Both of my feet are hooked high up, my thighs and calves are cramping and so are my abdominal muscles. I’ve already come 60 moves and my forearms are burning. I should rest longer to get rid of the cramps but even the rest drains my strength. I have to move on. The crux is yet to come. My mind and body must be fresh if I am to finish the climb. I remember, I was more tired at my previous
I nearly missed the harsh gaston move at the crux. With intensity and determination, I desperately reached out my left hand and battled through the crux.
Then the moment came. I completed the problem that had taken my whole climbing experience to complete. On May 12, 2004, I gave meaning to the incredible line, “The Wheel of Life.”
On August 23, 1976, I was born in Kagoshima, in the west end of Japan. In the quiet countryside surrounded by mountains and rivers I enjoyed playing around outdoors. Then, a picture in a book caught my attention. It was of an aid climber in the Alps. I was fascinated by the way he exposed himself to the altitude and the space of such grand scenery. I wanted to try climbing, but I had no access to information and there were no crags close by, but I wanted to climb. One day I found a mountaineering magazine at a bookstore. There was a report about an artificial-wall climbing competition in Europe. I found the name of a Japanese climber, Yuji Hirayama. Already known to the world by then, he became my inspiration. I wanted to be like him. I racked my brains for a way to start climbing. I decided to build a private wall in my garage. A decade ago, there were few climbing walls even in the Tokyo area. I didn’t know what holds were made from or how small or big they were supposed to be. The first climbing holds that I made were from concrete and they were tiny. It took a while to complete my wall, but once completed I did, I climbed like crazy day after day. I also wanted to become stronger, but, quite simply, I was addicted to the act of climbing itself.
I found an accessible small crag with a slab. I met some people who were willing to take me to crags far from home. But for the most part, I spent a lot of time in my garage. I was obsessed with climbing. Upon graduation from high school, I was pressed for a decision. There were three options. Should I continue to climb while working part-time without having a steady job? Get a regular job and climb for fun? Or, do Itry to become a professional climber? The only thing I wanted to do was climb. With Yuji being the only professional climber in Japan at that time, I had little confidence, but I made up my mind to be a professional. After graduation, I flew to Europe with the money I had saved by working part-time and climbed there for a half year. When I came back to Japan, I heard about the Japan Championship in Ariake, Tokyo. Before the comp, I didn’t have a clue of what was going to happen to me. This event turned out to be the turning point in my life.
In the summer of 1996, I told my parents that I would be back in a couple of days and headed for Ariake, Tokyo. I won the competition. But it turned out to be no ordinary comp. I also earned the title of becoming the first Japanese climber to beat Yuji Hirayama. Yuji had had his finger injured and was not in the best condition to compete. Yet, the fact that I won the comp was sensational. A youngster from the middle of nowhere walked away with the victory… It was also a memorable event for me because I met the person who had inspired me most since I started climbing. A month passed and I was in southern France. The prize money brought me there to climb. During the three months, I nailed Bronx 5.14c on my 7th try in two days, which was the shortest record for the route at the time. I also sent Connection 5.14c, for its second ascent and one 5.14b and a 5.14a. I returned to Tokyo, found myself sponsors, and started to make a living by climbing. I became a professional climber. My dream came true.
Two years have passed since I left my hometown to compete in Tokyo.
For the next four years, my climbing centred around competitions. Together with Yuji I competed at various places overseas, becoming a regular finalist. But I felt that I did not belong there. What I wanted from climbing was not in the competitions. Even when working the hardest climbing, I love the moment I gaze at beautiful scenery out there, unintentionally forgetting that I am there to climb. I love the time when I wait for the rain to stop under an overhanging rock. Above all, I admire the beauty of a climber on natural rock.
In 2000 I left competitions. I started to focus on repeating hard routes and establishing new ones. Since then I have climbed over 60 routes graded over 5.14. I can recall each of them. They are all wonderful.
The Wheel of Life was completed. Under the clear blue sky, the cool dry air eases my burning muscles; the feeling of joy beyond description, that which I appreciated time and again in the past. I am content with this moment, but this cannot be the end, because one achievement is only a starting point for another. My climbing will go on.
Dai Koyamada of Japan has repeated some of the hardest routes in the world, and put up some of his
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