The Japanese mountaineer Kazuya Hiraide (Fujimi, 1979) cannot imagine mountains without exploration, without discovery, in the broadest sense of the word. To draw and follow unprecedented routes, always in alpine style, without any form of external help, is a powerful stimulant in his aim to get to know himself better, to delve into his fears and desires. This discreet man, a complete stranger despite the treasure of three Golden Axes, the highest recognition in the mountain world, whispers that there is nothing comparable to exploring and finding the perfect peak, the one that has not yet been stepped on by anyone not. . “A failed attempt to summit a virgin 7,000 meter peak like Shispare is much more satisfying than climbing Everest without bottled oxygen, there is no point of comparison,” he said in an interview which Wednesday in Barcelona at his hotel, with views of the Sagrada Familia.
If you read the story you and your partner Kei Taniguchi published about the first ascent of the south-east face of Kamet (7,756 meters), in India, and which earned you the first Piolet d’Or in 2009, one wonders man what a reward you get on these adventures. They say they suffered a lot. Glacial cold, risk of frostbite, difficulty breathing, they had difficulty finding a corner on a ridge to pitch their tent on the edge of the precipice, they endured falling stones and small avalanches… Many hardships and uncertainties.
Mountaineering is a work of questions and answers. Before I go up a mountain I ask myself what the difficulties will be and when I go up I answer those questions. What matters to me is to draw new routes and everything I receive in the process until I reach the top compensates for the suffering. I climbed Everest as an altitude camera, it does little for me because all the answers about Everest have already been written; What I want is to learn by searching for virgin trails, a high-risk goal. The mountain is a teacher who teaches me many things and helps me grow as a person, I lost a lot, I lost a partner, Kei, but I gained more. There is no adventure without risk.
Have children changed the way you approach your projects?
Now I climb safer than when I was young and had no family. But it’s not just because I have children, but because of the experience, the more mountains I climb, the more I realize the risk involved. When I was young, I took many risks, but I was not aware of it, the years made me more sensitive to dangers and safer, that’s why I’m still alive. Every time I detect the dangers ahead.
How did you get to the mountain world?
Before I was dedicated to athletics, a sport in which the motivation was to be the first to reach the finish line, to be the best compared to others. But at the age of 20, I realized that although I was very strong in a stadium, as a person I was not so strong, I was green, I knew little about nature, so I thought of an activity to search in which there was no regulated goal, but rather that I was the one who had the responsibility to make the decisions, and I thought that the mountains could give me answers.
I learned more and more, Shispare (7,756 meters, in Pakistan), the summit that gave me the second Piolet d’Or, on the fourth attempt, taught me a lot. It all started at the age of 23, in Pakistan. At home I built a large map of the Karakoram, based on the compilation of several small ones, it was so large that it covered the size of two tables. I marked the peaks and routes that had already been completed and identified the empty spaces, where no one had gone. In 2002 I went to the Karakoram to investigate why no one had climbed those mountains. Maybe no one noticed? For me it was a treasure. Thus I discovered the routes of the second and third Piolet de Oro, the northeast face of Shispare and the south of Rakaposhi.
The Shispare was a lot of work, he made it with his fourth try.
It was the unreachable mountain. The first time, in 2007, I thought I would never reach the top if I didn’t risk my life. He was young and could not accept defeat; On the other hand, in 2012, on the second trip, when I came back, I thought the opposite, there is no summit worth a life. I had the sad experience of losing colleagues, the most important thing the mountain teaches you is to appreciate life, to protect it. In 2013, on the third attempt, I didn’t make it either and when I came back I thought nothing would happen if there was a peak in my life I couldn’t climb. i give up Two years later, Kei died on Mount Kuro, it was hard for me to recover and accept her loss, she was a very important companion with whom I lived many experiences for more than a decade. So I thought that reaching the top of Shispare would help me heal the pain, Kei’s death motivated me to make the fourth attempt, in 2017. That challenge was a way to overcome his death. I reached the top, but at that moment I did not realize the teachings of the mountain, it was in my next project, in the Rakaposhi (third Piolet de Oro), in 2019. It was up there that I learned the teachings of Shispare withdrew. The mountain reveals existential questions to us, how to take life and how to face the end of existence. The death of loved ones seems to be the end, but it is the starting point for those of us who stay here.
He buried a picture of Kei upstairs.
Yes, it was a moment of satisfaction, not only for the top, but to feel the sadness of the loss transformed into a beautiful memory. Kei lives in my heart.
