Friday, 27 February 2015

Mitsutoge (三ツ峠山) ice-climbing – Shijuhataki-sawa (四十八滝沢)

Route Name:     Shijuhataki-sawa (四十八滝沢)

Mountain:     Mitsutōge (1785m, 三ツ峠山)

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

Time:     Approx. 6 hours to the summit

Grade:     WI3+ / Overall grade 2 route

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).  Leave the expressway at Tsuru (つる), and turn right onto Route 705.

Continue along this road, crossing a bridge and eventually winding up into the mountains, until you eventually come to the following billboard map sign just before a single lane bridge.

There is a car park about 50m down the road near the bus stop before this map sign, and there is space for one car to park in front of the map sign.  If you have a four-wheel-drive car with plenty of clearance, you could consider continuing up the road to the trail head itself, but parking is limited up there and the road is very icy in winter.


Topo map from the out-of-print ice-climbing guidebook:

If you parked at the car park, you need to cross the bridge and continue up the road for about 20 minutes until you reach the trail head. It is well sign-posted, and the trail heads off left from the road.

For the first 30 minutes or so the trail wanders uphill gently, crossing one sawa before heading up on a raised ridge past about 5 or 6 concrete dams.  Eventually you will reach a large tree with a couple of signboards attached to it.

This tree marks the entry point for sawanobori climbers in summer, after all the concrete dams, and if conditions are good you can also enter here. If there is a lot of snow, or the lower reaches of the sawa are not frozen at all, continue up the trail for another 10 minutes or so until you reach the first frozen falls, then drop in.

The first couple of falls are quite short, and there are trees to belay from if you do get the rope out.

Looking back in the lower section:

After a short time you will approach the 25m Ō-taki (大滝) icefall. The Ō-taki is rarely in full fat condition, and usually has water gushing down the centre. If the ice is in climbable condition, parties usually climb it on the left.

Upper part of Ō-taki in poor condition:

If the ice is not climbable, as on our ascent, don’t worry… There is a straight-forward scramble on the left which bypasses the Ō-taki.

Now you are into the really nice climbing, and you immediately enter a steeper canyon with a series of stepped icefalls. There are tree belays if needed, so it’s up to you how you break up this section.

After several more icefalls, we started to encounter deeper snow, and the sawa itself became buried and the lower sections of most icefalls were rather banked out. If you catch this route in early season conditions, you’ll probably be climbing a continuous ramp of moderate stepped ice.

Eventually you will reach the final steep slopes up to the summit ridgeline. These slopes continue for several hundred metres of height gain, and we had to break trail for the entire way. A final easy mixed section through steep forested slopes brought us out on the summit ridge. From there it is just a few minutes’ walk to the main summit of Mitsutōge (Mt Kaiun, 開運山, 1785m), with stupendous views across to Mt Fuji.

To descend back to your car, you need to take the hiking trail along the summit ridgeline to the northernmost of the 3 summits of Mitsutōge, Mt Osutaka (御巣鷹山, 1775m), and then strike out on your right down the hiking trail. The trail is very steep for a lot of the way, with some exposure, and is a bit more engaging than most hiking trails in Japan.

After about an hour you will come out into the sawa just below the Ō-taki icefall, and cross over onto the other side. There are ropes in places to secure passage, and once through the tricky sections, it is a straight-forward walk back down to the rindou and the trailhead. From there, a further 10-15 minutes down the road will bring you back to the car park.

It still amazes me that such a quality ice route exists so close to Tokyo! Despite the man-made eyesore of the communication towers on the summit, Mitsutōge is in fact a mountain of great nuance and subtlety if you look in the right places, and has a lot to offer to climbers of both rock and ice. With 1000m of height gain between car and summit, this outing is not a small day by any means, but it is a fantastic route and well worth the effort. About six or seven ice screws and a 50m rope should suffice.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mt Onba (御場山) ice-climbing – Nishi runze (西ルンゼ) F1

Route Name:     Onba-yama Nishi-runze (御場山 西ルンゼ) F1

Mountain:     Mt Onba (1059m, 御場山)

Map sheet:     21 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Approach:     30 minutes

Grade:     WI3 (good conditions) / WI4 (thin conditions)

Getting there:

If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Kan-etsu Expressway through Saitama, and then change onto the Joshin-etsu Expressway at the Fujioka junction (藤岡). Leave the Joshin-etsu at Shimonita Junction (下仁田) in Gunma prefecture, and make your way onto Route 254. Drive along the 254 with the river on your left until you come to a junction, and turn right onto Route 43. Continue up this road until you reach a small village.

