hand gripping rock climbing

52-Year-Old Yuji Hirayama Redpoints Firecracker 5.14c First Ascent

Don’t sleep on Yuji Hirayama. No matter how old he is, you might miss a fireworks show.

On Dec. 21, legendary rock climber Yuji Hirayama stormed back onto the international scene. His new route quests up a long, technical face that leads to an explosive boulder crux. He named the route according to its character: “Hanabi,” which means “fireworks” in Japanese.

Hirayama puts the route at 5.14c, indicating he’s still at or near the top of his game. We last heard major news from Hirayama in 2009. That year, he made a swift repeat of Squamish’s “Cobra Crack,” one of the hardest trad routes in the world at 5.14.

The Japanese climber could’ve quit the game long ago and still gone down as one of the best in history. In 1997, he nearly onsighted the 35-pitch, 5.13b “Salathe Wall” on El Capitan. In 2004, he set the benchmark for the world’s hardest onsight with “White Zombie,” 5.14b, in Spain’s Baltzola Cave.

The crux of “Hanabi” tackles 25-30 feet of V9/10 bouldering. The face below requires precise movement on tiny holds for around 65 feet. Hirayama originally bolted the route in November 2020, near his home at Mt. Futago, about 3 hours northwest of Tokyo. It looks like a stunner, with sharp, pocketed blue-and-blonde vertical limestone.

Regarding the grade, Hirayama seeks input from others — he openly solicited repeats and opinions via social media:

The 52-year-old’s remarks to Planetmountain.com in the wake of the first ascent are modest on one hand, impish on the other.

“Haha, yes, I’m 52 and I do feel like I’m not as strong as I used to be,” he allowed. “But I enjoy climbing more than ever before … well, maybe! I train whenever I can, but above all, I follow my motivation.”

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.