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Keita Kurakami has joined the elite group of Lynn Hill, Scott Burke, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and Jorg Verhoeven, the only individuals to have free climbed the Nose (VI 5.14a 2,900′) on El Capitan in Yosemite.
On Wednesday, November 15, Kurakami accomplished his impressive ascent, supported by close friend and partner, Yusuke Sato. The renowned Japanese climber made numerous, serious attempts on the Nose last season, but was unable to make it past the wickedly difficult crux pitches.
Things were different in Yosemite Valley this season. Keita Kurakami’s mental and physical preparation had payed off, and he was able to free the Great Roof (5.13c) in early November. After he completed this first crux pitch, a finger injury forced Kurakami to postpone the push until his skin healed. While reflecting on the difficulties, he said, “So it’s just effort and patience. That’s the most important things for this time on this route.”
The sixth free ascent of the Nose reaffirms Keita Kurakami’s reputation as one of the world’s top traditional rock climbers. In 2015, he made the first ascent of Senjitsu-no Ruri (5.14a R/X, 250m) on Mount Mizugaki, Japan, an incredibly bold route that features run-outs up to 20 meters. (His El Cap partner, Yusuke Sato, made the route’s second free ascent, and the pair later returned to free the route in a day.) The prolific ascentionist established The Votive Light (5.13d/14a R) in Yukawa, Japan, the following year. This past spring, Kurakami climbed James Pearson’s notorious The Walk of Life (E9, originally graded E12), in Devon, U.K.
Keita Kurakami’s new place in climbing history is well earned. In Alpinist 56, he wrote, “I believe that our society is not something that we leave behind when we venture up a mountain or a wall; routes and culture must be tied together. The rock we climb is a mirror, and in it, we see the silent reflections of dialogues that have taken place between climbers across many decades—and also within ourselves.”
- More information will be provided as it becomes available. Congratulations, Keita!
Keita Kurakami has clarified his original statements and social media posts, explaining that he does not consider his effort a legitimate free ascent. Kurakami reported his ascent honestly, with no intention of claiming credit or misleading. This is simply a clarification of lost-in-translation statements. In a follow-up post on November 23 Kurakami wrote, “I have to say that it wasn’t completely 5th ascent. Because I left from the wall to take a rest in the top of the wall, so my ascent is not completely [continuous] push. It’s an easier style than previous ascent it is not able to be official record I think. If someone says my ascent can be accepted free ascent, even so, I have doubts myself, I can’t agree [with] it. My name should be deleted from the record of the Nose free ascent.”
Previous free ascents of the Nose have followed an unwritten rule of Yosemite big-wall free-climbing that a free ascent should be done in a single push without returning to the ground. Keita Kurakami wrote, “I don’t give up this challenge, I will be back again there to finish it with completely or harder climbing style in a push from ground. See you again next year!!”
A couple of weeks before Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden climbed the Nose, Caldwell said, “I feel people should be able to do what they want up there, as long as they report honestly. There’s so many variations of what people count as a free ascent, in terms of stance to stance or ledge to ledge or in a push or one person or two—there’s a bazillion different variations. There’s no way you can police that and say what’s legitimate, I don’t think.”