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
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.