Sunday, 11 September 2016

Multi-pitch climbing on Jōyama (城山) - "Battlerunner" (バトルランナー)

Route Name:  Battlerunner (バトルランナー)

Mountain: Jōyama ()

Rock type:  Andesitic tuff

Length: 4 pitches (approx. 100m)

Grade: 5.10a

Jōyama () is a small rocky mountain at the top of the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture, and is a well-known rock-climbing venue with several hundred routes. Sitting across the river from the town of Ōhito, its South face is home to some of its longest and best multi-pitch routes. The rock quality on this slabby face is first-class, and predominantly requires good balance and footwork as you float upwards from small pocket to pocket.

One of the most popular and striking routes at Jōyama is Battlerunner (バトルランナー), a 4-pitch outing that takes a direct line up the middle of the face through the large roof at mid height. With great climbing and plenty of exposure it really is one of the finest routes around at its grade!

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 trail-head 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 trail-head.

From the trail-head 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.

There are a few bolted single pitch routes along the base of the face, and in high season (Oct-May) it can get quite busy.

Battlerunner starts about midway along and heads up towards an overlap just below and to the right of a tree-covered terrace.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Delicate slab climbing with good bolts up to the overlap, then climb the bulge direct and continue up to a semi-hanging bolted belay below the first small roof. (25m 5.8)

Pitch 2: Surmount the first roof then continue up steepening 5.9 slabs to a bolted belay below the large roof. Climb the roof directly by a mix of underclings and crimps, to get established on the wall above. Another 5-6m will bring you to a bolted belay. (35m 5.10a)

Pitch 3: Climb easier but more run-out slabs to a bolted belay below the final pitch. (20m 5.7R)

Pitch 4: Ascend the final delicate and run-out slabs, and anchor just below the tree-covered ledge. (20m 5.9R)

Because of the risk of knocking loose rocks down on the people below, the best way to get down is to rappel straight back down the line of the route rather than attempt to walk/scramble off from the top anchors. This can be done in two rappels with 60m ropes.

Note – The above is a fairly standard way of splitting the pitches, but it is equally possible and maybe even preferable to end pitch 2 at the bolted belay under the roof, and then climb the roof and pitch 3 in one.

With impeccable rock quality, superb balancy slab climbing and powerful moves through the crux roof, this route deserves the three stars it gets in all the Japanese guidebooks! A set of about 10-12 quickdraws will suffice.

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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Tachioka-yama, Hidari gan-ryou route (太刀岡山左岩稜)

Route name:  Hidari gan-ryou (Left rock arête 左岩稜)

Mountain: Tachioka-yama (太刀岡山)

Map sheet:  26 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Length: 9 pitches (230m)

Time: 4 hours to the top of the last pitch

Grade: 5.9

Tachioka-yama is a minor peak of 1295m tucked in across the valley behind Kayagatake (茅ヶ岳), its higher and more famous neighbour to the north-west, known to many as the mountain on which Fukada Kyūya passed away in March 1971. The area around the mountain is very beautiful on a sunny day, with picturesque farming villages hanging on to lush green forested hillsides.

The main event is a dramatic triangular rock face on the mountain’s western aspect with, as luck would have it, a spectacular multi-pitch outing up its left arête that offers a variety of climbing styles up impeccable rock and with sensational exposure at a comfortable climbing grade. Running the whole gamut from trad cracks, friction slabs, run-out face climbing and knife-edge ridges, this route comes highly recommended.

Getting there:
If travelling by car from Tokyo you need to follow the Chuō Expressway out to Yamanashi prefecture and take the exit for Futaba Service Area (双葉). Find your way onto Route 6, then turn left onto Route 101. Follow this road for about 9.5km until you come to a junction on the right with the Shosenkyo Line road. Keep going straight on past this and the road changes into Route 27. A further 2km through rural villages will bring you to the Tachioka-yama trailhead car park on the left (太刀岡山登山口駐車場), with the rock face of Mt Tachioka visible up on the right across the river.

