Top 10 Expeditions of 2023: #1: The Secret Line on Tirich Mir

On July 23, Japanese climbers Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima summited 7,708m Tirich Mir in Pakistan. They ascended via a new route, up the unexplored north face, in alpine style.

Their climb is our top expedition of 2023.

The Secret Line, a new route on the north face of Tirich Mir.

The ‘Secret Line,’ a new route on the north face of Tirich Mir. Photo: Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima


Total commitment

The patient Hiraide, 44, and the more impulsive Nakajima (38 at the time of the ascent) have completed several world-class expeditions together. The key to their expeditions is commitment. The higher the level of commitment, the more dangerous the project, and the more unique. They explore new faces, new ridges, and new lines.

True mountaineers, they are driven by that special feeling of doing something new, an inner voyage through difficulty toward the heights. They climb unassisted, without supplementary oxygen.

Hiraide is a three-time Piolet d’Or winner. He first won in 2009 for his ascent of Kamet with the late Kei Taniguchi. Hiraide then added two others with Nakajima, first in 2018 for Shispare and then in 2021 for their new route on Rakaposhi. This amazing pair always pushes the envelope.

Blank spaces on the map

In November 2022, ExplorersWeb interviewed Hiraide, who told us why he first turned to the mountains. Up there, he said, amid the ice and snow, there are no trails and no rules. He always wanted to choose his own goals.

“I look for questions waiting to be answered. Where others have already been, it’s the known world. I look for the unknown, for the blank spaces on the map, and for new paths,” he said.

After a few years in the Himalaya, Hiraide left behind the normal routes on crowded 8,000m peaks and started seeking those blank spaces.

Tirich Mir.

Tirich Mir. Photo: Abdul Rehman Joyia


Tirich Mir

After their new route on Karun Koh in 2022, Hiraide and Nakajima chose the unexplored north face of 7,708m Tirich Mir in 2023. Tirich Mir is a beautiful 7,000’er in the Hindu Kush, the highest mountain outside of the Himalaya and Karakoram.

Tirich Mir is a rather isolated peak with a prominence of 3,908m. It lies entirely in Pakistan and its climbing history is entwined with local folklore.

One of the translations of the peak’s name is King of Darkness. According to the local Khos people, the mountain is home to a fairy fortress. They believe that these fairies are guarded by gargantuan frogs the size of trucks, which live in crevasses on the glaciers. The frogs may devour anyone who ventures onto the mountain.

A party led by Norwegian mountaineer Arne Naess first ascended Tirich Mir in 1950. They climbed by the south rib-south ridge route. Some of the locals hired by the team feared the fairies. The party survived an earthquake during their climb.

Arne Naess and Tony Streather on the summit of Tirich Mir.

Arne Naess and Tony Streather on the summit of Tirich Mir. Photo: The Himalayan Journal


Several expeditions visited Tirich Mir in the 1960s and ’70s but at the beginning of the 21st century, the government stopped granting climbing permits. It was only in 2016 that the rules changed.

Hiraide and Nakajima had dreamed of Tirich Mir for several years before heading there this summer.

The north face of Tirich Mir

The north face of Tirich Mir remained unexplored and unclimbed until Hiraide and Nakajima arrived. According to Hiraide, the face may have remained unexplored because a kind of mountain fortress hides the north face. They had no photos before their ascent. Just reaching its foot proved difficult.

The broken glacier at the base on the north sode of Tirich Mir.

The broken glacier at the base on the north side of Tirich Mir. Photo: Ishii Sports


Two days after arriving at base camp, Hiraide and Nakajima tried to scope out the approach to the base of the north face. They moved to the bottom of the lower Tirich Glacier but a huge icefall and unstable seracs blocked the route.

They had to switch to plan B: ascend a 6,200m col, and from there, move back down into the valley. When they finally saw the north face for the first time, it was an incredible feeling.

On the third day, the pair began to climb. The weather was poor, with a dense fog from early in the morning.

Ascending the Secret Line on the north face of Tirich Mir.

On the north face of Tirich Mir. Photo: Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima


Nearly a week ascending

After six days in alpine style, they reached 7,200m and set up their last camp. From there, the pair started their final push to the summit.

The weather was good on summit day, and they reached the top in perfect conditions. According to Hiraide, the summit was spacious and calm.

Two days later, the Japanese climbers reached base camp. They named their route the Secret Line. They also recorded a documentary which premiered a few days ago at the Mendi Film Festival in Spain.

Imagination, boldness, true exploration, high technical difficulty…their expedition had it all.

Hiraide and Nakajima’s next target will be the west face of K2 in light alpine style.

Kazuya Hiraide (left) and Kenro Nakajima on the summit f Tirich Mir.

Kazuya Hiraide (left) and Kenro Nakajima on the summit of Tirich Mir. Photo: Kazuya Hiraide and Kenro Nakajima

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.