Rope-solo free-climbing is a bit of a dark art: it can require you to modify gear in ways manufacturers wouldn’t condone, and you need a cool head and the desire to toil away over terrain multiple times. Plus your free climbing ability needs to be pretty dang good. Doing all that on a big wall winnows the field of practitioners further. There’s Pete Whittaker, who made the first one-day all-free rope-solo of El Capitan via Freerider in 2016, but precious few others.
And then, two weekends ago, Keita Kurakami completed the hardest all-free rope-solo in history: he climbed the Nose (VI 5.14a) by himself. His was the sixth free ascent of the classic route, and the first of those to be a solo outing.
We caught up with Kurakami to get a few more details about his historic climb.
Q&A with Keita Kurakami
Congrats! How does it feel to have freed the Nose?!
I’m happy my story on the Nose is finally done! I can climb another route! I spent three years on it.
After 2017 was your plan always to come back and rope solo the route?
I always had a plan to come back to the Nose. In 2017, I learned a lot of things from the route’s history, and I realized that one of the most important things for me was to try to push the style. That’s how the rope solo plan came to my mind.
But, actually, I didn’t plan on doing it this year. At first, I had a plan to climb with a partner, but he injured his ankle and couldn’t climb cracks. So I had to find another partner or climb by myself. So I chose the latter, and I decided to do it.
How much rope soloing had you done before this?
I’m not sure. I did maybe 20 days in Japan before this. But this was first time I’d ever done it on the Big Stone.
What gear and systems do you use?
The system is very similar to Fabian Buhl’s. I asked him about it a few times and he gave me some tips.
Did you take falls? On the Great Roof? Changing Corners?
Yes. I fell off both pitches. Probably about 10 times in total.
Is it scarier to be up there alone, knowing no one is on the other end of the rope?
I never felt like it. I had braced myself when I started climbing from the ground. I often can get a nice flow and feeling in bold climbing like this.
Does it get lonely up there?
No. For sure, there’s nobody and it’s quite silent in the night. But the insects, plants and animals that live there keep you company. And the rock gives me inspiration, like a mirror. It’s super special to up there alone.
What was the best part of the climb for you?
Everything! In soloing, you have to do all things, so you’re always really busy. But that also means I get to feel the emotions that go with all things.
Do you want to do other climbs on El Capitan?
I want to do every route! Each route provides a new experiences.
What’s next for you?