"The most important thing that the mountain teaches you is to value life"

The Japanese mountaineer Kazuya Hiraide (Fujimi, 1979) cannot conceive of the mountain without exploration, without discovery, in the broad sense of the word.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
26 November 2022 Saturday 00:36
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"The most important thing that the mountain teaches you is to value life"

The Japanese mountaineer Kazuya Hiraide (Fujimi, 1979) cannot conceive of the mountain without exploration, without discovery, in the broad sense of the word. Drawing and following unprecedented routes, always in alpine style, without any kind of external help, is a powerful stimulant in his purpose of getting to know himself better, delving into his fears and his desires. This discreet man, a perfect stranger despite treasuring three Golden Piolets, the highest recognition in the mountain world, whispers that there is nothing comparable to investigating and finding the perfect peak, the one that has not yet been trodden by anyone. . "A failed attempt to crown a virgin peak of 7,000 meters, like Shispare, is much more gratifying than climbing Everest without bottled oxygen, there is no point of comparison," he said in an interview held on Wednesday in Barcelona at his hotel, with views of the Sagrada Familia.

Reading the story that you and your partner Kei Taniguchi published about the first ascent of the southeast face of Kamet (7,756 meters), in India, and that earned you the first Piolet d'Or, in 2009, one wonders what reward you find on these adventures. They say they suffered a lot. Glacial cold, risk of frostbite, difficulty breathing, they had a hard time 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 going up a mountain I ask myself what the difficulties are going to be and when I go up I answer those questions. What matters to me is drawing new routes and everything I receive in the process until I reach the top compensates for the suffering. I have climbed Everest as a height camera, it does little for me because all the answers about Everest are already written; What I want is to learn by looking for virgin itineraries, an objective that carries a high risk. The mountain is a teacher who teaches me many things and helps me grow as a person, I have lost a lot, I have lost a partner, Kei, but I have gained more. There is no adventure without risk.

Has having children changed the way you approach your projects?

Now I climb more safely than when I was young and had no family. But it is not just because of having 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 have made me more sensitive to dangers and more secure, that's why I'm still alive. Every time I detect the dangers before.

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, that's why I thought of looking for an activity in which there was no regulated objective 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.

What answers?

I have been learning more and more, Shispare (7,756 meters, in Pakistan), the summit that gave me the second Piolet d'Or, on the fourth attempt, has taught me a lot. It all started at the age of 23, in Pakistan. At home I built a huge map of the Karakoram based on putting together several small ones, it was so big that it covered the size of two tables. I marked the peaks and routes that had already been completed and identified the blank spaces, where no one had gone. In 2002, I went to Karakoram to investigate why no one had climbed those mountains. Maybe no one had noticed? For me that 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 on his fourth try.

It was the unreachable mountain. The first time, in 2007, I thought I would never make it to the top if I didn't risk my life. He was young and couldn't accept defeat; On the other hand, in 2012, on the second trip, when I returned I thought the opposite, there is no summit that is worth a life. I have had the sad experience of losing colleagues, the most important thing that the mountain teaches you is to value life, to protect it. In 2013, on the third attempt, I didn't get it either and when I returned I thought that nothing would happen if there was a summit in my life that I was not capable of climbing. I quit. Two years later Kei died on Mount Kuro, it was hard for me to recover and accept the loss of her, she was a very important companion with whom I had 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 her 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 extracted the teachings of Shispare. 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 line for those of us who remain here.

He buried a photo of Kei at the top.

Yes, it was a moment of satisfaction, not only for the top, but for feeling how the sadness for the loss was 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 trampling without oxygen the G-I, the G-II, the Broad Peak and Everest to film. Your itineraries are unique and alpine in style, but you are a complete stranger.

I do mountaineering for myself, not to win prizes, it's a vocation, it's enjoying it to the full, it's exploring, it's adventure, it's research, it's going to places no one has been, I'm not looking for recognition or being famous. Mountaineering enriches my spirit and if I can contribute to enriching that of others I am satisfied.

He has climbed a lot in Karakoram, two of his three Golden Piolets are for ascents in Pakistan.

Pakistan has more ground to explore, whereas Nepal has much more information. What I want is to find for myself the mountains that I choose to climb. If someone suggests a route, it already loses charm, what motivates me is to do the research work, ask questions and discover the itineraries for myself. I believe that success is not reaching the summit, but having discovered that mountain that you will climb. Today, on the Internet we can find abundant information and that makes you lose interest. There are many young people with more physical and technical strength than me, but perhaps they don't have the capacity to chart new paths.

What memories do you have of your Everest, without oxygen?

I have gone three times to film, 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-thousanders I've done have been working from a high-altitude camera, otherwise I wouldn't have gone. But with Miura, also a great skier, I was interested to know how he had done 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 has kept him alive.

Is a failure better than a predictable peak?

Success is not the top but discovering unexplored routes, even if you have to abandon everything learned is already a success. What the process of climbing new and difficult itineraries gives me is much greater than the summit. If the path is easy, what you get is very little, the failed attempts of Shispare are more gratifying than Everest without artificial oxygen, much more, there is no comparison.

What will your next project be? The K2 on the west face?

The situation of K2 has changed a lot in ten years, now there are routes by which 200 people go up a day, that's why I'm starting to have doubts. Even if I do a new itinerary, I would have to be at the base camp with a lot of people, I don't know if I could practice the style of mountaineering that I want. I considered the K2 when I got the Shispare because I always go for harder targets. But I have doubts, I have not 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 to a seven thousand in Pakistan by a new route, which I discovered this summer.

She climbed with Kei Taniguchi, the first woman to win a Piolet d'Or, the Kamet, with you, 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 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 that she wanted to too. Kei was just as motivated as me. She was seven years older than me, she knew more about life. At Shispare I realized that she had to improve not only as a climber but also as a person and I thought that I could achieve it by going with Kei.

Improve as a person?

Human beings always tend to choose the easy path but I want the opposite, the difficult one, which is the one that makes us grow as people.