Hiraide And Nakajima to Attempt the West Face of K2

Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima will travel to Pakistan in two weeks to attempt one of the most ambitious goals in current alpinism: a new route on the West Face of K2, likely in alpine style.

Kazuya Hiraide has won three Piolets d’Or, the first with his late partner Kei Taniguchi and the others with Nakajima. ExplorersWeb highlighted their climbs on Karun Koh in 2022 and Tirich Mir in 2023 as among the best expeditions of the year. Yet for Hiraide, these climbs have been a process of learning and preparation for the West Face of K2.

Japanese climbers greet from a summit.

Hiraide and Nakajima on the summit of Tirich Mir. Photo: Ishii Sports


A deep sense of humility fronted this ambitious project. After a superb new route on the Northwest Face of Sispare in 2017, Hiraide and Nakajima trekked to the West Face of K2. Studying it, they agreed that their skills and preparation were only enough to climb half that monster wall. Now they are ready, they say modestly, to find out how far they can get.

“By accumulating experience and taking small steps, I can turn the impossible into the possible,” Hiraide said on their expedition website. “I’ve always tried to climb mountains like this, so even if it takes me 20 years to accomplish the impossible, it’s still fun. That’s what the Western Wall [West Face] is all about.”

Historic project

Although they have not specified their climbing style, Hiraide and Nakajima have done all their previous climbs in pure alpine style. On K2, they will certainly be on unknown terrain, without oxygen, and on their own. Climbing in one push with no fixed ropes on the huge West Face would be a historic achievement.

“In my heart, I have expectations, hopes, worries, fears…I can’t narrow it down to just one word,” Hiraide reflected as he prepared for departure.

Although the usual climbing season on K2 unfolds in July, the pair are leaving for Pakistan at the end of May. They will stay in the Karakoram from June until August.

They have not yet shared details of their acclimatization plans or strategy. But they did share a cool teaser video:

Only one previous party, a big Russian team led by Viktor Kozlov in 2007, has climbed the West Face of K2. The Russians used classic expedition tactics, fixing ropes all the way. At the same time, they used no supplementary oxygen. Remarkably, most of the routes on K2, except for the normal Abruzzi Spur route, were first climbed without bottled oxygen. The Japanese will continue the tradition.

Unlike the other, more snowy sides of K2, the West Face mostly involves bare rock and ice couloirs. It is also scarily vertical.

In red, the 2007 Russian route on the West Face of K2. In blue, the Japanese route on the NW Ridge, opened in 1991. Photo: Animal de Ruta

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.