Friday, 13 December 2013

South ridge of Amidadake

Route Name:  South ridge (Nanryou 南稜)

Mountain:  Amidadake (2805m 阿弥陀岳)

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  2 days round trip

Grade:  III / Overall Grade 1 alpine route


Amidadake South Ridge

Getting there:
If travelling by train from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuō Line (中央線) train out to Chino (茅野) station.  Ideally you want to be on the first Super Azusa limited express train in the morning.  There is no bus to the trailhead for this climb, so you will need to take a taxi to Funayama crossroads (船山十字路).  After climbing the route you will need to descend to Minotoguchi (美濃戸口) for a bus back to Chino.

If travelling by car, there are plenty of parking spaces at Funayama crossroads, and you will be able to re-join your car at the end by following the route described below.

Description:

* DAY ONE

Take the right fork at Funayama crossroads.


Funayama crossroads

Walk up the road for about 10 minutes until you reach a water source (marked 阿弥陀聖水 on the map).  A short way past this water source there will be a road branching off to the right down the hill to the Tachiba River campsite.  Ignore this, and continue along the road heading up on the left.  After another 10 minutes you will come to a gate, and the end of the tarmac road.  Go through this gate, cross the Hirogawara stream (広河原沢), and continue up an unpaved track for about another 40 minutes, until you reach the old Asahi hut (旭小屋).


Asahi hut

Go right up to the hut, and then follow a single-track trail off to the left, cross a small stream, and then continue up the trail towards the ridgeline.  The trail is quite clear and easy to spot, but there are plenty of pieces of red tape on tree branches and red paint marks on rocks as well.


red trail markers

Once you hit the ridgeline, turn right and follow the trail up the crest of the ridge.  Amidadake is a holy Buddhist mountain, as the name ‘Amida’ would suggest, and there are relics and trail markers all along its various ridges.

Keep walking up for about another hour or more until you reach the tree-covered summit of Mt Tachiba (2370m 立場山).


Mt Tachiba summit marker:
Mt Tachiba (2370m)

From here onwards you should be looking out for a good flat camping spot in the snow.  About half an hour beyond Mt Tachiba there is an open traverse with a landslide off to the right side, from where you will catch your first full sighting of the South ridge.  We camped just before this traverse, and it was an excellent spot with room for several tents.


landslide traverse

* DAY TWO

Cross the landslide traverse and continue up the ridge on the other side.  After about half an hour of ascending you will reach the junction with the South ridge proper on your left.



There are four pinnacles along the ridge, which you will need to get over or around to reach the summit.


Amidadake South Ridge topo

P1 and P2 are both straightforward, involving just steep walking and easy scrambling.  The views on all sides are fantastic, from Gongendake (権現岳) to the south all the way to Tateshina (蓼科山) at the northern end of the Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) massif.


View to the south:

P1:
P1

P2:
P2

P3 is the crux of the route and for most people will be the point where they get the rope out.  A short way along from P2 you will reach the start of the P3 traverse.


P3 traverse

P3 traverse 2

Walk along a comfortable ledge of about 20m, and then continue round the corner and down to the bolt belay at the start of the P3 gully.  From the rock step at the start of the gully to the top of P3 is about two rope lengths, with a solid bolt belay to anchor from in the gully.

Climb an interesting and exposed little rock step to gain access to the gully, with an in-situ ringbolt at the top of it.  Now climb the gully on ice and snow, clipping whatever in-situ protection you can find.  There are several ringbolts along the way.  If you have a 60m rope, you will be able to get all the way to a solid bolt at a narrow ledge at the top of the gully.  If not, belay at one of the ringbolts lower down.


crux P3 gully

crux P3 gully 2

One more easy pitch will get you to the top of P3.  From here you will see P4 a short distance along the ridge.



To get round P4 you will need to traverse a very narrow ledge, with some exposure on climber’s left, but it is not difficult.  After that, climb a short rock step and then climb about 40m of straight-forward mixed ground to the crest of the ridge.


