Friday, 29 January 2016

Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) ice-climbing – Minamisawa-Ōtaki (南沢大滝)

Route Name:  Minamisawa-Ōtaki (南沢大滝)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

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

Time:  2 hours for the approach

Grade:  WI4


If you’re looking for ice to climb with a short approach walk, or you only have a day available, the Ōtaki (大滝) and Kotaki (小滝) in Yatsugatake’s Minamisawa (南沢) will fit the bill nicely. Be warned though that the convenient approach will probably mean you’ll be sharing the ice with a lot of other climbers on weekends.

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 Amidadake and the Akadake-kōsen side of Yatsugatake.

Approach:
It takes about 2 hours to walk to the Minamisawa-Ōtaki, with about 700m of elevation gain. From the carpark start hiking up the trail that is signposted to Akadake (赤岳). 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 left fork going up Kitasawa (北沢) to the Akadake-kōsen, and the right fork going up Minamisawa (南沢) to the Gyouja-goya hut (行者小屋). You need to take the right fork.


Follow the trail as it meanders back and forth across the river, eventually steepening a bit and gaining height. After about an hour you will come to a fork. The trail continues to the left up Minamisawa, and the icefalls of the Ōtaki and Kotaki lie a few minutes up the roped off trail on the right.


Description:
A couple of minutes above the rope barrier you’ll come to another fork in the trail. There is flat space here for several tents. Just round the corner on the right lies the Kotaki, or little waterfall. It is about 15m high, with multiple fixed anchors on a line of trees set back from the top. A single rope will be enough to climb, rappel or set up a top-rope.

Kotaki:

The main event, the Ōtaki, lies about 5-10 minutes up the left fork. It is about 45m high from the bottom to the anchors. There is no way to bypass it, so to climb it and get down safely you’ll need double ropes. The Ōtaki is mostly vertical, and the difficulty is around WI4 in bulletproof mid-winter deep freeze conditions. It is quite wide, so multiple parties can climb on it at the same time.




It gets cold on Yatsu in mid-winter:

Overall:
A good day’s climbing on ice that is both higher and more vertical than the ice in Jougasawa (ジヨウゴ沢) or the Uradoushin-runze (裏同心ルンゼ), with a nice short approach walk.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Kaikomagatake (甲斐駒ケ岳) – O-ren-dani right fork (黄蓮谷右俣)

Route Name:  O-ren-dani right fork (黄蓮谷右俣)

Mountain:  Kaikomagatake (2967m, 甲斐駒ケ岳)

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

Time:  2-3 days

Grade:  Grade 3+ alpine route


As you pass by Mt Kaikoma on a Chuo Line train the eye is forcibly drawn into the depression that cleaves its north-eastern face from bottom to top, part gully and part canyon. Beginning almost at the foot of the mountain and ending right at the summit, the O-ren-dani is immense, and instantly recognisable. In summer a stream forms in its upper slabs, becoming a torrent as it tumbles down the mountain, and when winter arrives it freezes to form one of the most beautiful ice climbs in Japan.

Conditions are notoriously hard to predict. Get there too early in December and the ice might not be formed; get there too late and it might be buried under metres of snow, and avalanche prone. But if you can hit it just right, you can expect to be climbing on near-continuous water ice for about 1200m! Access is complex, requiring the climber to ascend two-thirds of the Kuroto ridge, and then lose about 800m of that hard-won altitude to get in to the bottom of the route. It is not a place to have anything go wrong, so you should be well-trained and prepared. But make no mistake… This route is a hands-down classic, and one of the most sought-after winter alpine climbs Japan has to offer.

Getting there:
If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Chuō Expressway to Sutama (須玉) and then exit onto route 141. A combination of local roads will bring you within about half an hour to the Hakushukankōjiro camping ground (白洲観光尾白キャンプ場). The car park here is the end of the road and the access point for the Kuroto ridge of Mt Kaikoma and all climbing routes on the east side of the mountain.

