Record-breaking mountain climber has Andes challenge in his sights

Kyodo

A 47-year-old Japanese mountaineer who climbed Japan’s “hyakumeizan,” or 100 famous mountains, in a record-breaking 66 days, has said that his next challenge is Mount Aconcagua in the Andes.

Kazufumi Hirata of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, began his record attempt July 7, climbing the 3,026-meter Mount Norikura in the northern Japan Alps. He completed the hyakumeizan on his home island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture on Sept. 10, with his ascent of Mount Miyanoura, Kyushu’s highest peak at 1,935 meters.

The previous record of 76 days was set by a climber from Tochigi Prefecture in 1997.

The mountaineer said he next hopes to scale Argentina’s 6,960-meter Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, where he got lost two years ago.

Hirata said he initially planned to climb the hyakumeizan in 70 days, but when interviewed by a local newspaper in Nagano Prefecture, the climber said, “If conditions permit, I might be able to do it in 66 days.”

“I thought of each and every step as a stride toward my native hometown.”

The hyakumeizan, including Mount Fuji, were chosen by the late Japanese writer Kyuya Fukada in his 1964 best seller “Nihon Hyaku Meizan” (“Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains”), regarded as a bible among middle-aged climbers.

Hirata said he did not make any special preparations for the journey.

“It felt like climbing the mountains just as always,” he said. “It was not like I did anything special.

“The mountain maps (I used) were only the digested versions of the 100 famous mountains. Even the starting points to the trails were all places I have never been to before, so I searched my way through with the maps in one hand.”

The mountaineer made the trip alone, living out of a four-wheel-drive vehicle he called “my best buddy.”

He used a camera-equipped cell phone to take daily photos that he sent by e-mail to a friend’s Web site, where they were uploaded for viewing the same day.

“I wanted to convey the realistic feeling that I am now climbing the mountains,” he said.

Asked about his future plans, Hirata said he also wants to cross the Strait of Magellan in South America by canoe. “Next time, I probably won’t be able to send the photos by mobile phone,” he noted.