Thursday, 18 January 2018

The West face Shu-ryo of Akadake (赤岳主稜)

Route name: Akadake Shu-ryo (赤岳主)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

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

Time:  3-4 hours

Difficulty:  Grade 2 alpine route / IV- crux

At 2899m Akadake is the highest summit of the Yatsugatake massif, and the crown jewel of the southern end of the range. It is one of the most popular winter hiking objectives in central Honshu, and when combined with the traverse of Yokodake and Iodake it makes one of the finest winter ridge hikes around. For more serious climbers it is home to several excellent winter routes, and the ascent of its West face by its central arête (Shu-ryo) is a true classic.

Steep and imposing from below, a closer acquaintance with the upper West face reveals it to be very featured, rich in holds and never overly difficult. As pitch after pitch takes you higher and closer to the summit, the sense of passage mounting, the route delivers the ultimate satisfaction of climbing a big mountain in winter via a beautiful natural line up a steep face.

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo, take a Super Azusa Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Chino (approx. 2.5 hours). Outside the JR station at Chino take a bus to Minotoguchi (美濃戸口, approx. 45 minutes). This is the gateway to the Akadake-kōsen side of Yatsugatake. From the carpark start hiking up the trail that is signposted to Akadake (赤岳). The walk-in takes up to 3 hours by map time. It is split into 3 stages.

The first hour brings you past a series of buildings and on a little further to a hut with a water source, which makes a good resting point for 5 minutes. The trail splits here, with the right fork going up Minami-sawa (南沢) to the Gyouja-goya hut (行者小屋). This is the quickest approach if you are planning a single day round-trip ascent. If you are planning on staying in the Akadake-kousen hut, you need to take the left fork up Kita-sawa (北沢). The next hour follows the rough dirt road until it finishes at a bridge across the sawa. From the other side the path narrows and meanders alongside the sawa for another hour or so until you reach the hut at Akadake-kousen. This hut and its campground serve as basecamp for all the routes in the area, as well as for the popular Ice Candy artificial ice wall.

As you exit the Akadake-kousen hut by the front door turn right and follow the trail to the end of the hut and then up through the forest. After about half an hour and a couple of zigzags you will arrive at a signpost on a small flat area. This is the entry point for the Nakayama ridge (中山尾根), but you need to continue on down the other side of this ridge, and after ten minutes you’ll arrive at the Gyouja-goya hut.

Continue on past the hut and its camp ground and begin to ascend gently. You’ll soon reach a sign-posted fork in the trail. Left leads to the Bunzaburo ridge (文三郎尾根), the normal hiking route for Akadake from this side, which ascends to the right of the West face. You need to go quite high up on the Bunzaburo, and eventually you’ll come to a small shoulder on the ridge, level with a chimney about 80m to your left out on the face. This is the start of the traverse out onto the face, and that chimney is the first pitch which gives access to the Shu-ryo. It’s a good idea to gear up and get your rope out here before the traverse, as this flat spot is far more comfortable than the angled terrain at the end of the traverse.

Head out across the traverse to the foot of the chimney, and you’ll find a bolted anchor. From this point, approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the chimney to gain the top of the large chockstone, then continue up for about 10m before a sharp right turn. Continue up mixed ground to a bolted belay on the right wall below a rock step. (IV- 35m)

Pitch 2: Climb the rock step to gain the arête, then continue upwards for another 20m to a belay. (25m)

Pitch 3: Surmount a mixed rock step, then continue up a snow slope. At this point you may choose to simul-climb for about 70m until you reach the next belay at the top of the snow on the right-hand side of the face. (80m)

Pitch 4: From the belay climb up and round on the right to regain the arête via a grade III+ rock step, with some interesting moves to exit at the top to another bolted belay. (35m)

Pitch 5: Continue up the arête on featured and comfortable terrain to belay on pitons at the foot of a chimney. (40m)

Looking up pitch 5:

Pitch 6: Climb the chimney, then continue up mixed terrain to exit the face onto the hiking trail just below the north summit of Akadake. You can belay on one of the iron stanchions on the hiking trail if necessary. (approx. 50m)

From the top of the route the summit can be reached in 5 minutes of hiking up the trail.

From the summit of Akadake there are a couple of options:

1. Take the trail south off the summit down exposed scrambling terrain until it swings to the east in the direction of Amidadake. Keep climbing down until you eventually come to the top of the Bunzaburo ridge, and then follow this back down to the Gyouja-goya hut.

2. Take the trail north off the summit down quite steep terrain for about 30 minutes until you reach the Jizo col. From here head to climber’s left down the Jizo-one ridgeline back to the Gyouja-goya hut, or continue straight on to Yokodake and Iodake to the north.

