Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Daidoushin (大同心) West face – “Unryo” (雲稜ルート) route

Route name:  Daidoushin “Unryo route” (大同心雲稜ルート)

Mountain:   Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:   33 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3-5 hours for the route itself

Difficulty:  Grade 4+ alpine route / 5.9 or IV/A1 crux


Anybody who has spent time at the Akadake-kousen in the Yatsugatake range will have looked up at the Daidoushin pinnacle and its striking West face, perched high up there near the summit of Mt Yoko. Consistently vertical to overhanging in its lower half, and made up of the snappy conglomerate rock typical of this range, this face is intimidating from below, and only gets more so as you approach it.

Its first ascent in April of 1959 must have been an audacious achievement. It was initially climbed as an aid route, and typically remains so in winter today. The gloves, heavy boots, crampons and ironmongery of winter, coupled with tricky route-finding and the deep freeze of winter Yatsu, all conspire to force the winter climber into his aiders. It remains to this day the big prize of Yatsugatake winter mountaineering.

The route received its first free ascent in May of 1981. The face itself retains many of its challenges even in summer conditions, and the prudent will still carry their aiders at the ready just in case. But bare hands and sticky rubber rock shoes turn it into something more akin to a steep and featured rock climb; albeit one with head-spinning exposure and loose breakable rock.

If you go for it, remember that this is alpine climbing and treat the route with the respect and caution that its place in Japanese climbing history accords it. And enjoy one of the most dramatic and stunning natural lines in the country.


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:

From the Akadake-kōsen hut go up the steps near the door and take the path straight on towards Iodake (硫黄岳).

Follow the trail for about 10 minutes through the forest and you will come to a signpost pointing right into the bottom of the Daidoushin-sawa (大同心).

Head into the Daidoushin-sawa and walk upstream for about 10 minutes and you will find a trail heading up on your left along the lower section of the Daidoushin-ryo ridge. This ridge can be easily ascended in about an hour from the hut to its apex at the foot of the Daidoushin rock pinnacle.

Once you reach the top of the Daidoushin-ryo, make a traverse along narrow grassy ledges to reach the anchor at the bottom of the first pitch.



Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the initial crack, then continue up the vertical wall above to the overhang. Climb past the overhang, traverse left slightly and then continue up steeply to reach a bolted anchor in a niche. (45m 5.9 or IV/A1)



Pitch 2: Climb straight up for a few metres, then bear up and leftwards towards the triangular rock face above. Tricky moves over a bulge get you onto the face, then traverse out left and climb the rib on small holds to a bolted belay. (45m 5.9 or IV/A1)


Pitch 3: Climb up and right around the corner from the anchor on steep grass. Enter the wide rocky chimney above and continue up past a curious rock shaped like a fish tail, until you reach a bolted anchor. (40m IV)


Pitch 4: Continue up and over a rock step to gain a ramp traversing rightwards across the bottom of the Dome (ドーム). Belay on bolts at the bottom of the final pitch up the southern prow of the Dome. (40m IV)



Pitch 5: Another magnificent pitch! Climb up the left side of the prow initially, then move across to the right side and continue up vertical rock to exit at a bolted belay. (40m 5.9 or IV/A1)

From the top anchor the summit of the Daidoushin can be reached with a short scramble.


Descent:

From the top of the Daidoushin you have a couple of options:

1. Continue over the summit and down to the col between Daidoushin and the main ridge, then climb easy slopes to gain the main ridge hiking trail, and either continue left to Mt Iodake, or right over Mt Yokodake towards Mt Akadake.

2. Descend the steep gully behind the pinnacle (in-situ rappel anchors if you need them), climb the ramp back up to the top of the Daidoushin-ryo, and descend the ridge you came up back to the entrance of the Daidoushin-sawa and on back to the hut.


Summary:

A historic milestone on Yatsugatake, and a prize in any conditions. The West face of Daidoushin is steep and intimidating, so bring all the tricks of your alpine game and enjoy your passage up the most stunning piece of rock in the massif. Double ropes are a must, along with a full rack of quickdraws and slings, nuts and cams up to 2.


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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Tanigawadake (谷川岳) - Nan-ryō Flank (南稜フランケ)

Route Name:  Nan-ryō Flank (南稜フランケ)

Mountain:  Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

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

Length:  6 pitches (+ 200m simul-climbing to the summit)

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

Grade:  V+ crux pitch / Overall grade 4+ alpine route



The Nan-ryō Flank route takes a line up the steep face on the side of the Nan-ryō (South arête), at the far edge of the Eboshi-sawa Okuheki (烏帽子沢奥壁) in the stunning Ichinokura-sawa (一ノ倉) valley on Mt Tanigawa.

