Route Name: Chinne left ridge (チンネ左稜線)
Mountain: Tsurugidake (剣岳 2999m)
Length: 13 pitches
Time: approx. 5 hours to the top of the last pitch
Grade: V (crux pitch) / Overall Grade 4- alpine route
Mt Tsurugi (剣岳) has a fearsome reputation as one of Japan’s premier mountains for alpine and rock climbers, and the route described here is one of its finest. Situated high up near the head of the Yatsumine ridge, the Chinne (or Zinne, チンネ) is an enormous blade of rock, home to multiple hard rock climbs. The name comes from the German for “tooth”, and this gives a clue to its architecture.
The classic Left Ridge (左稜線) takes the sharp edge of this blade for 13 pitches, rising steeply over knife-edges and pinnacles like the teeth on a circular saw. It is quite simply stunning. The approach is long and involved, and when you reach the top, you’re still a long way from home.
Access to Tsurugidake requires getting up to Murodō (室堂) on the large plateau below the summit of Tateyama (立山) in the North Alps. If travelling from Tokyo on public transport there are a couple of ways you can do this, none of them easy, but the quickest and cheapest way is as follows.
Take a Chuō Line limited express Super Azusa from Shinjuku station to Matsumoto (松本), then change onto the Ōito Line (大糸線) for a local train to Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町). From there you’ll need to take a bus to Ōgisawa (扇沢, 45mins, ¥1330). At Ōgisawa, queue up at the ticket office and buy a return ticket for the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート, timetables here). This convoluted but impressive series of stages will take you through a trolley bus up to the famous Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム), followed by a funicular railway, a ropeway and then a final trolley bus through Mt Tateyama to Murodō.
From Murodō head out of the top station and find the most direct way through the maze of trails through Jigokudani, down to the campsite at the valley floor, and then up the trail on the other side to the Tsurugigozen (剣御前) hut up on the col. From there a short walk will bring you down to the Tsurugi-sawa camp ground (剣沢キャンプ場).
Autumn colours in Tsurugi-sawa:
There are a few ways you could tackle the approach to this route. Many climbers continue down Tsurugi-sawa past the campsite, down round the foot of the Genjiro ridge (源次郎尾根), and then up into the Choujiro-dani (長次郎谷), the large valley dropping down from the summit ridge flanked by the Genjiro and Yatsumine ridges on the left and right respectively. Midway up the valley is a flat area large enough for quite a few tents, known as Kuma-no-iwa. The advantage of a night spent here is that the approach to the summit ridge and the start of the route the next morning is relatively short.
Follow the finger to find the tents:
Another option is to follow the normal hiking trail up towards the summit of Mt Tsurugi, and bivvy as high up as you can get on your travel day. The summit of Mt Mae-Tsurugi (前剣) has ample space for two or three people to bivvy comfortably.
Sunrise behind Mt Kashima-Yari across the valley:
From there you need to get over the summit of Tsurugi the next morning, then pick your way carefully along the ridgeline beyond the summit over to a small col at the top of the Choujiro-dani below the final pinnacle on the Yatsumine ridge.
On the way to the summit of Tsurugi:
Upper section of the Yatsumine ridge:
From there head down a steep scree slope for about 1-200m and then traverse across to the San-no-mado (三の窓) col on your right. There is also space for a tent on this col.
From the San-no-mado col you need to head to your right and traverse across under the imposing rock face of the Chinne until you come to a ledge at the bottom of the first pitch.
The topo cites 13 pitches from bottom to top. Some of them are fairly short and could be linked together, but be careful with communication, as the route occasionally disappears round the corner to the other side of the ridge. On the whole the climbing is moderate and steady, never exceeding an average of grade III/IV, except for the crux pitch about two thirds up the route. Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:
Pitch 1: Climb the face to the start of the chimney crack. Make an interesting move to enter a short chimney crack, then continue to belay on the ledge above. (35m IV)
Pitch 2: Face climbing. (20m III)
Pitch 3: Face climbing. (30m III)
Pitch 4: A short traverse to climber's right, followed by a chimney crack. (30m III)
Pitch 5: Face climbing. (20m III)
Pitch 6: Easy scramble across a fairly gentle tree-covered ridge. (40m II)
Pitch 7: Face climbing with a lot of loose rock around. (50m II/III)
Pitch 8: Face climbing. (35m III)
Pitch 9: Short descent into the gap, then a steep crack to gain the top of a pinnacle, then over another easier pinnacle to belay on the terrace at the foot of the crux pitch. (45m IV)
Pitch 10: Climb the right edge, then overcome two small overhangs (can be aided on in-situ pitons if needed) and continue up steep and interesting face climbing. (35m V)
Pitch 11: Face climbing. (20m III+)
Pitch 12: Pinnacles and knife-edge. (45m III+)
Pitch 13: Pinnacles and knife-edge. (45m II)
From the top of the Chinne, a short down-climb brings you to a notch in the ridgeline, above the summit of the equally impressive Cleopatra Needle.
Looking down at the top of the Cleopatra Needle:
Scramble down the far side, with rappel anchors if needed, to regain the scree gully. Ascend the scree to the top, then reverse your approach from the morning.
One of Japan’s king lines, and situated near the summit of its finest mountain too. Bring a full rack of quickdraws and a selection of nuts and cams. Don’t forget your game face because it’s a long trip, any way you slice it.