A fine route worthy of its status as the most classic and sought-after winter climb in the Akadake-kousen area. A rack of alpine draws and a couple of pitons will suffice.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Multi-pitch climbing on Jōyama (城山) - "Southwest arête" (南西カンテ)

Route Name:  Southwest arête (Nansei-kante 南西カンテ)

Mountain: Joyama ()

Rock type:  Andesitic tuff

Length: 4 pitches (120m)

Grade: 5.9 crux

For quality friction slab and face-climbing a couple of hours from Tokyo, you simply cannot go wrong with Jōyama (). Its expansive South face is home to dozens of top quality multi-pitch routes, with superb exposure. There is a tree-covered terrace running diagonally upwards from the top of the face, and it would be possible to ascend this and reach the summit, but the risk of knocking loose stones onto the climbers below dictates that climbers rappel the face after their routes.

There is one beautiful way to the top though. The Southwest arête is a striking natural line up the left edge of the face, with some superb climbing at a very moderate difficulty for this venue. For anyone looking for exposure and multi-pitch training, and an introduction to the Jōyama climbing style, this route is highly recommended.

The climbing season typically runs from late October through the winter months to spring. In summer it is far too hot!

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo on public transport, the simplest way is to take a shinkansen from Shinagawa (品川) to Mishima (三島), and then change for a local Izu-Hakone-Sunzu train for Ōhito (大仁). From there you can either walk to the trailhead in about half an hour, or take a local taxi.

If travelling from Tokyo by car, head down the Tōmei Expressway (with a convenient Starbucks located at the Ashigara service area south of Mt Fuji), transfer onto the Izu Chuō-do toll road, and stay on as far as Ōhito. Once on local roads in Ōhito, make your way across the Karino river (狩野川) and down to a small car park opposite the trailhead.

From the trailhead a short walk of about 15 minutes will bring you to a signed junction in the trail.

Head right from here up a short scrambly path and you will come out at the bottom of the South face. It’s a good idea to put your helmet on whilst near the base of the rock in case of falling stones from above.

Walk to your left along the bottom of the South face and follow the trail up through the trees past several zigzags, always keeping the South face in close sight. In a few minutes the trail heads up to the right. After a short scramble over stones and tree roots, you will see a small terrace across and slightly down on the right. This is the bottom of the Southwest arête.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the first few metres up well-featured rock with excellent friction. Cross round to the right side of the arête as soon as you can, and then follow the line of bolts upwards until you reach an in-situ bolt anchor on a small terrace.  (30m 5.8)

Pitch 2: Continue up the arête on excellent rock. The exposure is immediate and very satisfying. After about 20m you’ll reach a tree-covered area. Continue up easy ground, past an in-situ rappel anchor on a tree, and over one final slab to gain the belay platform in an alcove.  (35m 5.7)

Pitch 3: A few steep moves will get you out of the belay alcove and to the foot of a bulge (ring bolt here). If you don’t fancy climbing this directly, it can be bypassed in two short pitches via a 5.7 bolt-protected traverse out to the right across a slabby face, and then a scramble up along the base of the overhanging ‘second rock band’. If you tackle it direct it goes at 5.9, and is well-protected and engaging. After the initial bulge, continue up through another steep slabby section, followed by a scramble up loose tree-covered terrain to the belay anchor on a ledge beneath the final pitch.  (35m 5.9)

Pitch 4: After the initial groove, climb out onto the face on climber’s right, then step awkwardly across to gain the top of a rock jutting out on the left at two-thirds height. From here, continue up and to the right to belay from any tree of your choice. (20m 5.8)

From the top of the route, walk up the trail to your right, and after about 10 minutes you will pop out at a junction on the main Jōyama hiking trail.

The summit is about 3 minutes up the trail to your right and is a wonderful spot, sheltered from any westerly winds and with magnificent views of the nearby Karino river and Ōhito town, and extending all the way to the Tanzawa range (丹沢) to the northeast and Amagi-san (天城山) to the south.

Simply head back the way you came for a few minutes to the trail junction, and this time continue down the main hiking trail to the right. After about 15 minutes or so you will come to another junction on a pass.

Head left and follow the trail down for about 30-40 minutes and you will arrive back at the trail head and the road.

An enjoyable climb on excellent rock up some striking features. If not for the occasional tree-covered sections, it would be first-class. Combining it with a route on the South face makes for a fantastic day of climbing, with a summit and great views thrown into the bargain. The in-situ protection is good, so a rack of 12 quickdraws will be sufficient.


