggest award, the 27-year-old’s global reputation has reached new heights despite a near-death experience in 2018, when, while camping at an altitude of 19,300ft on the unforgiving terrains of Pakistan’s Ultar Sar mountain, he was buried in an avalanche in which friend and fellow climber Christian Huber died. 

Tim’s sheer determination to survive saw him chew through the tent’s fabric before clawing his way through six feet of snow to the surface. 

While he helped save the life of another climbing partner, Bruce Normand, then 51, Tim tragically found his friend already dead. 

The survivors spent two days in their broken tent, waiting for weather to ease before being airlifted to safety by a Pakistani military helicopter. 

He was described as a “hero” by Normand. 

Tim, who is from Glasgow, said: “It was a turning point, a moment where the mountains taught me lessons beyond climbing. I didn’t take it in immediately because I was so focused on finding what I needed to survive – warmth, food, liquid, and shelter. 

“When I came down, it all hit me and I saw how much the whole thing had terrified my mum, dad, and girlfriend. But it made me realise how much I need to climb. It made me appreciate being alive, and climbing makes me feel alive. We’re all humans, and we all experience fear, but I think some people experience it differently.

“I learned a lot from that experience – we made silly mistakes. Now I prepare meticulously, I’m more experienced, I have my qualifications, and I’m way more knowledgeable, so I take more control. It can be scary at times but I feel far more stressed when I’m off the mountain and my phone starts pinging. You’re in flow when you’re in the mountains, and I find it quite hard to deal with getting off it and living a ‘normal’ life.”

Tim and Paul on the summit of Jugal Spire

Tim first met climber Paul Ramsden, who he partnered with on his award-winning ascent, while hitchhiking home to Glasgow following a climb at the UK’s highest peak Ben Nevis. 

The pair’s successful summit of the previously unclimbed Jugal Spire in Nepal – which was delayed due to Covid – marked the culmination of their shared vision and years of meticulous planning. 

Their route to the top was perilous, as they ascended along a singular path of ice and snow across the rock face, unsure if the route would continue unbroken to the summit. 

This climb exemplified the alpine style, with the duo forgoing supplemental oxygen, fixed ropes, or Sherpa support – a feat celebrated in the mountaineering world for its ethical approach and pure connection to the mountains.

Tim, who suffered frostbite during the climb to the 21,532-foot summit, added: “I’m incredibly proud to receive a Piolet d’Or, but I never got into climbing for awards: the award, for me, is being able to explore the unexplored, and the adventure itself. 

“On an expedition you don’t have to think about anything else for six weeks; you read, you chat, and you climb. It’s purely a psychological sport. You have to switch yourself off to be alert. All your actions have consequences so there’s no choice but to focus entirely. It’s like nothing else on Earth. 

“There are only a handful of unclaimed peaks out there, and there’s so much hard work scouring books and Google Earth before you get there, but it’s still unknown until you’re on the mountain.”

Tim started climbing with his parents at a young age which sparked his passion, before he began his first job at the Glasgow Climbing Centre in Ibrox.

Now a fully qualified mountain guide, he leads expeditions up mountains with trips to Greenland, Iceland and Nepal planned for next year.

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