Description:

THE APPROACH

From the car park, walk past the barrier and continue along the rough road for about 5-10 minutes until you reach the Chiku-Komagatake shrine (竹宇駒ケ岳神社), an ancient holy site for shugendō religious practice. From the shrine, cross the suspension bridge over the river and follow the path upwards through the initial zigzags.

After about 30mins the path will veer to the left and contour up and round onto the crest of the ridge. Keep going, and after about 2 hours of map time you will reach a junction where your trail is joined by another approach trail that came up from Yokote-Komagatake shrine. You are now on the Kuroto ridge proper. Keep following the path up through the forest, with red paint markers on the trees to show you the right way.

After about 1.5 hours the ridge will begin to narrow until you reach an airy knife-edge section with chains. Cross this with care, and after another 15-20 minutes you will reach a small shrine at 2049m. From here on you will begin to encounter ladders fixed on the steep sections.



Keep going for another hour or so and the trail will descend for about 100m to a col. This is the 5th station on the ridge. In the past there was an emergency hut here, the Gogome-goya (五合目小屋), but this hut no longer exists. The descent trail into the O-ren-dani starts from the 5th station. You will be passing this spot again on your way down from the summit, so you could consider camping here and picking up your tent on your way back down after your climb.

If you are not planning to camp, then you will need to continue up the ridge for another hour or so to the Shichijodaiichi-goya hut (七丈第一小屋). The trail to the hut goes up and down very steeply, with a lot of ladders and chains to negotiate, some of them quite exposed indeed. Eventually you will round a corner at about 2400m and arrive at the hut. A night here currently costs about ¥4600 including unlimited water supplies.

THE CLIMB


Set your alarm bright and early, because it’s going to be a big day! The first hour of the day involves retracing your steps back down the chains and ladders to the 5th station. From there you are ready to drop down into the O-ren-dani.

When you arrive at the 5th station, turn left and follow the trail into the trees. At first you’ll be contouring slightly to your right, and you’ll soon come to a landslide gully. Cross the landslide carefully, and continue downwards until you find yourself on a forested ridge. You now need to descend this ridge, keeping towards its left side. Route-finding is not obvious in the dark, and there are no trail markers, so keep your eyes open and look for signs of passage from other climbers. There are a series of short cliffs down this ridge, which you’ll need to bypass. Eventually after about 1.5 hours and numerous false turns, you should come to a large rock formation near the bottom of the sawa (岩小屋). A few metres below this you will reach the river. There is a waterfall here, but it is unlikely to be frozen, so bypass it on the left via a short scramble with a fixed rope in place.

A short way beyond, you will arrive at the first icefall of the O-ren-dani, the 50m Bōzu-no-taki (坊主の滝). This could be climbed in a single pitch with a 60m rope, but that would put you out of hearing range with your belayer, so most people climb it in two pitches.


Continue up the sawa and you will reach the 15m Futamata (二俣) icefall.



After this, continue up the sawa at a gentle gradient for a little while. Up ahead you will see the turn off for the O-ren-dani’s left fork (左俣). Don’t go up there today, but head to your right and climb a short fall. Continue up an ice ramp until you reach another steeper fall.




This is the start of the famous 200m Oku-Senjō-no-taki (奥千丈の滝). This wonderful section just seems to continue on and on with perfect water ice on all sides of you. It is breathtakingly beautiful.


At the top of this section the O-ren-dani veers to climber’s left in the direction of Kaikoma’s summit, still about 900m above you. In good conditions you will be on water ice almost all the way.





After several hours you will reach the final obstacles barring the way to the summit, the Oku-no-Futamata-no-taki (奥の二俣の滝) and the Oku-no-taki (奥ノ滝) icefalls.



Once you’ve surmounted these, the O-ren-dani begins to open up a bit and you’ll find yourself front-pointing up steep snow slopes for several hundred metres. Eventually you will exit onto the final 50m of the Kuroto ridge below the summit. A short walk will bring you to the top, with some of the finest views in Japan!