The approach to the start of the climb is short and easy. Walk up the road from the car park for about 100m and you will come to a break in the barrier on the right and a short gravel path down to the river. A makeshift bridge will get you over the river.

Now follow the trail as it zigzags up the hillside, and in about 5-10 minutes you will arrive at a rock band. There are various routes up this rock band, but for the ‘Hidari gan-ryou’ route you need to skirt to the left along the foot of the rock and you’ll soon reach the bottom of the first pitch.


Pitch 1: Climb the initial corner crack up to a narrow ledge, then climb the main crack to a bolt belay. (20m 5.9)

Pitch 2: Climb the corner cracks to the big tree, then continue up beyond for another 8m to a bolt belay. (20m 5.7)

Pitch 3: Climb the chimney cracks to gain the slabs above, and continue up on the arête. (20m 5.8)

Pitch 4: Scramble up the arête to your right. (20m 5.5)

Pitch 5: Gain the arête on the right of the belay, and climb up featured but run-out terrain to the scissor rocks. Cross the gap between them and continue up the arête. (20m 5.8)

The scissor rocks:

Pitch 6: Up the arête. (40m 5.6)

Pitch 7: Up the arête. (45m 5.6)

Pitch 8: Up the arête and along the famous knife-edge, to finish on the large terrace at the top of the walk-off. (30m 5.6)

Pitch 9: Climb the face on your left by its weakest line, with trad pro in the first half then bolts to the top of the pinnacle. (15m 5.8)

From the top of the pinnacle abseil back down to the terrace from a solid bolt anchor.

The descent trail starts from the end of the terrace down steeply through the trees. After about 20-30m head to your left and traverse along a faint path and continue down this until you reach a proper hiking trail. Follow the trail down past the Koyama rock face and on down to the river. Go through the metal gate and cross a bridge, then walk back up the road to the car park.

This front-loaded route gets its main difficulties out of the way in the first three pitches and then rewards you with a romp up a magnificent arête on excellent friction rock. Bring a trad rack, and be prepared for high quality climbing across a range of styles. A three-star route in anybody’s book!

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Multi-pitch rock on Mt Mitsutōge (三ツ峠山)

Mountain:  Mitsutōge (1785m, 三ツ峠山)

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

The large cliff face just below the summit of Mt Mitsutoge has long been used as a training ground for Japanese alpinists. There is a wide range of routes at all grades, as well as a lot of aid climbing from the old days. With a relatively short drive from Tokyo, a simple 45 minute approach hike, and amazing views of Mt Fuji just a stone’s throw away, this is a recommended venue for practising the skills required for multi-pitch climbing. The routes described here are two of the finest!

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.

From the toilet block, follow the signs for Mt Mitsutoge’s summit. The hiking trail zig zags up a rough dirt and rock road for about 45 minutes until you reach the first hut below the summit. The rock face is visible directly beneath the summit from the hut’s terrace. A trail drops down quite steeply from the hut, with steps and hand rails, and a 5-10 minute hike will bring you along the bottom of the rock face.

Walk along the rock until you reach a small alcove with two inscription stones on a rock shelf. Both ‘Gaku route’ and the ‘Chuo-Kante’ start from here.

The routes:

1. Gaku route (岳ル―ト)

This route was apparently bolted and climbed during the making of the film “Gaku” (), based on the manga comic of the same name. It is essentially a harder variation of the same section of the wall that the Chuo-Kante ascends, but more striking and far less busy.

