Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Multi-pitch rock on Mt Mitsutōge (三ツ峠山)

Mountain:  Mitsutōge (1785m, 三ツ峠山)

Map sheet:  31 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

The large cliff face just below the summit of Mt Mitsutoge has long been used as a training ground for Japanese alpinists. There is a wide range of routes at all grades, as well as a lot of aid climbing from the old days. With a relatively short drive from Tokyo, a simple 45 minute approach hike, and amazing views of Mt Fuji just a stone’s throw away, this is a recommended venue for practising the skills required for multi-pitch climbing. The routes described here are two of the finest!

Getting there:
If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Chuō Expressway to Ōtsuki (大月), and then turn left in the direction of Kawaguchiko (河口湖). From Kawaguchiko you need to cross the bridge over the lake and follow route 137 until you reach the right turn onto the Misaka-michi road just before the entrance to a 3km tunnel through the mountain. This mountain road winds up towards Mitsutōge, until you reach the Mitsutōge-tozanguchi (三ツ峠登山口) at a sharp hairpin bend. There is space for about 6 cars down there, and you can find more parking up at the toilet block a few minutes further on at the Mitsutōge trailhead.

From the toilet block, follow the signs for Mt Mitsutoge’s summit. The hiking trail zig zags up a rough dirt and rock road for about 45 minutes until you reach the first hut below the summit. The rock face is visible directly beneath the summit from the hut’s terrace. A trail drops down quite steeply from the hut, with steps and hand rails, and a 5-10 minute hike will bring you along the bottom of the rock face.

Walk along the rock until you reach a small alcove with two inscription stones on a rock shelf. Both ‘Gaku route’ and the ‘Chuo-Kante’ start from here.

The routes:

1. Gaku route (岳ル―ト)

This route was apparently bolted and climbed during the making of the film “Gaku” (), based on the manga comic of the same name. It is essentially a harder variation of the same section of the wall that the Chuo-Kante ascends, but more striking and far less busy.

Pitch 1: Climb the steep bulging wall left of the inscription stones, with good Petzl bolts, and belay on one of the large in-situ anchors on the wide terrace above. (25m 5.10a)

Pitch 2: Ascend the steep slab above to a bolt belay in a small alcove beneath a left-slanting rock rib. This slab can be avoided on the left if necessary. (20m 5.10a)

Pitch 3: From the belay go around to the right, then climb up a groove and onto the rock rib. Continue up it and climb through a bulging notch to a bolt belay on the edge of the terrace shared with the Chuo-Kante. (30m 5.9)

Looking down Pitch 3:

Pitch 4: Climb up the right edge of the stunning fin of rock above, with superb exposure. From the top of the fin, head left and climb a short overhang to establish yourself in a corner crack. Follow the crack up to a belay on a ledge at the top. (35m 5.10a)

Looking down the initial rock fin of Pitch 4:

Looking down the final corner moves:

2. Chuo-kante route (中央カンテ)

This is the old established classic up this area of the rock face, and features enjoyable climbing up a beautiful natural crack line. For the most part it can be protected on trad gear, so bring a set of nuts and cams.

Pitch 1: Start on the right side of the inscription stones, and ascend the easy face on large holds to belay on the wide terrace above. (25m III)

Pitch 2: Head straight up for a few metres from the belay, then head left up the groove and crack to belay at the start of the obvious corner crack line of the 3rd pitch. (20m III)

Pitch 3: Climb the beautiful corner crack, past a vertical section and upwards to gain the terrace. (30m IV+)

Pitch 4: From the back of the terrace climb the splitter crack for about 10 metres to gain a small ledge. From here there are numerous options, but the most interesting is to continue leftwards up the arête until you reach the belay ledge at the top. (35m IV)

From the belay ledge at the top, which is shared by both routes, you can reach the bottom again in two rappels if you have 50-60m double ropes. Otherwise you’ll need to do more rappels, but there are plenty of rappel anchors to choose from.

This is classic mid-grade multi-pitch climbing up a wonderful cliff with good friction. Combine both of these routes in a single day to get 8 pitches of quality climbing, with amazing views across to nearby Mt Fuji.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Tanigawadake, Ojou-heki route (谷川岳凹状壁)

Route Name:  Ojou-heki (凹状壁)

Mountain:  Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

Map sheet:  16 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Length:  8 pitches (295m)

Time:  4-6 hours to the top of the last pitch

Grade:  V- crux pitch / Overall Grade 4- alpine route

Situated on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) in the Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉沢) valley, the Ojou-heki route ascends a wide and deep depression between the Chuo Kante and the Chuo-ryō, which gives the route its name. Its first ascent was in fact a winter ascent, in March of 1958. In summer conditions it is characterised by its somewhat loose rock and run-out nature, but the dramatic exposure and the dark brooding ambience of the Ojou make this a 3-star classic.

Getting there:
From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (about 1.5hrs). Change for the Jōetsu Line to Minakami (about 45mins), then take a local for 2 stops to Doai. From the underground platform at Doai station, climb a 489-step staircase from hell to reach ground level. Exit the station and join the main road, turning right and walking under a railway bridge. Follow this road for about 20 minutes up to the Visitors Centre.

