Toru Nakajima Crushes The Peak

February 5th, 2010

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 try’s 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 second E9 of the day and a remarkable end to a remarkable school summer holiday.

Toru climbing Meshuga E9 6c at Black Rocks – Canon 5D – Copyright Alex Ekins

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.

Totu Makajima climbing Elm Street on the cover of Rock and Snow magazine Canon 5D – Copyright Alex Ekins

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.

And then Toru climbed his first E9. Disregarding the usual courtesies, he wasn’t content to merely repeat one of our hardest and most dangerous gritstone routes; he decided to create his own. The overhanging arête left of Roof Route at Burbage South is a fairly obvious unclimbed line and it has been attempted many times before. The route is a modest eight meters high but the landing is poor, the crux is at the top and there is no protection. Toru soloed the route above the smallest Moon bouldering mat. Pete Whittaker and myself witnessed the ascent but we didn’t do any spotting.

Toru Nakajima - Canon 5D - Copyright Alex Ekins

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.

Toru on Brad Pitt at Stanage Plantation in Rock and Snow magazine - Canon 5D - Copyright Alex Ekins

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 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.

Toru climbing Gaia E8 6c - Canon 5D - Copyright Alex Ekins

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.”

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