P4 traverse ledge


From here it is just a short climb up to the summit.


Amidadake summit

Descent:
To get down from the summit you could take the trail to the east, which heads in the direction of Mt Akadake (2899m 赤岳) for a long walk back to the Minotoguchi trailhead, but the round trip I’m describing takes the trail to the west off the summit.  A short walk along a narrow ridge brings you to some rocks, with a ladder and chains.  Climb over these rocks and down the other side to a signpost.



From here you can see your descent ridge stretching out below, and the top section has a fixed rope in place down the first 100m.


Amidadake descent

After 1h20mins of map-time you will reach a sign indicating a water point off to the left (不動清水) at about 2996m.  Keep going down the ridge and after another 1h10mins of map-time you will arrive at a fork in the trail.



The right fork goes to Minotoguchi bus stop, and the left fork will take you back to Funayama crossroads.  The car park at Funayama crossroads is another 1h20mins of map-time down the ridge.

Overall:

The South ridge is an aesthetic and highly-enjoyable outing, never overly difficult but always interesting and involving a mix of terrains and skills.  This is probably the classic outing on Amidadake, and is a ‘must’ for any Yatsugatake winter climber.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Tsuzura-iwa


Crag name: Tsuzura-iwa (つづら岩)

Location: Mazukari ridge (馬頭刈尾根), Okutama

Map sheet:  23 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Rock type: Chert

Routes: approx. 15 (from III to VI- and A1)


With an approach walk involving 1h40m map time and about 700m of altitude gain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tsuzura-iwa was a little bit ‘off the radar’ for a rock-climbing crag… But if you make the effort to get there, you will not be disappointed! 

Situated on top of the Mazukari ridge, largely above treeline and west facing, this splendid 2-pitch rock face gets the sun for most of the day, and also provides spectacular views across to Mt Fuji.  The rock is well-featured, the climbing interesting and the location breathtakingly beautiful.  Of course, the protection is the usual rusty Japanese in-situ ‘leap of faith’, but new bolted anchors mid-way and abseil chains at the top provide peace of mind if needed.



If you are okay with long days finishing in the dark by headtorch, I would advise walking up to the top of Mt Otake (大岳山 1267m) afterwards for sunset.

Summit of Mt Otake:


Getting there:

If travelling from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuo Line (中央線) train bound for Tachikawa (立川), and then change trains to the Itsukaichi Line (JR五日市線).  Get off at Musashi-Itsukaichi (武蔵五日市), the last station.
From outside the station you can either wait for a bus or take a taxi.  Either way you need to get to Senzoku (千足) bus stop.  By taxi it will cost you about 3800yen one way.



From Senzoku you need to walk straight up the road into the mountains for about 20 minutes, until you come to a small car park where the road ends.  The hiking trail starts here.


The trail starts out gently as far as the Tengu waterfall (天狗滝).  Continue up to a second pretty waterfall with a shrine, the Aya waterfall (綾滝).


From here onwards the trail steepens considerably, and for the next hour or so you’ll be zigzagging upwards until you hit the Mazukari ridge.


The trail brings you up onto the ridge literally at Tsuzura-iwa, with a narrow path skirting the base of the rockface.


Getting down from the top:

The top of Tsuzura-iwa is a lovely fin of rock, vertical on the climbing side, and sloping off the back, with incredible views all around.  There are solid bolt/chain rappel anchors at intervals along the top.






If you have double ropes you should be able to reach the ground in a single rappel.  If climbing on a single rope, you will need to split your descent at an anchor somewhere in the middle of the face.  We used a solid tree anchor, but check the condition of the slings and tat around it, and be prepared to add your own if you don’t trust the in-situ gear.



The routes:

As in previous articles, I will limit the list of routes here to those that I have personal experience of climbing on lead, but there are more routes there, and you can find more info in the Japanese guidebook.


