At the start of July 2008 Yuji Hirayama set a new record on The Nose together with habitual speed partner Hans Florine. Despite having trained intensively all winter for hard bouldering, after a series of practice runs on El Capitan the duo raced up the 900m Yosemite classic in a staggering 2:43:33, beating the previous record by two minutes and improving on their 2002 record by a staggering 5 minutes.
The climb attracted huge main stream media attention and Hirayama believes that more may still be in store this autumn. Before the leaves start to fall, we thought we'd better check in with the undisputed Japanese climbing ace.
Yuji Hirayama - The Nose, big walls and bouldering
At the moment you're concentrating both on bouldering and big walls. Isn't this a contradiction in terms?
It is difficult to combine the two... consequently I wasn't really fit for a big wall the other day ;-) From November 2007 until last May I concentrated only on bouldering and I managed to make the first ascent of Ginga 8b+ and the third ascent of Dai Kayamada's Uma 8b+. But unfortunately I injured my finger at end of April so I decided to look for something different. And right then my agent asked me what I planned to do next. I started to think about a project which could appeal to everyone, not just climbers but also non climbers, too. The Nose Speed ascent sprung to mind so I decided to go back to El Cap at the end of May. The only problem was: when I finally decided for El Cap, I hadn't done any training for big walls...
Your recent ascent with Hans - is this the fastest possible?
Yeah...for the time being I think so. You know, this time I just wanted to train on a big wall. We only had 11 days together this June, my real plan is to make a new record this September. It was fun though, the American mass media was so interested about the Nose Speed ascent, it was incredible! Every time we attempted the climb they came to watch and then they asked me to try again to break the record again. The mood was totally exciting, even people from Yosemite were interested in this new time... 4h48, 3h28, 2h47...and then the final run...I was sure we'd do it...and we succeeded in 2h43m33s.
How much of this is serious? And how much is it a game?
Ha ha... you know, climbing is fun! But I think that when you achieve 2h43m you can't just have fun and enjoy yourself. I'd think it would be fair to define The Nose speed as a very serious game. But just imagine that feeling - running up on El Cap...it's so good!
Why always The Nose? This isn't the only good route out there.
I think that The Nose has a massive 50-year history; people are interested in it, not only climbers. And today I'm a little part of this history. Having said that, yeah, I know that there are so many other routes out there and I'm also interested in doing something different like climbing a big wall free. But this June I felt I wasn't fit enough to do a big wall, at the moment I simply consider myself a boulderer!
The faster you climb, the bigger the risks?
It's true if you don't progress. If you don't progress and want to go even faster then you need to take bigger risks...that's for sure. But if you progress and evolve, if you become stronger or climb better then you don't necessarily risk more to climb faster. You know that you're in control and that you're simply not going to fall. With Hans we always say first be safe, second go faster, third enjoy... and after that, do whatever you want!
What about climbing The Nose free like Lynn Hill and Tommy Caldwell? Isn't this in many respects a bigger challenge?
Yeah! I think so... this autumn I only have 3 weeks, maybe I haven't got the time but… if I train well and am strong enough then I'd love to give it a try.
Your repeat of the Salathe, another big wall on El Capitan, is widely regarded as milestone in big wall climbing. You then upped the ante on El Nino. How do you feel about these ascents now? Can you put it into perspective.
Well thank you for this recognition! I am so happy that I had this idea and did this challenge. You know, the idea was a big one, I put so much energy into this project. Every single minute was great. If I had to pick my best climbing moment, then I'd choose the Salathe on-sight attempt in 1997. This is my fondest memory so far in my entire climbing career, despite the pressure I put myself under. Nowadays many people are attempting to free the multi pitches, and some even try to on-sight them. I hope that they feel the same excitement as I had 10 years ago and that we can share this feeling!
Can you see yourself taking up a different challenge on bigger mountains - the Trango towers for example or the Torres del Paine?
I've never done this, it's hard to say. These days to do something good on bigger mountains you need a good idea. And for this idea to take shape one of the most important factors is a person's free climbing ability. This enables you to climb a difficult route, to go faster and to avoid risks. I'm sure though that if I decide to go I'd be good in the mountains and on those big walls.
And what's the biggest challenge of all?
For me it would have to be on-sighting 5.14 after climbing 1000m on a big wall somewhere…