On April 16 Japanese climber Keita Kurakami completed a thinly protected 5.13d/14a R trad project in Yukawa, Japan, which he named The Votive Light.
The route is an extension of a previously existing 5.13d R called Hakuhatsuki (Grey Haired Demon) that ended at a pair of bolts in the middle of the welded tuff rock face where the thin crack doglegs left and continues to the top of the cliff. Kurakami first tried to onsight Hakuhatsuki from the ground, and after failing on that bid he practiced the route on toprope from its bolt anchor, as all the previous ascensionists had done. But he did not preview the moves above the bolts before casting off on new ground to link the lower thin crack of Hakuhatsuki to the top, skipping the anchor bolts for protection.
An attempt to lead Hakuhatsuki as a rope solo on April 8 ended in near disaster. A fall ripped several pieces of protection out of the crack and he impacted a ledge at the base in a sitting position, but he was apparently OK. He posted a video of the fall on his blog.
“The Votive Light is a 15-meter extension of the historic trad route Hakuhatsuki…and it is climbed along a really thin crack that I couldn’t jam,” Kurakami wrote in an email. “At first, I wanted to climb Hakuhatsuki with better style than the previous climbers. So I tried some styles, ground-up style and rope-solo style, on Hakuhatsuki…. I tried Hakuhatsuki from the ground…last year with Yusuke Sato. But I noticed that this style is not a good fit for this route…because I had to collect the protection pieces, such as nuts and cams, every time I fell. Of course, I could have down climbed the route, but it is too risky and not simple, I thought. Then one year passed, and I came back…last month.”
Still hoping to improve upon the style in which Hakuhatsuki had been done before, he attempted leading it as a rope solo, which resulted in his ground fall on April 8. He said a recent video of Fabian Buhl rope soloing Ganesha, a sparsely bolted, multipitch 5.14b in Austria, had inspired him. But he decided rope soloing wasn’t going to work for him in this case.
“Then I looked back at the wall,” he said. “I noticed that it could be climbed to the top, because the really thin crack is all connected from the ground….
“I had to really consider some things about style, and it was a really hard time and painful,” he reflected, noting the ground fall. “However, it was this experience that stirred me to see the new route. So, I saw the crack like a ‘votive light.'”
Last autumn, Kurakami and Sato established Senjitsu no Ruri (5.14a R/X, 250m, 7 pitches), which is currently the most difficult multipitch trad route in Japan. The name translates to “a thousand days of lapis lazuli.” Kurakami wrote an On Belay story by the same name for Alpinist 56, in which he explained, “I believe that our society is not something that we leave behind when we venture up a mountain or a wall; routes and culture must be tied together. The rock we climb is a mirror, and in it, we see the silent reflections of dialogues that have taken place between climbers across many decades–and also within ourselves.” The story is now also online here.