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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Tanigawadake, Chuō-Kante (谷川岳中央カンテ)

Route Name: Chuō-Kante (中央カンテ)

Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

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

Length: 10 pitches

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

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

The Chuō-Kante route ascends the prominent rib of rock on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) wall, between the Henkei Chimney (変形チムニー) and the Ojou-heki (凹状壁) routes. First climbed in the summer of 1958, this 10-pitch odyssey provides steady climbing for the most part up a stunning natural line, and its crux pitch is one of the finest on the wall. Protection is often sparse, with some pitches containing barely any in-situ gear at all, so a trad rack is required here. Rock quality can be rather suspect, so care and good balance will serve you well. All of this adds up to a classic and universally valued outing up one of the finest and most storied of Japanese walls.

(Note: The photos in this article are assembled from several ascents of the wall, hence the varied weather conditions.)

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 up the steep slabs around the bottom of the Chuō-ryo (中央稜). You will soon reach an in-situ anchor (2 bolts), which is the shared start of both the Chuō-Kante and Ojou-heki routes.

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 but run-out terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)

Pitch 3: Make steep moves to gain the Kante, then ascend it for about 20m to an anchor. (40m IV)

Pitch 4: Continue up the Kante for a rope length, ignoring an old intermediate anchor. (50m III)

Pitch 5: Climb up the shallow gully above to the base of a chimney. Climb the chimney on trad gear placements to an anchor just above. (30m IV+)

Pitch 6: Climb up and to the right, and belay a short distance below the obvious crux overhang. (40m III)

Pitch 7: Climb up to the lip of the overhang, and surmount this with a strong move up right on positive holds. Continue up to another leftward-rising crack. Climb this crack, with some layback moves, until you reach the belay at the top. (30m V+)

Pitch 8: Climb up and to the left. (30m IV)

Pitch 9: Continue up and to the left across the face. (40m III)

Pitch 10: Ascend a few metres and traverse left, then climb up a steeper but well-featured section to gain the shoulder. The anchor at the top of the route is here, with the Eboshi (烏帽子岩) rock feature directly up on your right. (40m IV)

From the anchor on top of the route, make a free-hanging abseil on two 50m ropes down the overhanging corner on the other side. When you touch the ground, stay connected to the ropes and continue across the slab, paying attention to loose stones, and several metres down the overgrown grassy slope on the other side of the gully to reach a dodgy piton anchor.

From this anchor make a sketchy traverse up and left across the muddy face, then down through the undergrowth to the top of the Nan-ryō (南稜) route. Pay attention on this section, as it is a dangerous spot.

Once you get to the top of the Nan-ryō, you can traverse across to the top of the line of rappels which is the standard rappel descent. It will take you about five rappels on double ropes to reach the terrace at the start of the Nan-ryō. From here you can either unrope and down-climb or do one more rappel to easier ground.

Now you just need to traverse back across to the top of Tail ridge and descend back out of Ichinokura-sawa to the road.

A fantastic and varied outing up a large natural line with great exposure. The climbing is interesting and engaging throughout, requiring both a trad rack and a head for alpine adventure. This route is a perfect stepping stone between the easier classic arêtes bounding the Oku-heki face and the longer and more demanding routes up the face itself.

For more classic routes on Tanigawadake and the famous Ichinokura-sawa valley, check out the book on Amazon in print or Kindle e-book formats.

With this in the Kindle app on your smartphone, you'll always have the route description right there in your pocket while scanning for that next belay anchor...

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Kitadake Buttress - No.4 ridge Lower flank and Upper flank (北岳バットレス第4尾根下部フランケ~上部フランケ)

Route name:  Lower flank (下部フランケ) / Upper flank (上部フランケ) routes on ‘The Buttress’ No.4 ridge (バットレス第4尾根)

Mountain:  Mt Kitadake (3192m北岳)

Map sheet:  41 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  2 days (1 day approach, 1 day for the climb and descent)

Grade:  Overall Grade 4- alpine route

There can be few alpine days in Japan to rival the ascent of Mt Kitadake by any of the routes on its East face buttress. The classic No.4 ridge (4尾根) constitutes the easiest way to the top, and is consequently the busiest route on the face. On the plus side, this means it has the most solid rock and generally reliable in-situ protection. But once you stray from there onto other parts of the face, the adventure ramps up considerably.

The routes in D-gully and on the left flank of No.4 ridge are steeper and more consistently difficult, and bring into play important route-finding and protection skills. With slabs, overhangs, corner cracks and chimneys, a wide range of climbing skills is needed as well. And for all that, the level of satisfaction on reaching Japan’s second highest summit is raised accordingly.