Pitch 1: Climb the steep bulging wall left of the inscription stones, with good Petzl bolts, and belay on one of the large in-situ anchors on the wide terrace above. (25m 5.10a)

Pitch 2: Ascend the steep slab above to a bolt belay in a small alcove beneath a left-slanting rock rib. This slab can be avoided on the left if necessary. (20m 5.10a)

Pitch 3: From the belay go around to the right, then climb up a groove and onto the rock rib. Continue up it and climb through a bulging notch to a bolt belay on the edge of the terrace shared with the Chuo-Kante. (30m 5.9)

Looking down Pitch 3:

Pitch 4: Climb up the right edge of the stunning fin of rock above, with superb exposure. From the top of the fin, head left and climb a short overhang to establish yourself in a corner crack. Follow the crack up to a belay on a ledge at the top. (35m 5.10a)

Looking down the initial rock fin of Pitch 4:

Looking down the final corner moves:

2. Chuo-kante route (中央カンテ)

This is the old established classic up this area of the rock face, and features enjoyable climbing up a beautiful natural crack line. For the most part it can be protected on trad gear, so bring a set of nuts and cams.

Pitch 1: Start on the right side of the inscription stones, and ascend the easy face on large holds to belay on the wide terrace above. (25m III)

Pitch 2: Head straight up for a few metres from the belay, then head left up the groove and crack to belay at the start of the obvious corner crack line of the 3rd pitch. (20m III)

Pitch 3: Climb the beautiful corner crack, past a vertical section and upwards to gain the terrace. (30m IV+)

Pitch 4: From the back of the terrace climb the splitter crack for about 10 metres to gain a small ledge. From here there are numerous options, but the most interesting is to continue leftwards up the arête until you reach the belay ledge at the top. (35m IV)

From the belay ledge at the top, which is shared by both routes, you can reach the bottom again in two rappels if you have 50-60m double ropes. Otherwise you’ll need to do more rappels, but there are plenty of rappel anchors to choose from.

This is classic mid-grade multi-pitch climbing up a wonderful cliff with good friction. Combine both of these routes in a single day to get 8 pitches of quality climbing, with amazing views across to nearby Mt Fuji.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Tanigawadake, Ojou-heki route (谷川岳凹状壁)

Route Name:  Ojou-heki (凹状壁)

Mountain:  Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

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

Length:  8 pitches (295m)

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

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

Situated on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) in the Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉沢) valley, the Ojou-heki route ascends a wide and deep depression between the Chuo Kante and the Chuo-ryō, which gives the route its name. Its first ascent was in fact a winter ascent, in March of 1958. In summer conditions it is characterised by its somewhat loose rock and run-out nature, but the dramatic exposure and the dark brooding ambience of the Ojou make this a 3-star classic.

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 across the steep slabs in the direction of the Nan-ryō terrace. The Ojou-heki route shares its start with the Chuo-Kante, and you will quickly reach the bottom anchor (2 bolts).

As always on Tanigawa, but particularly on this route, you’ll need to channel your inner alpinist to avoid knocking any of the many loose rocks down onto people below you. 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 terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)

Pitch 3: Trend to the right towards the Ojou (凹状), and climb to a belay at the bottom of the vertical back wall above. (40m III+)

Pitch 4: Very loose balance climbing up a vertical chimney. Take care with every hold. (40m V-)

Pitch 5: Climb up and right on loose rock to a short bulging wall, then scramble up to a ledge belay. (35m IV)

Pitch 6: Up and to the right via some tricky moves then continue up the edge. (40m IV+)

Pitch 7: Climb overgrown grassy rock to belay on pitons beneath a steep flake. (30m III)

Pitch 8: Make steep and positive moves up the flake, then continue up to crest the top of Tsuitate-iwa. (40m IV+)

From the top of the Tsuitate-iwa you will need to make a traverse of about a rope-length to get to the top of the Chuo-ryō route, which will be the line of your rappel descent. It’s straight-forward but exposed, so it’s best to keep the rope on and pitch it.

From the anchor at the top of the Chuo-ryō make about 6 rappels on double ropes to get back down to the top of Tail ridge. Be really careful not to dislodge any rocks, in case there are parties still climbing on the Chuo-ryō.

From there you just need to scramble back down Tail ridge, then hike down Ichinokura-sawa to the road and walk back to the Visitors Centre.

A very atmospheric route up an enormous natural feature to the top of Tsuitate-iwa. Bring a set of quickdraws, a set of nuts and a small selection of cams.