Kazuya Hiraide Returns to Karun Koh with Kenro Nakajima

Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima are leaving shortly for Pakistan to open a route up the north face of Karun Koh in their usual pure alpine style.

For Hiraide, this 6,977m mountain in the Shimshal Valley is an old foe. It almost ended his career last year, even before he could stab his ice axes into the sheer ice wall.

In December 2021, Hiraide and Takuya Mitoro headed for Karun Koh and a neighboring unclimbed peak. This was supposed to be a mere training trip before for the West Face of K2, which has been Hiraide’s dream for years.

Nakajima and Hiraide pose at the airport, with their duffel bags piled on trolleyes behind them.

Kenro Nakajima (left) and Kazuja Hiraide at the airport on a previous expedition. Photo: Kenro Nakajima

Frostbite and bitter memories

Hiraide became badly frostbitten in the frigid conditions on the unclimbed 6,020m peak, which they later called Samisar. The climbers did summit and descend safely, but on Karun Koh, Hiraide’s frostbite proved too serious to continue. He had to be airlifted to the hospital.

Back in Japan, it took a long period of recovery and the support of many friends to motivate Hiraide to try again. Traveling to K2 this summer was out of the question. In fact, Hiraide admits that he has not completely recovered from the frostbite. This is why he has chosen Karun Koh, a lower peak than others he has climbed in the past.

Hiraide gets down from the miliary helicopter that evacuated him from Karun Koh last year, heavily frostbitten

A badly frostbitten Hiraide was airlifted from Karun Koh last year. Photo: Instagram


The Japanese climber tags Karun Koh as 6,977m, although some sources list it as slightly higher. But what it lacks in extreme altitude, Karun Koh has in difficulty and exposure. Even for Hiraide, a three-time Piolet d’Or winner, and partner Kenro Nakajima, who has two golden ice axes, the north face will test them to their limits.

Shispare and Rakaposhi

Previously, Hiraide and Nakajima bagged a new route up Shispare in November 2017. It took the pair seven long days — five up, two down.

Hiraide and Nakajima, happy but with sunburnt faces, garland around their necks, smile in a stony base camp after clmbing Shispare

Hiraide (left) and Nakajima after summiting Shispare, 2017.


Two years later, Hiraide and Nakajima climbed another new route on Rakaposhi, via the southeast ridge and the previously unclimbed south face. This netted the pair one of their Piolet d’Ors.

Kazuya Hiraide, a true alpinist

The Japanese climber has become one of the elite 21st-century alpinists, thanks to his excellent style and good taste in objectives. He targets virgin faces and technical ascents on wild peaks, with no one around, and always in pure alpine style. “These are the goals that fill his spirit with their sheer beauty,” he told one of his sponsors.

Early in his career. Hiraide mainly climbed with the love of his life, his partner Kei Taniguchi. Together, they won their first Piolet d’Or in 2009 after the first ascent of Mt. Kamet’s southeast face, a 7,756m peak in India’s Garhwal. It was the first Piolet d’Or awarded to a woman. Sadly, Taniguchi died in a fall while trekking in Hokkaido in 2015. Now, only the love of mountains remains for Hiraide.

Kazuya Hiraide, silhouetted from behind, against Karum Kol

Kazuya Hiraide heads toward Karum Koh last year. Photo: Kazuya HIraide

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.

Kris Annapurna

KrisAnnapurna is a writer with ExplorersWeb.

Kris has been writing about history and tales in alpinism, news, mountaineering, and news updates in the Himalaya, Karakoram, etc., for the past year with ExplorersWeb. Prior to that, Kris worked as a real estate agent, interpreter, and translator in criminal law. Now based in Madrid, Spain, she was born and raised in Hungary.