Walk up the road from the Visitors Centre for about half an hour until you get to the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉沢). Head up the sawa until you reach the bottom of Tail ridge, and ascend this all the way to the top, at the foot of the Tsuitate-iwa (衝立岩) rock face.

From here make a short but exposed rising traverse to your left across the steep slabs in the direction of the Nan-ryō terrace. The Ojou-heki route shares its start with the Chuo-Kante, and you will quickly reach the bottom anchor (2 bolts).

As always on Tanigawa, but particularly on this route, you’ll need to channel your inner alpinist to avoid knocking any of the many loose rocks down onto people below you. Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:

Pitch 1: Traverse right from the anchor for 10m round the corner. Ascend another 20m on loose grassy rock. (30m III+)

Pitch 2: Climb up moderate terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)

Pitch 3: Trend to the right towards the Ojou (凹状), and climb to a belay at the bottom of the vertical back wall above. (40m III+)

Pitch 4: Very loose balance climbing up a vertical chimney. Take care with every hold. (40m V-)

Pitch 5: Climb up and right on loose rock to a short bulging wall, then scramble up to a ledge belay. (35m IV)

Pitch 6: Up and to the right via some tricky moves then continue up the edge. (40m IV+)

Pitch 7: Climb overgrown grassy rock to belay on pitons beneath a steep flake. (30m III)

Pitch 8: Make steep and positive moves up the flake, then continue up to crest the top of Tsuitate-iwa. (40m IV+)

From the top of the Tsuitate-iwa you will need to make a traverse of about a rope-length to get to the top of the Chuo-ryō route, which will be the line of your rappel descent. It’s straight-forward but exposed, so it’s best to keep the rope on and pitch it.

From the anchor at the top of the Chuo-ryō make about 6 rappels on double ropes to get back down to the top of Tail ridge. Be really careful not to dislodge any rocks, in case there are parties still climbing on the Chuo-ryō.

From there you just need to scramble back down Tail ridge, then hike down Ichinokura-sawa to the road and walk back to the Visitors Centre.

A very atmospheric route up an enormous natural feature to the top of Tsuitate-iwa. Bring a set of quickdraws, a set of nuts and a small selection of cams.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The book is now available in print version...

Good news for all of you who are planning on hitting some of Japan's classic alpine routes this year...

The print version of the book is now available on Amazon, and contains photo topos for an extra 25 classic climbs. You can find it here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Rock-climbing on Shishi-iwa (子持山獅子岩)

Route name:  Shishi-iwa (獅子岩)

Mountain:  Mt Komochi (1296m 子持山)

Rock type: Andesite

Time:  2-4 hours

Grade:  Crux pitch of 5.8

Shishi-iwa, or Lion rock, is an andesitic outcrop approximately 100m tall on the shoulder of Gunma’s Mt Komochi. Comprised of solid rock with excellent friction, its south-eastern aspect is home to a bolted 5-pitch rock climb that is deservedly popular. The top of Shishi-iwa offers unparalleled 360 views of the Kanto plains and nearby Mt Akagi (赤城山) and Mt Haruna (榛名).

Getting there:
You will need a car to access this route. If driving from Tokyo (東京), take the Kanetsu Expressway and exit at Shibukawa (渋川). Then take route 17 heading north. You will reach a junction signed for Shikishima station (敷島駅) on the right. Go straight across, but then turn left about 10m beyond the junction. Continue until you see a big red torii gate and turn right under it. Carry on to the car park at the end of the road.

From the car park you need to cross the river and walk up the road for a few minutes until you reach a large map board.

Take the trail on the right, initially up a long series of wooden steps, then over a small arched bridge. The large rock face above the bridge is called Byoubu-iwa (屏風岩), and is home to a handful of aid routes.

The trail continues up on the right, and ascends for about 30 minutes until you reach a signpost.

Take the small trail contouring off to the left. After about 100m you’ll come to another fainter trail heading steeply up the hill on your right. Take this trail and in a couple of minutes you will reach the base of the first pitch of Shishi-iwa.

The route is well bolted, with good bolt anchors between pitches, so just head up the line of bolts and you can’t go wrong. Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the slabby face to an anchor below the large flake. (30m 5.7)

Pitch 2: Climb face moves to the bottom of the flake, then layback to the top. (30m 5.7)

Looking down Pitch 2:

Pitch 3: Climb the face straight up, crux move midway, then anchor on the ledge on the left. (25m 5.8)

Looking down Pitch 3:

Pitch 4: Climb the slab to the upper face. (20m 5.7)

Pitch 5: Ascend a short step to finish on a wide ledge. (20m 5.7)

Pitch 6: Finish up a slab to the summit of Shishi-iwa. (15m 5.7)

Summit of Shishi-iwa:

View across to summit of Mt Komochi:

Getting down:
From the top of Shishi-iwa you need to climb down an in-situ chain ladder to the wide ledge that runs around from the top of pitch 5.

