Friday, 15 May 2015

The East ridge of Mt Kashimayari (鹿島槍ヶ岳東尾根)

Route name:  East ridge (Higashi-one 東尾根)

Mountain:  Kashimayari-ga-take (2889m 鹿島槍ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  35 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  1-2 days

Grade:  Overall grade 3 alpine route


Mt Kashimayari is one of the finest of Japan’s North Alps giants, and one of its most distinctive.  It is situated on the long ridgeline that runs north to south from Mt Shirouma in the Hakuba area down to Ōgisawa, entry point for the famous Alpen Route through the Kurobe Dam to Mt Tateyama.  Its immediate neighbour to the north is Mt Goryu, and the kirettō ridgeline that connects them contains some of the most dramatic and exposed hiking in the area.

Mt Kashimayari has twin summits connected by a bow-shaped col. The South summit (南山頂 2889m) is the higher of the two, and the hyakumeizan highpoint, while the North summit (北山頂 2842m), with its East ridge, Tengu ridge (天狗尾根) and precipitous North face, is home to some of the most dramatic alpine climbing routes in the area.

In snow conditions, from late winter (March) through to around Golden Week (end of April), the East ridge (東尾根) provides one of Japan’s most aesthetic and satisfying alpine climbs.  Not for the faint-hearted, this is a serious and committing ridge with near-constant exposure along its entire length.  The ridge shelves steeply off to the left, and unstable cornices along the crest ensure that aspirants spend their whole ascent on these inclines with the void below never really leaving your field of vision. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and really does warrant this route’s classic status.

Getting there:

If travelling on public transport, take a train to Shinano-Ōmachi (信濃大町) station, and then take an Ōmachi city bus bound for Gen-yū (源汲方面) and get off the bus at Kashima (鹿島) bus stop, not long after the Jiigatake ski resort (爺ガ岳スキー場). From there it is about an hour’s walk to the car park at Ōtanbara (大谷原).  If you don’t have time to wait for one of the infrequent buses, you could also consider spending approx. ¥5500 on a taxi.

If you have a car, you need to drive to the trailhead at the end of the road at Ōtanbara.  There is a toilet block and a car park with space for 10-15 cars.

Ōtanbara car park:

Description:

(Note: All photos in this article are from a spring ascent on 18 April 2015.)

Due to the amount of snow on the mountain in late winter, this route is typically climbed over two days, with a night spent in the tent on one of the pinnacles in the lower half of the route. If you’re a fast party, and you find good snow conditions as we did, it can be done comfortably in a day up and down.

From the car park at Ōtanbara, cross the bridge and walk along the rindou for about 20 minutes.  You’ll go past a small hydro plant on the riverside, and the road will switch back at one point. You’ll soon notice the ridge up on your right, and you’ll come to an entry point where it’s possible to ascend up to the ridgeline.


Head up the steep slope until you gain the ridge, then head left up the crest of the ridge in the trees. This continues for a couple of hours until you leave treeline, and eventually you’ll arrive on top of the Ichi-no-sawa-no-atama (一の沢の頭) pinnacle at 2004m.  There is space for a couple of tents up here if needed.

On Ichi-no-sawa-no-atama pinnacle:

From here onwards you are into the climbing on the East ridge proper. Continue along a very sharp ridge, treading carefully on top of the cornices in some places where no alternative exists.


After some time you’ll arrive at the Ni-no-sawa-no-atama (二の沢の頭) pinnacle, where there is again room for a couple of tents.

Up to now the gradients have been relatively gentle, but from here on things are going to get much steeper.

Upper East ridge:

Descend down the far side of the pinnacle and up over the next, then ascend a steep snow slope until you arrive at the foot of the first rock step.  The drop-offs to climber’s left are really quite substantial now, so take care as you climb.

First rock step:

Looking back from first rock step:

View across to Mt Jiigatake:

The first rock step is pretty straightforward.  There is a piton anchor at the foot of it, and a 50m rope will suffice.  First climb up well-featured rock, with in-situ piton protection, then get onto the snow and climb mixed ground to an anchor near the top.  You can unrope again here, but be aware that there is still a bit of easy mixed terrain remaining, and you’ll exit this onto a steep snow slope with no real resting points until you gain the crest at the top.

