It seems fitting that our 100th blog post should be about Alex featuring in the celebratory 100th of the legendary Japanese climbing magazine Rock & Snow.
Alex’s photo of Toru Nakajima climbing the Millstone E8 was featured on the cover of the issue. This issue also included Alex’s account of Toru’s incredible tour of Peak gritstone which culminated in Toru climbing three E9s in one day.
Alex has dug out his account from the archives for us all to enjoy, scroll down to read it.
The 100th issue also featured Alex’s photos of Tom Randals and Pete Whittaker first ascent of Century Crack in Utah.
It’s raining heavily when we arrive at Black Rocks. We set up a top-rope anyway. It’s gritstone; it might dry quickly. Toru abseils and chalks the holds and then I belay him, as he tries the moves. He’s too short to use his knee and fails on the crux as often as he succeeds. It’s a damp and moody day, with the Rocks revelling in their sombre strangeness. The rain stops but the crag is deserted apart from three youths who shout and swear as they try and descend the gully to our left. Toru pulls down the top rope and then he disappears for nearly an hour. I have no idea where he goes, but he suddenly returns to the bottom of the route, quickly ties in and says “Ok I go.” Unbelayed he slaps, squeezes and screams his way to the break where he places a solitary runner and I belay him to the top. It’s only when I look at the video footage do I realise that it has been raining lightly during his ascent. Toru’s ascent of Meshuga was his third E9 of the day and a remarkable end to a remarkable school summer holiday.
In the middle of August, rumours began circulating about a young climber seen wandering alone through the gritstone wilds of Derbyshire. He had flashed Brad Pit and had decked out off the crux of Ulysses while attempting an on-sight. He had climbed the desperately thin E8 6c Elm Street at Millstone on a hot sweaty, summers day. He was over here on his own, camping at North Lees. He hardly spoke any English and most astonishing of all he was a 15-year-old Japanese schoolboy.
Toru Nakajima comes from Matumoto in Japan. He has been climbing since he was four-years-old. His father and his older brother Wataru are both climbers, but his nearest crag is two hours from home so he is restricted to climbing at weekends. He had seen ‘Hard Grit’, his hero is Ron Fawcett and his lifelong dream was to climb on gritstone.
The list of his school holiday ascents makes interesting analysis. He seems to have begun his gritstone tour tentatively. A few VS’s and HVS’s, some modest bouldering and then three V10’s; Jerry’s Traverse, Victorian Overmantel and the impressive flash of Brad Pit. Five E5’s and three E6’s. But then somewhere, somehow, something happened. Amidst the midges and the sweaty summer grit, Toru must have realised that despite having a sports climbing background he was really, really rather good at headpointing. Missing out E7’s altogether he soloed two E8’s; Simba’s Pride at Burbage South and Elm Street at Millstone.
How does a Japanese 15-year-old who has only climbed 40 odd routes in the UK grade his new route? Toru said it was harder than the route immediately to it’s left; Simba’s Pride E8 6b but easier than Equilibrium E10 7a which Toru had tried on top rope. So E9 6c. Some have suggested that the route that Toru subsequently named ‘Black Out’ is a highball boulder problem. OK, take your mats and brushes on sticks and repeat it, after all it’s only British 6c.
Gaia came next after minimal top rope practice and Toru displayed his admirable knowledge of British climbing history with a solo of Stonnis Crack. And finally on the last morning of dry weather he led the second ascent of Nocturnal Emission, E9 6c. This route climbs directly up the wall below Parthian Shot and then joins the infamous loose flake. Toru hung off the top of the Parthian Shot flake for an eternity, placing three pieces of gear. He later said he got so pumped he knew he was going to fall off the crux. But he didn’t and when he was back on the ground we looked at the approaching rain clouds and began packing for Meshuga.
At the airport I asked Toru three important questions. What was his favourite crag? With no hesitation he replied “Burbage South.” His favourite route? “Gaia.” And finally, having subsequently climbed Nocturnal Emission, Gaia and Meshuga did he still think that his new route Black Out was E9? Toru shrugged and said “Maybe.”
Originally published on Alex’s blog alexekins.co.uk
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