1. Okera route [“オケラルート”, 1 pitch, 35m, III] **
A superb and esoteric route up the left edge of the crag, with a highly-improbably squeeze up a narrow cleft in the rock.

Pitch 1: Scramble up the first few metres of the gully, then climb past several rusty pitons until it looks like there is nowhere else to go.  From there, climb up and through the extremely narrow hole, then use your whole body for friction and upward progress through the enclosed chimney until you pop out at the top.  A few more easy metres brings you to a solid tree to belay from, or you could continue to the top of the rock on your right to a chain anchor.






2. Left route [“左ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *

Pitch 1: Climb the steep crack leftwards on dubious in-situ gear, and just keep going up and left until you reach a bolted belay next to a tree.



Pitch 2: From this belay you could climb up the right-slanting crack on in-situ pitons at V+, but Left route heads directly upwards from the anchor for several metres, before face-climbing to the left for a few metres towards the edge, and then finishing up and right to a chain anchor.  It’s a spectacular finish.

3. Normal route [“一般ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *


Beginning at the right end of the crag, this classic route takes a line of weakness up and left, covering a large amount of the crag, with a superb ledge belay, and a steep finish.

Pitch 1: Start with a traverse to the left along an easy crack, then climb up and continue trending left on good holds.  From a sort of rock pulpit, climb straight up, followed by a traverse out left again to a broad ledge with trees and a bolted anchor.



Pitch 2: From the ledge, climb a little to the left, then straight up the face to a crack. Make an interesting move to get established in the crack, and then finish at a tree in a cleft at the top with a chain anchor nearby.  Be careful not to put any weight on this tree, as it is totally dead and could easily be ripped out.



4. Normal route variation start [10m, IV+]

A more direct variation to start Normal route with, taking a crack straight up at IV+ instead of the initial left traverse.



Monday, 25 November 2013

Koesawa Buttress


Crag name:  Koesawa buttress (越沢バットレス)

Location:  Hatonosu (鳩ノ巣)

Map sheet:  23 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Rock type:  Andesite

Routes:  approx. 17 (from IV+ to VI+ and 5.11-)


Although it has neither the scale of the Japan Alps nor the friction of granitic areas like Ogawayama, at 3 pitches high the Koesawa buttress provides a useful training ground for many of the skills involved in getting safely up and down routes longer than a rope length.  It is probably the most accessible multi-pitch venue near Tokyo.

Getting there:

If travelling from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuo Line (中央線) train bound for Ōme (青梅).  It may be necessary to change trains at Tachikawa (立川) for the Ōme Line (JR青梅線), and then change again at Ōme onto a train bound for Okutama (奥多摩).  Get off at Hatonosu station, which is 2 stops before Okutama, the end of the line. From the station to the buttress usually takes approximately 30-40 minutes on foot.


Exit Hatonosu station and walk down the road on your left past the Yamabato coffee shop, to join the main road.  Cross this road, walk about 20m to the right, and then take the narrow road leading down to the bridge across the Tama river (多摩川).  Cross the bridge and keep walking up this same road through a small village until you reach the end, with a toilet block on your right.  The road turns into a concrete path, which in turn soon becomes a hiking trail.  You will come to a sharp right bend, with an open wooden shelter with benches and a view back across the Tama river to Hatonosu. Continue up the trail for a few more hundred metres, and you will reach a path snaking off down the slope on the left towards a campsite.  From here follow the narrow dirt trail along the right bank of the Koe river (越沢), until you reach a thin wooden bridge across a gorge.


Cross this and continue along the trail for another hundred metres or so, now on the left bank, until you come to another open wooden shelter.  The buttress is up on your left from here.


The path to the foot of the buttress goes through a small wooden gate. Although nobody is checking, consider putting the 200 yen asking price for entry into the small money box on the gate, as this will go towards the renewal of the bolts, something that is badly needed at this venue.

General info:

Here are a few points to note…

* The Koesawa buttress is located on a tree-covered hillside in a deep valley, and receives direct sunlight for a limited amount of time each day, so be prepared for cold rock outside of the summer months.

