Posted on: March 1, 2004

All the marbles: Yuji Hirayama onsighting the 5.13b third pitch of El Niņo (VI 5.13c, Huber-Huber, 1998); Hirayama onsighted twenty-eight pitches of the thirty-pitch route, missing only Pitches 4 (5.13a) and 15 (5.13c), which he redpointed. To date, no El Cap big-wall free climbs have been onsighted. Kenji Iiyama [Photo] Kenji Iiyama

I have climbed in Yosemite for many years, but still have unfinished business: onsighting a free route on El Capitan. This fall, I visited Yosemite from September 5 to October 21 with the goal of onsighting El Nino.

I started climbing at the age of fifteen. Realizing that if I wanted to be a better climber I needed to learn from the Europeans, I moved to Europe four years later. After miles and miles of climbing in Europe, I read an article about Alex Huber's free ascent of the Salathe Wall. Afterward I could not sleep, because I knew that that big piece of rock could be climbed onsight. Though I have yet to do it, this fall I found the dream much closer to realization.


An onsight of a difficult big wall is hard to accomplish. In 1000 meters you cannot afford a single fall or mistake. If the rock is wet, you fall or a hold breaks, the game is over. Physically, mentally and technically you have to be ready before you can make an attempt, and not every climber has good onsight tactics and the ability to read a route. I am quite certain that only a handful of men can play this game at this moment. I now know how to prepare for such climbing, and this readiness was evident in my results this autumn.

The initial part of my stay in Yosemite was spent training for the onsight. On September 15 I did a team ascent of the twenty-four pitch Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome (5.12b) with my friend Tamotu Sugino. We climbed every pitch free in a day with no falls (I led everything harder than 5.11, and we simulclimbed everything else).

Four days later I onsighted all the pitches of The Psychedelic Wall (5.12c, 11 pitches). This was the first complete onsight ascent of the route. On September 24, I onsighted The Uncertainty Principle (5.13a, 13 pitches), again leading all the pitches.

In final preparation for El Nino, I climbed Golden Gate (5.13b, 41 pitches) on October 4 and 5. I led all the pitches onsight except for Pitches 31 (5.13a) and 36 (5.13b). These pitches were redpointed on the second or third go.

Between October 15 and 19, I climbed El Nino (5.13c, 30 pitches), onsighting all the pitches except Pitches 4 (5.13a) and 15 (5.13c), which I redpointed.

I felt very satisfied with my efforts: I gave one hundred percent for the onsight attempts and came very close to achieving my goal. In 1997, during my onsight attempt of the Salathe, I fell on the Teflon Corner pitch (5.12d) and two of the three 5.13 pitches. But this time, on El Nino, I fell on only two of the seven 5.13 pitches. For me, it is a giant difference that showed me my potential is much higher than it was before. I am sure this experience will help define my future.

— Yuji Hirayama, Saitama-ken, Japan

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