It is one of the more serious routes in the area, characterised by consistently steep and involved climbing, long runouts between pieces of old in-situ protection, and consequently notable route-finding challenges. Every single pitch is grade V and the crux is V+. At the time of the first ascent in July of 1964 this was the hardest pitch grade in Japan, although nowadays there are plenty of more technical routes around.

But the Nan-ryō Flank retains its seriousness and alpine character, and should not be undertaken lightly. In the Japanese guidebook Kikuchi-san finishes his entry for this route by saying “Please approach it with sufficient confidence and experience as a route where a fall is absolutely unacceptable”. I do not disagree.


Getting there:

From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (高崎, about 1.5hrs). Change for the Jōetsu Line to Minakami (水上, about 45mins), then take a local for 2 stops to Doai (土合). 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.


Description:

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 foot 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 an exposed rising traverse to your left across the steep slabs in the direction of the Nan-ryō terrace. Just before the final scramble up to the terrace you will find the bottom anchor for this route.



Approximate pitch descriptions for the route are as follows:


Pitch 1: Climb steeply up past an in-situ piton at around 6m, then continue up and around the edge. Take the line of least resistance as it weaves up the face to a bolt anchor. (30m V)

Pitch 2: Make initial steep moves over a bulge from the anchor, then continue up runout terrain bearing slightly left to belay beneath the large overhang above. (40m V)


Pitch 3: Traverse to the right under the overhang, then climb straight up the face making delicate moves on thin edges. (40m V+)

Pitch 4: Traverse the band left from the anchor and carefully climb the initial slabby face with no available protection. From the terrace above traverse delicately left and climb the rock rib to the anchor. (40m V)


Pitch 5: Climb the face above with an in-situ RCC bolt, then make an exposed traverse leftwards through grass and bushes to reach the horse’s back upper section of the Nan-ryō route. (40m V)

Pitch 6: Climb the corner crack above, then continue up the final face to the anchor at the top of the Nan-ryō. (40m V)



(Note: If you continue straight up on pitch 5 instead of making the traversing exit from the face you will end up on the old YCC route, and be required to make a more difficult exit from the face from an extremely exposed anchor stance directly below the roof at the top. Avoid this unless you want to amplify your adrenaline levels significantly!)


Descent:

Once you get to the top of the Nan-ryō, you can traverse across to the top of the line of rappels which is the standard rappel descent. It will take you about five rappels on double ropes to reach the terrace at the start of the Nan-ryō. From here you can either unrope and downclimb or do one more rappel to easier ground.

Now you just need to traverse back across to the top of Tail ridge and descend back out of Ichinokura-sawa to the road.


Alternatively, if you wish to extend the day and take in the summit ridge too, you could continue up to the top of Ichinokura-dake (一ノ倉). This involves about 2 hours of fairly steep and exposed scrambling and bushwhacking, and I would recommend keeping a rope on and simul-climbing together, with the leader placing running protection as you go.


From the summit of Ichinokura-dake, traverse the main ridgeline over the summits of Okinomimi and Tomanomimi, and either descend the Nishikuro ridge (西黒尾根) or, if you have time before the last cable car of the day, head down to Tenjindaira (天神平).


Overall:

A magnificent visionary achievement on the part of the first ascensionists, which remains undiminished in character to this day. Heed Kikuchi-san’s warning about this route though, and only try it if you really do feel confident about it, as it will be unforgiving of any mistakes. Climb confidently as if you are free-soloing, and be really careful with your route-finding.


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Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Inagodake South face (稲子岳南壁) – “Hidari-kante” (左カンテ) route

Route name: Hidari-Kante (左カンテ)

Mountain:  Inagodake (稲子岳)

Mountain range:  Kita Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  33 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  1 day

Length:  6 pitches

Difficulty:  Grade 2 alpine route / IV+ crux



The northern half of the Yatsugatake range (北八ヶ岳) is typically much less dramatic than the southern end. Characterised by broad plateaus and rolling hills, and with far fewer visitors, the mountains north of Iodake (硫黄岳) are more popular for nature walks and winter snowshoe hikes, or for those completing a juusou (縦走, full traverse) of the Yatsugatake range.