From the ledge you can either head left and hike up to the summit of Mt Komochi, about a kilometre away, or head straight down the hiking trail. Take care not to kick down any of the many loose rocks in the first 15 minutes, and you will soon regain the junction where you branched off to the start of the climb. Now reverse your approach hike back to the car park.

A top-quality little route, with excellent climbing on solid friction rock. This is a good place to practice slab climbing, and could be nicely combined with a visit to the nearby onsen resort of Ikaho (伊香保温泉) near Lake Haruna.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The East ridge of Jiigatake (爺ヶ岳東尾根)

Route name:  East ridge (Higashi-one 東尾根)

Mountain:  Jiigatake (2669m 爺ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  35 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  1-2 days

Grade:  Overall grade 1 alpine route

Mt Jiigatake is a triple-headed peak in the North Alps, situated above Kashima village to the east and Ōgisawa to the south. It is the last great peak on the long North-South ridgeline that takes in Mt Shirouma (白馬岳), Mt Karamatsu (唐松岳), Mt Goryu (五竜岳) and Mt Kashimayari (鹿島槍ヶ岳) before swinging to the west. See here for a video of a summer run along this ridgeline in a continuous single push.

Although slightly shorter than its neighbours to the north, Jiigatake is a large mountain and its eastern aspect is both dramatic and beautiful. Its East ridge poses a lengthy outing of moderate difficulty, requiring less commitment than neighbouring Mt Kashimayari’s East ridge, but with impressive scenery and views nevertheless. Typically climbed in late winter and early spring, many people opt to do this route in two days, camping mid-way along the ridge, but it is perfectly possible for a fit party to do it in a day; and in many ways preferable not to be carrying all that gear on your backs.

Getting there:
If travelling on public transport, take a train to Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町) station, and then take an Ōmachi city bus bound for Gen-yū (源汲方面) and get off the bus at Kashima (鹿島) bus stop, not long after the Jiigatake ski resort (爺ガ岳スキー場).

If travelling by car, take the Nagano Expressway and exit at Azusagawa (梓川), just past Matsumoto (松本). Get onto route 147 heading northwest, and turn left at Kita-Ōmachi onto route 45. Shortly afterwards turn right onto route 325 and follow this past the Jiigatake Ski Area (爺ガ岳スキー場) into Kashima village (鹿島). Park up by the side of the road when you get to this sign.

(Note: All photos in this article are from a spring ascent on 19 April 2016.)

From the road, walk up the driveway and past the house into the woods behind. You will immediately come across a sign for the East ridge pointing up the trail ahead.

Walk up the trail until you reach the first of a series of concrete dams. Follow the trail as it heads up right of the dam and onto a ridge.

The first 45 minutes is steep but fairly open as you pick your way up this ridge. Soon you will transition into a zone of sawa grass, and the trail will become much more overgrown. Look out for pink tape to follow as you thrutch your way up an hour of full-body bush-whacking.

Eventually the trees will begin to thin and the ridgeline will become sharper, and you will exit treeline.

Up ahead you will see the three summits of Jiigatake, still several hours away. There is space for a tent at various points along this ridge, if you are planning to break the outing up into two days.

For the next hour or two you will be ascending along the crest if the ridgeline, paying attention to any cornices. Elevation is gained incrementally as the ridge ascends and descends between bumps and pinnacles.

The crux section of the climb is a moderately exposed 10m knife-edge snow ridge, which you might consider roping up for depending on conditions. After this the ridge continues up to a tree-covered knoll, from where it takes a right turn. There is a signpost here for the central summit.

Looking back to the crux section at centre of picture:

Signpost pointing to Central summit:

The final 30-minute stretch of ridge ascends gently at first, then steepens as you approach the 2669m central summit.

Looking back down the East ridge from near the summit:

Central summit marker:

Getting down:
If conditions are good, you may wish to just reverse the East ridge to get back down to your start point in Kashima village.

Alternatively you could choose to descend the Aka-iwa ridgeline. To access the Aka-iwa head north from the Central summit, past the North summit, and down to the col about 10 minutes short of the Tsumetaike hut (冷池山荘) before the ascent to Mt Kashimayari. You will come across a signpost marking the top of the Aka-iwa ridge.

The descent trail traverses across a face initially to access the top of the ridge, and it can feel a little exposed in poor snow conditions.

The top half of the ridge is open, steep and exposed, but eventually after descending for about an hour you will come to a flat area marked on the map as Takachihodai (高千穂台).

The trail continues down for another hour or two, consistently steep and with a lot of ladders in place. Eventually you will find yourself traversing to your left at the bottom of the ridge, and you will soon reach the river. Cross this river near one of the dams by the safest way you can find (it will differ depending on the year). A further hour’s walk down the rindou on the other side will bring you first to a small hydro plant by the river, and then to the suspension bridge that leads to the car park at the Ōtanbara (大谷原) trail head. Kashima village is another hour down the road.

If you can find it in good conditions, this ridge will provide a fine variation climb directly to the highest summit of this beautiful mountain. The later you leave it, the more awkward it will become as snow conditions deteriorate. It’s an excellent outing though, with spectacular views of the East ridge of nearby Mt Kashimayari!