Yuji Hirayama, 52, Climbs 8c+ First Ascent in Japan

Yuji Hirayama is a legend in rock climbing. Back in 1986, he put himself on the map with quick ascents of the Yosemite testpieces The Phoenix (7c+) and Cosmic Debris (8a) at age 17. On December 21, he showed the world he’s still at the top of his game at 52.

His new route, Hanabi (8c+), takes 20 metres of cerebral, technical face climbing to an eruptive, bouldery crux. The route’s name reflects its explosive character: “Hanabi” means “fireworks” in Japanese.

‘Hanabi’ and the career of Yuji Hirayama

The route’s difficulty indicates that Hirayama has barely lost a step. He last made big news when he repeated Cobra Crack (8b/+) in 2009. The Squamish, BC route is one of the world’s hardest trad pitches.

Hirayama bolted Hanabi in 2020. It’s located near his home on Mt. Futago, three hours northwest of Tokyo. Hirayama estimates the 5-6 metre crux at V9 or 10. The route’s attractive blue limestone should draw repeat hopefuls all by itself, but Hirayama also solicited repeats via social media.

yuji hirayama

 

In the wake of the redpoint, he commented playfully to Planet Mountain:

“Haha, yes, I’m 52 and I do feel like I’m not as strong as I used to be,” he acknowledged. “But I enjoy climbing more than ever before…well, maybe! I train whenever I can, but above all, I follow my motivation.”

Throughout his career, that motivation has produced a continuous stream of galvanizing ascents. In 1997, he came very close to onsighting the 35-pitch Salathe Wall (8a). His style — climbing it ground up over the course of two days with only a fall or two at the crux — was light years ahead of its time.

In 2004, he set the mark for the world’s hardest onsight with White Zombie (8c) at the Baltzola Cave in Spain. And his 2003 sport climb Flat Mountain (9a+) is still among Japan’s hardest routes.

What will Yuji Hirayama do next? According to his social media (and his sinewy shoulders), he still climbs a lot. Keep an eye on him or you might miss the next fireworks show.

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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