Getting there:
If travelling by train from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuō Line (中央線) train out to Kōfu (甲府) station. Ideally you want to be on the first Super Azusa limited express train in the morning. Next you need to take a bus from the bus stands outside Kōfu station via the Yashajin Pass (夜叉神峠) to Hirogawara (広河原). The bus ride takes approximately two hours. You will begin your approach from Hirogawara.

If travelling by car you need to get to Narada onsen and park your car in the large car park there. From Narada the road is closed to private vehicles, but there is a bus service between there and the trailhead at Hirogawara.

From the bus stop at Hirogawara walk up the road for a couple of minutes, then cross the suspension bridge over the river.

Walk up the trail for about 15-20 minutes and you’ll come to a junction, and the trail you take depends on where you’re planning to sleep.  Let’s assume here that you’re going to spend the night in the Shiraneoike hut (白根御池小屋) or its campground. You’ll need to take the right fork, and a couple of hours of steep hiking will bring you to the hut and the pond it gets its name from.

D-gully access:
After an early start, hike up the trail from the hut for about 30 minutes until things open out into the main sawa and you reach the Futamata (二俣) trail junction. Continue up the trail on the right edge of the valley for another half hour until you get to the entrances to C and D gullies on your right, with the cliffs of the buttress looming up above.

A faint trail ascends the ridge between the two gullies up to the foot of the rock.

As the route in question here lies on the D-gully side of No.4 ridge, you’ll want to approach via D-gully. Either climb the gully itself by three easy pitches up to the large ledge, or climb the rib on the left of D-gully (in-situ pitons) before heading into D-gully for the last easy pitch up to the ledge.

This wide ledge traverses the face and is the access round to No.4 ridge, as well as to the Lower flank route. There is a dodgy old anchor in place at the foot of the route, consisting of two rusty pitons which may need hammering back in depending on how the previous winter has been. Now you’re ready to start the climb itself.

Lower flank route:

Pitch 1: There’s nothing quite like getting the crux pitch out of the way at the start! Climb the slab on small crimpy holds, then make a delicate traverse rightwards to the belay anchor in the corner. (50m 5.10a)

Pitch 2: Climb directly up the steep open-book corner to a bulge. Surmount this on the left, then carry on up the crack to belay on a ledge. (35m IV+)

Pitch 3: Continue up the corner to a piton belay. (40m IV+)

Pitch 4: Finish the corner, then ascend steep broken ground to belay on the right side of D-gully’s back wall. It’s possible to link pitches 3 and 4 into one long pitch of 60m. (20m IV)

Pitch 5: An unprotected rising traverse leftwards takes you out into no-mans-land in D-gully. Continue left along a slight ledge, and dip down at the end to belay on pitons below the start of the D-gully oku-heki (Dガリー奥壁) route. (40m II-III)

Upper flank route:

Pitch 6: Route-finding on this pitch is not very clear, but you need to climb up and to the right for about 40m until you reach a piton belay at the bottom of an overhanging chimney. (40m III)

Pitch 7: This is the crux pitch of the upper flank route. Climb the chimney’s right edge to reach the overhang. Pull through this and then continue steeply up the corner to belay on a ledge. (20m V)

Pitch 8: Climb the corner directly below No.4 ridge. (40m III+)

Pitch 9: Continue up the corner to belay at the foot of the Matchbox abseil from No.4 ridge. From this point you are onto the upper pitches of No.4 ridge. (40m III+)

Pitch 10: Make steep but easy moves up the crack between the Matchbox rock and the main face, then climb a delicate section up the arête to belay on a ledge a few metres below the start of the traverse pitch. (45m IV+)

Pitch 11: Climb the last few metres of the arête to gain the start of the traverse. Now head to climber’s left along the beautiful knife-edge to belay below the final chimney crack at the top of D-gully. (40m III)

Pitch 12: Climb the awkward and slightly over-hanging chimney crack, with plentiful in-situ pitons nowadays, to exit D-gully onto the easy ground above. (35m IV+)

From here you just need to scramble up about 30m of easy slabs and you’ll come to a path that will take you up the final slopes to exit the East face onto the summit ridge hiking trail in about 15 minutes. The summit lies just a short way up the trail on climber’s right.

Getting down:
From the summit follow the hiking trail north and down to the Kitadake Katanogoya hut (北岳肩ノ小屋), which sits on the shoulder of the mountain and is renowned for its sunrise views. Continue beyond the hut and you’ll reach a junction, with one trail heading off to the large satellite peak on the left and another dropping steeply down to the east.

This latter trail will bring you all the way back down to your starting point at the Shiraneoike hut. From there you just need to reverse the hike back out to the trailhead bus stop at Hirogawara.

A consistent and very satisfying route, and a step up from the neighbouring No.4 ridge in every way. Bring nuts and cams and expect to use them, and be prepared for a long and physical outing.

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