From the summit you just need to descend the 2200m of elevation down the Kuroto ridge back to the temple and the car park.

Overall:
Simply mind-blowing! Wild, remote, long and consistently exposed, the beautiful O-ren-dani is the prize of the South Alps. If you are lucky to find good conditions, you are guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime here!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

North ridge of Amidadake (阿弥陀岳北稜)

Route Name:  North ridge (Hokuryou )

Mountain:  Amidadake (2805m 阿弥陀岳) on Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) massif

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

Time:  1 day

Grade:  III+ / Overall Grade 1 alpine route


The North ridge is the shortest of Amidadake’s alpine ridges, and with its proximity to the normal hiking trail it offers a low-commitment introduction to the skills needed for some of the area’s longer winter mixed outings.  The route itself is in fact only the upper 300m of the ridge, where things steepen and become technical. It is a popular outing for local guides and for climbers looking for an early-season tune-up route.

One thing to be aware of is that there can be avalanche risk on the approach and descent for this route in winter, so despite the short and easy nature of the climbing, the route is not without danger.  But in good conditions the North ridge is a fun climb and wholly recommended.

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). 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-kōsen. This hut and its camp ground serve as base camp for all the routes in the area.

Description:


As you exit the Akadake-kōsen 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, 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 come to 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. You need to take the right fork for Amidadake.


A further 5-10 minutes will bring you to another junction, where the main trail continues uphill but a smaller trail heads off to the right onto the forested ridgeline. This right-hand trail is the access to the North ridge of Amidadake.


At first you’ll be zigzagging up through the forest. While the main Amidadake hiking trail follows the gully to your left, you’ll be ascending the lower flank of the North ridge. There are quite a few places where you could head straight up the slope, and the only difference is the point at which you will come out onto the North ridge. Once on the ridge proper, you’ll find yourself bush-whacking for a while through dwarf pine until you get up and out of the treeline.



Once you have broken treeline the ridge begins to steepen properly, and you’ll find yourself using your ice axes. The terrain is not hard though, and progress is fast.

Eventually you’ll arrive at the ridge’s III+ crux, the first rock step. There are many ways by which you could climb this, but the standard route is just around the left side. Climb the well-featured lower half, with a bolt up on the right, until you reach the crack near the top. An interesting leg jam will bring you to a sloping ledge with another bolt above it. Continue round to the right and up the crest of the rocky ridge to reach a two-bolt anchor.



You are now at the slightly easier second rock step. Ascend this diagonally up and to the right and continue up to a flat knife-edge section with a dead tree at the start. Cross this knife-edge and you are at the end of the difficulties.


From here the summit is just 10-15 minutes away.


Descent:
From the summit head down the normal hiking trail to the ridge that connects Amidadake with Akadake. It is a bit of a scramble, and is getting quite rocky in places these days, but there should be no need for a rope.  Once you reach the saddle on the ridge, follow the signpost down to the left into the descent gully.


You will be back at the Gyouja-goya hut in about 45 minutes.

Overall:
A straight-forward and fun winter ridge with some interesting, if short-lived, mixed climbing on the rock steps. With easy access and a great position, this ridge is a good place to practise your winter alpine skills (moving together on easy technical terrain, climbing rock in crampons etc.).

For more climbing routes on Amidadake, see:



Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Daidoushin-ryo (大同心稜) on Mt Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Route name:  Daidoushin-ryo (大同心稜)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

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

Time:  1 day

Difficulty:  Grade 1 alpine route with some rock scrambling


The Daidoushin pinnacle (大同心) is one of the most recognisable features of the Akadake-Kōsen (赤岳鉱泉) area of the Yatsugatake range. Along with its smaller sibling, the Kodoushin pinnacle (小同心), it sits high up on the face above the Uradoushin and Daidoushin gullies, below the summit of Mt Yokodake (横岳 2760m).

