Yasushi Yamanoi of Japan Wins Career Piolets d’Or

Yamanoi is the 2021 recipient of Piolet d'Or lifetime achievement award
Photo: Yasushi Yamanoi

The Piolets d’Or jury named Yasushi Yamanoi of Japan this year’s winner of the Piolets’ prestigious Walter Bonatti lifetime achievement award. The accomplished Japananese alpinist is the first Asian to receive the career distinction since its inception 13 years ago.

Yamanoi’s alpine achievements

Yamanoi on Mount Fuji in 1991. Photo: Yasushi Yamanoi

Yamanoi on Mount Fuji in 1991. Photo: Yasushi Yamanoi

Yasushi Yamanoi came to alpinism when he was already an elite rock climber. After honing his big wall and crack climbing skills in Yosemite Valley, California, and the South Platte, Colorado, the young Japanese climber traveled to the French Alps.

In 1987, he made the first solo ascent of the French dirretissima on the Dru. Shortly after that, Yamanoi, working alone, established a new adventure route on the west face and north ridge of Baffin Island’s Mount Thor. In the winter of 1990, he became the first person to solo Fitz Roy.

High-altitude beginnings

In 1991, he turned to high-altitude climbing, cutting his teeth on Broad Peak. This was an incredibly formative experience for him, write Lindsay Griffin and Rodolphe Popier for the Piolets:

Whilst the experience convinced him that he would never again climb in this heavyweight style, the expedition had other benefits: also reaching the summit was Taeko Nagao, one of Japan’s leading female mountaineers. They would become inseparable partners, marrying in 1996. The following year, Yamanoi would summit Ama Dablam during the Nepalese winter via a new route on the west face and southwest ridge.

In 1994, at the age of 29, Yamanoi scaled the Southwest Face of Cho Oyu (8,188m) without support from a partner. Yamanoi went on to set the speed record up K2’s SSW Spur, ascending from Base Camp to summit without supplemental oxygen in just 48 hours.

Then in 2002, the mountaineer suffered the most daunting injuries of his career. It occurred while climbing with Taeko, now his wife, on a devilishly challenging route on the North Face of Gyachung Kang (7,952m) on the Nepal-China border. Reported Alpine Mag:

At 7,600 metres, after three bivouacs, Taeko gave up but Yasushi continued solo to the summit before descending and joining his wife. Victims of snow blindness, Yasushi and Takeo take three days to reach the base camp. They are repatriated and treated in Tokyo: Yasushi suffers from frostbite and amputations are necessary. The toes of his right foot and two of the three phalanges of his little and ring fingers are gone.

Yamanoi on the Gyachung Kang in 2002, the expedition would cost him several fingers and toes. Photo: Yasushi and Takeo Yamanoi

Yamanoi on the Gyachung Kang in 2002. The expedition cost him several fingers and toes. Photo: Yasushi and Taeko Yamanoi

It didn’t stop Yamanoi from climbing for long. As soon as he’d recovered, he was back in action, pushing the boundaries of alpine potential.

Piolets d’Or – worthy first ascent

In 2017, Yamanoi and climbing partner Takaaki Furuhata captured the first ascent of the previously unnamed Rucho Peak (5,970m) in the Indian Zanskar Range. For the effort, the pair were nominated for the 2018 Piolets d’Or.

To read more about Yamanoi’s many alpine accomplishments, head to pioletsdor.net.


About the Author

Jilli Cluff

Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college.
After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life.
She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network.
She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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1 month ago

Incredible career. Well deserved 👏

Craig Quigley
Craig Quigley
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob


Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
1 month ago

Is Nagao’s name Takeo or Taeko? The latter is more like Japanese women’s names I have seen, but I am no expert. You have it as Taeko most of the time, except in the quotation and the photo caption.

Thanks for reporting. Amazing history.

Jerry Kobalenko
1 month ago
Reply to  Lenore Jones

Taeko is correct. Thank you, fixed.