* The andesitic rock can be quite slippery, so allow time after rainy days for it to dry.

* The rock is also quite sharp, and there have been cases of accident or death due to cut ropes in the event of a fall, so climbing on double ropes is strongly recommended here.

* In-situ protection on the buttress ranges from shiny new stainless steel bolts down to rusty ring bolts, and pitons that must have been there for decades.  Think about what you choose to clip, and remember the old maxim from the early days of rock-climbing… “The leader must not fall”!

Getting down:

The top of the buttress is quite an interesting and picturesque area, well worth exploring a little bit.  There is a shrine, complete with man-made rock steps and a taiko drum inside, and a photogenic little spirit house sitting prominently on top of a rock, commanding some lovely views all the way across to Mt Kawanori (川乗山) on the other side of the main Tama River valley.


From the top you can either walk down the back or rappel off the front.  The walking trail descends to a little stream, and then heads down through the forest to a long series of scaffold stairs which bring you back to the river just before the buttress.

Alternatively, walk along the top to a large ledge where you will find an in-situ rappel anchor.  You will need double ropes to get down from here. An initial 40m rappel will get you to another in-situ anchor around a tree, and then another 30m rappel will bring you to the ground.



Tree anchor for second rappel:

The routes:

Although there are quite a few separate ways to reach the top of the buttress, I’ll limit this article to only the routes that I’ve personally climbed on lead over the years.


1. No.2 Slab Route [“2スラブルート”, 4 pitches, 100m, IV+] **

This is probably the classic route on the buttress, taking the huge slab just left of centre. There is massive exposure for the grade.

Pitch 1: Easy scrambling to the first stainless steel bolt, then climb up and into the groove to the tree.  Continue several metres beyond to a bolt anchor on a wide ledge.

1st belay ledge:

Pitch 2: Pick whichever line you like, and climb on good holds to gain the semi-hanging belay in the corner at the start of the huge slab above.


Pitch 3: Traverse out to the right on tiny holds onto the slab, with enormous exposure. Follow the bolts and pitons up and through a bulge, then continue up the line of least resistance, eventually moving into the corner at the top left of the slab. From there head up and right to a bolted belay stance.  This pitch needs up to 10 quickdraws.

The traverse out onto the slab:



Pitch 4: Scramble up the broken ground along the bottom of the trees to reach flat ground at the top, with several large trees or a single bolt on top of a rock to choose from for a belay.

2. Left Route [“左ルート”, 60m, V] **
Pitch 1: Same as for No.2 Slab Route.
Pitch 2: Climb up and left about 15m to a belay at the start of a groove.
Pitch 3: Climb the groove to gain a steep crack. Climb the crack and belay at the tree on top. A full 50m rappel will get you back to the ground, but you can split it up at any of the belay stances if needed.

3. Right Route [“右ルート”, 70m, IV+] *
Pitch 1: Climb up a right sloping chimney to reach a belay stance at a tree.
Pitch 2: Climb the face for about 20m to a belay. There are several possible ways for this pitch.


Pitch 3: Ascend a few metres up and left to gain a polished ramp.  Climb this ramp on small holds to the top.

Looking down the final ramp of Right Route:

4. Right Route – left finish [V-]
An alternative finish for Right Route, climbing up and left from the second belay stance to gain a steep crack. When you reach the top of the crack, turn right to finish.

The left finish leads up towards the tree with red leaves:

5. Right Route – double diedre [“右ルート - ダブルジェードル”, V-]
Pitch 1: Starting from the right edge of the buttress, climb up the corner at grade IV to the tree belay.
Pitch 2: Climb up and through the double diedre at grade V-, and continue to finish at the second belay stance for Right Route.

Looking up the double diedre to the top:

Japanese guidebooks:

If you can read Japanese, you can find more information about the Koesawa buttress in either of the following guidebooks.