Continue along the crest here, over a sharp snow pinnacle and down the other side.

Looking back from far side of pinnacle:

Scramble up a loose blocky rock section with care, and anchor at the foot of the chimney that cuts its way up the second rock step.



This rock step bars the way to the final stretches to the summit, and goes at about grade IV. Naturally, grade IV in boots and crampons with a full pack containing camping gear requires slightly more focus than it would at the local crag, and the chimney does overhang at one point, just to add a bit more enjoyment and a sense of position.



From the anchor at the top of the chimney, you’re back on snow, and a short but slightly tricky traverse ensues to get back onto easier ground; tricky largely because it's steep and the snow will almost certainly be soft in the sun by this stage.  Continue up to the junction where the Tengu ridge (天狗尾根) joins the East ridge, and then carry on up to a small flat spot at the top of the North face. From here a final 50m ascent brings you to the North summit of Kashimayari.

Final slope to North summit:

Looking back at the final slopes:

The views from here are quite simply outstanding.

Kashimayari North summit marker:


Getting down:

From the North summit, walk carefully down the slope to the col between the North and South summits. From here you have two choices:

1. Continue over the South summit, down to the site of the hut below the North summit (2631m) of Mt Jiigatake (爺ヶ岳). Then ascend a little more in the direction of Jiigatake before branching off to the west onto the Akaiwa-one (赤岩尾根) descent ridge.  This ridge is a marked trail of 3 hours map-time in summer, and will take you all the way down to the rindou about an hour away from Ōtanbara.

2. Climb from the col between the North and South summits directly down the steep snow slopes to the east (front-pointing necessary in the upper section), and descend  as quickly as you can all the way down this snow valley to the rindou at the foot of the Akaiwa-one descent ridge.  Be very aware of avalanche risk if you choose to do this, and make sure that the sun has already dipped to the west behind the summit ridgeline.

Green line shows direct descent route:

Overall:

What can I say?  This ridge speaks for itself.  It would be a true classic anywhere in the world.  Bring your A-game, and enjoy this perfect way to the summit of this perfect mountain!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Mitsutoge (三ツ峠山) ice-climbing – Shijuhataki-sawa (四十八滝沢)

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


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).  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.

Description:

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.

Overall:
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.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Mt Onba (御場山) ice-climbing – Nishi runze (西ルンゼ) F1

Route Name:     Onba-yama Nishi-runze (御場山 西ルンゼ) F1

Mountain:     Mt Onba (1059m, 御場山)

Map sheet:     21 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Approach:     30 minutes

Grade:     WI3 (good conditions) / WI4 (thin conditions)

Getting there:

If travelling by car from Tokyo (東京), take the Kan-etsu Expressway through Saitama, and then change onto the Joshin-etsu Expressway at the Fujioka junction (藤岡). Leave the Joshin-etsu at Shimonita Junction (下仁田) in Gunma prefecture, and make your way onto Route 254. Drive along the 254 with the river on your left until you come to a junction, and turn right onto Route 43. Continue up this road until you reach a small village.


Take a left and drive up a narrow road for a short way, and park at end of the road next to a house and some terraced fields. There is space for a couple of cars. From here you will continue on foot.


Description:
Walk about 50m down to the river, and cross to the other side.


Walk up the path between some old wooden buildings.


Continue along the trail on the right side of the sawa for about 10 minutes and you'll come to a fork in the sawa. Cross the sawa here and walk up the left fork.


The F1 icefall is about 100m up the left fork on the left side.


It is approximately 30m high, and should be around WI3 in fat conditions.  In thinner conditions, as seen in these photos, it is about WI4.  There are trees to anchor from at the top, and a top-tope can be set from there with a 60m rope.

There is more ice above F1, but not as big as this, and we didn’t go there. It could be worth checking out though.


Gearing up at the start:







Overall:
Nice steady climbing most of the way, with a steeper section near the top. Make sure that you either have a 60m rope or two 50m ropes.