For the less adventurous its rocky summit can be accessed via a short and easy scramble down from the summit ridge just north of Yokodake’s highpoint. For hardcore climbers there are several routes up the vertical cliffs of its western and southern aspects.

For those of you operating somewhere in between, there also exists a fine route from the Akadake-Kōsen hut, which pulls together many of the skills needed for winter climbing but at a moderate difficulty level. This makes it a perfect choice of route for those looking to make the step up from winter hiking trails into some of the easier winter variation routes.

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). 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-kōsen. This hut and its campground serve as basecamp for all the routes in the area.

Description:
As you exit the Akadake-kōsen hut by the front door you have 3 paths to choose from. Left takes you to the descent trail back to Minotoguchi; right takes you towards the Nakayama-one (中山尾根) and beyond to Akadake; straight on provides access to the ice routes (Daidoushin runze, Uradoushin runze, Jougosawa) on the left-hand side of the face below the summit of Yokodake (横岳). To get to the foot of the Daidoushin-ryo you need the latter path.

Follow the trail for about 15 minutes through the forest and you will come to a signpost pointing right into the bottom of the Daidoushin runze (大同心ルンゼ), or gully.  Head into the Daidoushin runze and follow the stream for about 10 minutes and you will come to a trail heading up on your left along the lower section of the Daidoushin-ryo. This ridge is the normal descent ridge from the adjacent Uradoushin runze (裏同心ルンゼ) ice route, but can be easily ascended in about an hour to its apex at the foot of the Daidoushin rock pinnacle.

At this point the trail looks like it is going to vanish into a vertical rock wall, but closer inspection reveals a ledge leading round the side and gently dropping down into the top of the Daidoushin runze.

From the end of this ledge the route bends sharply to the left behind the Daidoushin pinnacle.  It’s a spectacular place, seemingly right in the bowels of the mountain. If there is a lot of snow on the ground, you’ll be able to crampon up a steep snow slope here to access the top of the pinnacle from behind.  However, in less banked-out conditions you’ll find a steep rocky gully, and the route weaves its way up this mixed terrain via a series of indistinct ledges zig-zagging up to a constriction at the top. There are in-situ pitons and bolts all the way up this section if you want to rope up.


Stem your way up this short chimney to reach a comfortable terrace. There are anchors at the bottom and top of the short chimney, and many Japanese guides use this area as a training ground for their clients.


The views back down and all around are stunning.


From the large terrace, traverse across to your left and ascend a ramp followed by an easy scramble up a steeper face to gain the short ridge that connects the summit of the Daidoushin pinnacle with the main ridge and Yokodake. From here a short walk will bring you to the flat rocky summit of the pinnacle.



Continuation and descent:
From the summit of the Daidoushin pinnacle it is just an easy 10-minute scramble up to the main ridge and the hiking trail. From here you have a couple of options to continue.

Heading left will take you over to the broad summit of Mt Iodake (硫黄岳), about 30 minutes away, from where you can easily hike back down to the Akadake-kōsen hut in another hour.

For a more interesting continuation, I recommend turning right and ascending the rocky ridgeline to the summit of Mt Yokodake, just 15-20 minutes away.  From there continue on carefully along the ridgeline to the Jizo col, and beyond there up to the spectacular summit of Mt Akadake (2899m).

Yokodake summit:

On the main ridgeline:

Approaching Akadake:

Sun burst behind Amidadake:



Ascent of Akadake:


Akadake summit:

Descend off the other side of Akadake down to the Bunzaburo ridge (文三郎尾根), and follow this all the way down to the Gyouja-goya hut and on back to the Akadake-kōsen hut.

Summary:
This is a first-rate introductory itinerary for anyone wishing to make the transition up from winter hiking to more technical winter climbs, with thrills and exposure at a moderate difficulty level.  It will also give you a unique insight into the topography of the cliffs above the Akadake-kōsen.  Continuing over Akadake is recommended, but will make it quite a long day, so be sure of your fitness level.