[UPDATE: Kurakami has clarified the original statements he made to RI and in social media posts, explaining that, based on the style in which he climbed, he does not think he has any claim to the fifth free ascent. For more, see Keita Kurakami Says He Did Not Do Fifth Free Ascent of Nose.]
Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Jorg Verhoeven: the list of individuals who have freed the Nose (VI 5.14a) is a small who’s who of some of the best big wall free climbers of the past 25 years.
Now add Keita Kurakami to that list.
On Wednesday, November 13, the Japanese climber Kurakami made just the fifth free ascent of the Nose, on El Capitan in Yosemite. He was supported on the attempt by Yusuke Sato. Reporting his success on Instagram, Kurakami writes, “So I [free climbed] all pitches!!!I climbed up 4 times from ground from last year. But I found some difficulties every time. (Of course, the crux pitches is so hard!) Needless to say this route is known [as] the most famous big wall route in the world.”
The Nose was first climbed by Warren Harding and team in 1958. Lynn Hill completed the first free ascent in 1993, before returning the following year to free it in a single day. Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden became the second and third people to free the route in 2005, and the Dutch climber Jorg Verhoeven became the fourth free ascenstionist in 2014.
Kurakami freed the first crux pitch, the “Great Roof” (5.13d), in early November, but after tearing a hole in his finger, had to postpone his siege on the wall and allow his skin to heal. He had learned patience working the route over the past year, though—refining beta and waiting for conditions. “It’s just effort and patience,” Kurakami explains on Instagram. “That’s the most important things for this time on this route.”
Though he is a relative unknown in the U.S. climbing scene, Kurakami has an impressive resume. In 2015, he made the first ascent of Senjitsu-no Ruri (5.14a R/X), a bold 250-meter line on Mt. Mizugaki’s Mouai Face. Kurakami made the first free ascent, Yusuke Sato (Kurakami’s partner for the Nose, as well) made the second free ascent soon after, and then the two returned and climbed the route free in a single day. In April 2016, Kurakami established another protected trad line in Yukawa, Japan, called The Votive Light (5.13d/14a R). More recently, in spring 2017, Kurakami climbed James Pearson’s The Walk of Life , a notorious gear-protected test piece in Devon, U.K that Pearson originally gave an E12 grade.
Also read Jorg Verhoeven—Dihedral Wall Interview
[Correction: The original version of this article stated that Kurakami completed his ascent of the Nose on November 15. He completed his ascent on November 13.]