He has three Piolets de Oro, has opened twelve new routes, including the northwest face of Karum Koh, with Kenro Nakajima, last September, also in Pakistan, as well as going without oxygen the GI, the G-II, the Broad Peak and Everest to film. Your routes are unique and alpine in style, but you are a complete stranger.
I do mountaineering for myself, not to win prizes, it’s a calling, it’s to enjoy it to the fullest, it’s to explore, it’s adventure, it’s research, it’s going places no one has been , I’m not looking for recognition or to be famous. . Mountaineering enriches my spirit and if I can contribute to enriching that of others, I am satisfied.
He has climbed extensively in Karakoram, two of his three Golden Piolets are for ascents in Pakistan.
Pakistan has more land to explore, while Nepal has much more information. What I want is to find for myself the mountains I choose to climb. If someone suggests a route, it already loses its charm, which motivates me to do the research, ask questions and discover the routes myself. I believe success is not reaching the summit, but discovering that mountain you are about to climb. Today on the internet we can find abundant information and it makes you lose interest. There are many young people with more physical and technical strength than me, but perhaps they do not have the ability to chart new paths.
What memories do you have of your Everest, without oxygen?
I have gone to film three times, as a height camera. One of them with the task of following the expedition of Yuichiro Miura, the oldest man, at 80 years old, who reached the summit. All the eight thousand I did was working from a high altitude camera or I wouldn’t have gone. But with Miura, also a great skier, I was interested to know how he did to stay alive, the more years on the mountain, the more likely he was to lose his life. He had a lot of sponsors, a lot of pressure, but being aware of the risks kept him alive.
Is a failure better than a predictable high?
Success is not the top, but to discover unexplored routes, even if you have to abandon everything you have learned, is already a success. What the process of climbing new and difficult routes gives me is much greater than the summit. If the road is easy, what you get is very little, the failed attempts of Shispare are more satisfying than Everest without artificial oxygen, much more, there is no comparison.
What will be your next project? The K2 on the west side?
The situation of K2 has changed a lot in ten years, now there are routes through which 200 people go up a day, that’s why I’m starting to doubt. Even if I do a new itinerary, I will have to be with many people at the base camp, I don’t know if I can practice the style of mountain climbing that I want. I considered the K2 when I got the Shispare because I always go for harder targets. But I doubt it, I haven’t made a decision yet. I am in the last phase of my career, but K2 will not be my last mountain, I have a dream file, a secret list of summits. In 2023 I will go with a new route to a seven thousand in Pakistan, which I discovered this summer.
She climbed with Kei Taniguchi, the first woman to win a Piolet d’Or, the Kamet, but it’s not very common to see mixed ropes.
My field of play does not require extreme strength, my field is the unknown, the most important thing is motivation and it happened that I found Kei, a woman. When I told her how much I wanted to climb the Kamet, she told me she wanted too. Kei was just as motivated as I was. She was seven years older than me, she knew more about life. At Shispare I realized that I needed to improve not only as a climber but also as a person and I thought I could achieve this by going with Kei.
Improve as a person?
People always tend to choose the easy path, but I want the opposite, the hard one, which is the one that makes us grow as people.
The Kamet, the Shispare and the Rakaposhi, the three golden axes
Born in 1979, Kazuya Hiraide cannot think of mountaineering without a generous dose of exploration, which has led him to sign twelve new routes, three of which have earned him Golden Ice Axes with different companions. With the ill-fated Kei Taniguchi, they opened the way Samurai direct, on the southeast face of Kamet (7,756 meters), in India, and they achieved this prestigious award in 2009. Taniguchi became the first woman to be honored with this award. A majestic pyramid of 7,611 meters, in the Karakórum, charmed Hiraide. The Shispare appeared in his life as an impossible mountain, unattainable, and for that it was even more attractive. The easy ones are not very stimulating. The love story was forged in 2002, on his initiation trip to Pakistan, but Hiraide did not dare to take the first steps to undertake his first attempt, until 2007. A failed attempt like the next two, one of them with Taniguchi . The Shispare was something of a fixation and although there came a time when he gave up, Taniguchi’s death spurred him on to continue his dream, he thought it was not fair to retire. With Kenro Nakajima, he achieved this in his fourth foray, both opening a new path, dubbed ash Thank you (thank you in Urdu), for the northeast face, in 2017, and they were awarded another Piolet de Oro. The third comes thanks to the south face of Rakaposhi (7,788 m.) in 2019, also in Pakistan, another master line of great commitment climbing in alpine style and forming a queue with Nakajima.