Winner: Yuji Hirayama
Sport, trad, comps, big walls, boulders—few rock climbers have excelled in so many disciplines, for so many years, as Yuji Hirayama has since he came to international prominence two decades ago. The 45-year-old Japanese climber already has won a Golden Piton, in 2003, for his all-around ability. More than a decade later, he’s earned another.
Hirayama moved to France during the 1990s to compete in World Cups and was ranked No. 1 in lead climbing in 1998 and 2000, competing against such superstars as François Legrand and Cristian Brenna. But he was never interested solely in sport climbing. Hirayama started out as a trad climber in Japan, and at age 17, during his first trip to Yosemite Valley, he climbed the trad testpieces The Phoenix and Cosmic Debris (both 5.13). In 1995 he onsighted Colorado’s Sphinx Crack (5.13b/c), placing all the gear on the lead.
Between 2002 and 2008, Hirayama and Hans Florine broke the speed record for the Nose on El Capitan three separate times. Onsighting an El Capitan free route was a long-held dream, and Hirayama came close on three different routes: El Niño, Golden Gate, and the Salathé Wall. His attempt on the Salathé, in 1997, was futuristic—he fell on only three of the pitches and free climbed the full route in just two days, without pre-rehearsal. Despite not achieving the onsight, Hirayama calls this his proudest ascent. Seven years later, he did the first 8c (5.14b) onsight in history: White Zombie in Spain.
Despite raising a family and running a business (the largest climbing gym in Japan), Hirayama is far from washed up as a climber: In recent years he’s done routes ranging from runout 5.13+ trad in Wales to a 5.14d sport route at 13,000 feet in Borneo. “I really just want to climb everywhere in the world,” Hirayama said. “Just enjoy the climb and meet the people and see the culture.”
Two Questions With Yuji Hirayama
Which climbers do you admire the most?
I admire so many! But if I have to choose: Stefan Glowacz was my hero when I was a kid, and Chris Sharma has inspired me a lot.
Do your children climb?
I have two kids, 17 and 15. Each of them has big passion for soccer or dance, but not climbing. I hope in the future I can go climbing with them somehow.