BD athlete Katsutaka Yokoyama reports from his seven-month North America rock climbing roadtrip
Black Diamond athlete Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama, well known for his bold alpine ascents, spent seven months in 2009 rock climbing around North America, visiting most of the mega-crags of the West. Below is his report and photos from his travels.
In May 2009 (after Wall of Shadows), I met up with my girlfriend Chihiro in Anchorage and bought a cheap van that would serve as our car and our house. At first, we were excited about driving down from Alaska with the majestic view… but nothing had changed in the scenery all day and continued it like that for more than four days without any music! When our trip had started, the life had become quite simple: just climbing. Weiner Lake, Canmore, City of Rocks, Jackson Hole, Ten Sleep, Boulder, Rifle, Wild Iris, Devil’s Tower, Squamish, Index Town Wall, American Fork, Indian Creek, Little Cottonwood, Joe’s Valley, Smith, Sonora, Yosemite, and Bishop. We traveled with the weather and sometimes stayed at a place for only a few days or just one day (we’ve been in Yosemite only half day, just for bouldering; ouch!). Now, our full seven months have rolled by quickly. “The time is never too plenty.”
For me, it was the first chance to focus on just rock climbing, having spent almost all my time for alpine climbing until now. In these seven months, we spent over 130 days for rock climbing. Nevertheless, there are little or no accomplishments for our own climbing; I couldn’t get high grade that I hoped first, and fully realized how strong climbers are. So, there was no personal meaning in our trip? No.
In August, we worked on bouldering and traditional climbing in Squamish. My main aim was Zombie Roof (5.13a). I could figure out all moves soon but my left hand jam was coming off at the exit of the roof. “Alright,” I told myself “it must be bad conditions now... too hot and greasy” So I decided to wait for better condition, and at the end of September, I could get nice conditions finally and made it. That same period, Yuji Hirayama, who is one of the greatest climbing legends from Japan, was in Squamish. As you know, he sent Cobra Crack quickly, but it was not the only thing what he climbed during his visit. As soon as he arrived to Squamish in August, he made onsight of Zombie Roof quite naturally.
“Couldn’t do it because of bad conditions”… This is the very excuse for NOT strong guys. And I realized that this essence will be quite the same thing for alpine climbing, my priority. When alpine climbing, we must climb in bad conditions. In reverse, we could dig up any excuses as much as we want for why we can’t do the climb. Is this ok? No way! I want to climb the lines that touch my heart. For this reason, I must have high skills that get over any difficult part of any climb. It is the climbing—in big mountains or at small crags.
The most impressive line in Squamish for me was Flight of the Challenger (5.12c) in Murrin. It was only a couple days left when I noticed it. Yes, I tried it for onsight, but couldn’t do that. Then, that’s all… I had to leave Squamish. I should have made it, if I was stronger. “Cobra Crack is the supreme line” Yuji said, and climbed it with limited good conditions. This is the very proof what the strongest climber is. I want to be stronger.
In October, we entered the United States again. Our destination was Indian Creek in Utah. The American Alpine Club (AAC) organized the International Climbers Meet. It was a really substantial five days to climb, eat, drink, and laugh with many guys from around the world. Let’s share this place and climbing together—what a truly worthwhile event it is!
What kind of factors would explain essential climbing culture? Number of hard routes in the country? Number of climbers who can climb hard routes? NO, I think. Proud expressions when talking about Indian Creek, for US climbers. Big smile when talking about a route in Squamish, for Canadian climbers. These are the very things that are important to climbing cultures. And it will be great if we could share these joys with friends from all over the world. How about in Japan? Don’t be shy, Japanese! Well, please come to Japan if you guys have interests to— aesthetic climbing with great foods, unique culture, and beautiful women!
Anyway, it was one of the biggest experiences for us to join with this event and meet a lot of new friends. Thank you so much for giving this great opportunity; AAC, Black Diamond and all friends we met there.
There are so many areas that quite few Japanese might know about, like Ten Sleep in Wyoming and Index Town Wall in Washington. But once being there, we were so surprised with the quality and quantity of routes there. And without exception, there are friendly locals with big love for the areas. They received us warmly; it was a really comfortable feeling for us. Thank you very very much for your great hospitality.
“Keep your passion!” This phrase is the common keyword for veteran climbers I met on this trip, like Jack Tackle and Jay Smith. I met Jack and Jay in Alaska in the last spring. They made three new routes around there though there were little results for others. Outstandingly, they are cool. I really mean it. Keep their passion! It must be the most important and basic thing for life. But it seems few people are doing that (as far as I know, especially for Japanese alpine climbers). After some decades, I want to be a climber like them; keep climbing and laughing with many friends in the world.
— Katsutaka Yokoyama