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A Climber We Lost: Nathaniel Takatsuno

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.


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You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Nathaniel Takatsuno, 22, December 4

Nathaniel Masahi Takatsuno, “Nate,” passed away on December 4, 2022 at the age of 22 while free soloing Leonids (5.9) and Meteor (5.8) on El Cajon Mountain. Unfortunately, he fell over 200 feet from Meteor. The morning of his fall he was greeted by fellow climbers who recalled him to be grateful for a beautiful day and stoked to be climbing outside.

Growing up in the Bay Area, he considered the Sierra Nevadas his backyard, and only moved to Southern California to obtain a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology from University of California San Diego. He was actively looking for a place to pursue graduate school for genetics. In the meantime, he held a job in a plant lab studying organelle organization where he found enjoyment in his work and coworkers.

Nearly every weekday evening he could be found perfecting technique in a climbing gym, which was where we first met. He’d joke “they set that route wrong, it’s missing a hold… or perhaps Mercury is in Gatorade and the moon isn’t quite aligned right,” and we clicked instantly. We were each other’s photocopies: half Asian and full short and with identical mannerisms. We couldn’t be around each other for long or else we would start ranting about what it meant to keep climbing pure, which would eventually lead to discussing the ethics of irrelevancies like bolting and soloing. Everything we did together was silly yet passionate, just as life should be.

The 22-year-old was an avid climber. He passed while free soloing a popular route on El Cajon Mountain. (Photo: Courtesy of Nathaniel Takatsuno)

Alone, he could be reserved, keeping conversation to a minimum, but when it came to climbing, he asked questions about must-do routes and hidden crags. He also spent his time browsing Mountain Project. He had an extensive bucket list, which included everything from local classics—to lead or free solo—to outrageous big walls. If you asked him what he wanted to scale next, he would respond with multiple routes with the intent to link them, no matter how tall or sustained they were. His goals were ambitious but believable—he was an avid backpacker and thoroughly committed to anything he said or did. Two of his most proud accomplishments—which had to be pried out of him—were completing the John Muir Trail at 16 over a span of two weeks and completing the Sierra High Route this past summer, both with his father. He was also skilled at carpentry and well-versed in political and social philosophies.

Universally, those who knew Nate admired him for his ability to see past the burden of hiccups and road bumps. Undeterred when things went wrong, his motto was, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” He meant it, living a life free from regret and serving as a role model for all who got to know him. He was unapologetically intentional and genuine. He kept minimal belongings in the event that a life on the road called his name. He chose a graduate school based on his calling to the mountains. He would offer to carry all the gear on a steep approach, encourage your greatest aspirations even if they made you sound delusional, press your frozen hands against his face in an effort to help you regain feeling, and help rationalize your most physically and mentally painstaking days. When he got to know you, he cared about you deeply. One time he looked me square in the eyes mid-climb to solemnly state, “I’d feel much worse if you died than me.” He once pulled up his dad from a fall into a rock pile while hiking. He had plans in the near future to help guide a group of beginner backpackers through the Sierras.

Not many people would devote all their free time, all their extra expenses, all their head space, and a whole heart to go after what they loved—but Nate consistently did all of the above, and went above and beyond doing it. His deeply instilled sense of pragmatism was a rejuvenating breath of fresh air, the kind that made you feel like you could conquer any experience Mother Nature throws in front of you. His enthusiasm for new experiences and prettier views is a quality some take a lifetime to appreciate. Nate will be remembered for his immense love of life, as being a stellar human, and a vigorous outdoorsman.

—Dachel Fohne

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.