Take a left and drive up a narrow road for a short way, and park at end of the road next to a house and some terraced fields. There is space for a couple of cars. From here you will continue on foot.

Walk about 50m down to the river, and cross to the other side.

Walk up the path between some old wooden buildings.

Continue along the trail on the right side of the sawa for about 10 minutes and you'll come to a fork in the sawa. Cross the sawa here and walk up the left fork.

The F1 icefall is about 100m up the left fork on the left side.

It is approximately 30m high, and should be around WI3 in fat conditions.  In thinner conditions, as seen in these photos, it is about WI4.  There are trees to anchor from at the top, and a top-tope can be set from there with a 60m rope.

There is more ice above F1, but not as big as this, and we didn’t go there. It could be worth checking out though.

Gearing up at the start:

Nice steady climbing most of the way, with a steeper section near the top. Make sure that you either have a 60m rope or two 50m ropes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Mitsutoge (三ツ峠山) ice-climbing - Kanegakubo-sawa (金ヶ窪沢)

Route Name:     Kanegakubo-sawa (金ヶ窪沢)

Mountain:     Mitsutōge (1785m, 三ツ峠山)

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

Time:     2-3 hours

Grade:     WI3

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 and the entrance to Kanegakubo-sawa (金ヶ窪沢).


If you have parked at the hairpin bend, you need to follow the hiking signpost for Mitsutōge and walk up the road for another 5-10 minutes until you reach a car park and toilet block.

Turn right at the toilet block:

Take a right turn just after the toilet block, signposted to Mitsutōge, and walk up the road for another 20 minutes. After several zig-zags the road will straighten out for a bit, and you will see a fork in the river on your left, and a concrete dam. You need to descend to the river here and step across it, and continue into the left fork, which is Kanegakubo-sawa.

The first frozen waterfall you’ll find is on a concrete dam, and if it’s not in good condition you can walk up around it on the right.

From here you enter the sawa proper, and the next icefall is basically a walk up.

After a couple of hundred metres you’ll arrive at the main icefalls. The ice spans the full width of the sawa, with plenty of room for multiple parties to climb at the same time. The entire thing can be climbed in a single pitch of about 50m if you stick to the middle or right side. If you want to climb the left side though, there are a couple of convenient anchors available at trees, from which the ice can then be top-roped using a 50m rope.

Climbing the second pitch to the top:

At the top of the icefall:

Most groups just come for the ice itself, and after they’ve climbed it they rappel down and walk back out to the car, but make sure you have two 50m ropes if that is your plan. For a more aesthetic end to your day, however, continue up the sawa from the top of the ice, and the summit can be reached in about 1.5 hours.

At first you will be climbing short easy ice steps, and then things level out and you may find yourselves breaking trail.

After about 30 minutes you’ll pass a junction with another branch to the right, but you should stick to the main sawa in the left fork. Another 15 minutes later you can head off to the right up a forested slope, and 20 minutes of effort will bring you out on the hiking trail next to the Mitsutōge-sanso (三ツ峠山荘) hut on the shoulder of Mitsutōge.

From the hut there are great views across the left end of the famous Mitsutōge rock face. The true summit can be reached from here in about 10 minutes.

To get back to your car, simply walk down the hiking trail for about 45 minutes.

If the ice is in good condition, this is an excellent day out from Tokyo; beautiful climbing at a stress-free grade, and one of the more satisfying ways to reach the summit of Mitsutōge. The views from the summit in winter are quite simply outstanding!