Nestled away from the main ridgeline, off the eastern side of the Nakayama pass (中山峠), it might take a special reason to visit the 2380m summit plateau of Inagodake. But fortunately for rock-climbers such a reason exists in the form of its South face (南壁, Nanpeki), home to a 200m high cliff band that tops out almost directly at the summit.

The steep approach to the bottom of the cliff and the jaw-dropping views across to the East face of nearby Tengudake (天狗岳) provide a palpable sense of height and exposure. The rock quality is rather dubious at times, and most of the routes on the face are old aid lines that have fallen out of favour in recent years. But the left edge of the face yields a high-quality route of moderate difficulty, with solid Petzl bolt belay anchors. In brief, a perfect place for aspirants to hone their alpine-climbing sensibilities, or for more seasoned climbers to bask in the solitude and natural beauty of one of the loveliest valleys around.


Getting there:

A car is required for this itinerary. If travelling from Tokyo, take the Chuo Expressway as far as Sutama (須玉) IC and then exit onto Route 141 in the direction of Koumi (小海). The road will take you through Kiyosato (清里), at the southern end of Yatsugatake, and then up the eastern side of the range. Continue as far as the village of Matsubarako (松原湖), then turn left onto Route 480. Stay on this road up through the foothills all the way to a turn-off that should be signposted for Inagoyu hot springs (稲子湯旅館). Take this smaller mountain road as far as the carpark at the Inagoyu karasawa bridge trailhead (稲子湯唐沢橋登山口), a short distance before the hot springs.


Description:

From the trailhead carpark walk past the barrier, across the bridge, and then continue up the road a short way until a hiking trail splits off up the hillside on your right. This trail is essentially just a direct route to avoid a large switchback. Continue up this gently rising dirt road for around an hour of map time, always following the signposts for Midori-ike (ミドリ池).



Eventually the trail leaves the road and rears up more steeply through the forest to gain several hundred metres of height, before levelling off as you reach the picturesque Midori-ike pond, with its Shirabiso-goya hut (しらびそ小屋) and campground, and beautiful reflections of Tengudake to the southwest.


Continue past Midori-ike pond and follow the trail in the direction of the Nakayama pass for around 20 minutes. You will begin to see the cliffs high up on the South face of Inagodake through the trees.

Eventually you need to strike out on your right into the forest, and try to locate the indistinct approach trail to access the South face. You will know when you’re on the right track because there are regular pieces of orange or red tape attached to tree branches at intervals. But there is no clear entry point, so be prepared to cast around a bit until you find the first piece of tape.

This approach trail continues up the hillside, getting steeper and steeper until eventually you arrive at the rock a little below the start of the “Hidari-kante”. Continue up along the bottom of the rock to climber’s left until you reach a tree with a distinct white and yellow tape wrapped around it. This marks the start of the route.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Scramble up easy terrain for 10-15m, then climb a slabby groove with a crack to access the dihedral above. Belay on two Petzl bolts on the crest of the arête. (35m III)

Pitch 2: Continue up the steep corner above, then up loose ground to a belay on a ledge beneath an obvious chimney. (30m III)

Pitch 3: You could climb the chimney on the right side of the gully at grade III, but instead I recommend taking the steep offwidth crack in the corner on the left side. Belay on the crest of the arête directly above. (20m IV+)


Pitch 4: Scramble up the arête on broken ground, taking great care with loose rock, then traverse leftwards along the base of the wall to a bolted belay. (40m II)


Pitch 5: Climb the wall up its line of weakness, paying attention to loose rock, and belay on the arete above. (20m III+)

Pitch 6: A final short pitch up the obvious crack to reach a bolted belay on a flat rock at the top of the face. (15m III)

The top of Inagodake is a sort of plateau, and its tree-covered highpoint can be reached by hiking along the edge of the South face for around 10 minutes.


To get down, follow the hiking trail along the edge of the plateau in the direction of the main Yatsugatake ridgeline to the west, down occasional steep sections with fixed rope in place. Eventually the orange tape markers will bring you back to the hiking trail that leads up to the Nakayama pass.

From here you have options. If you are already satisfied with the day then simply hike down the trail and you will arrive back at Midori-ike in around half an hour. If you wish to extend the day to take in nearby Tengudake then continue up this trail for around 30-40 minutes to the Nakayama pass. From the pass turn south on the main ridge and you will reach Tengudake in about an hour. To get back to the car, simply reverse the hike all the way down past Midori-ike and back to the trailhead carpark.


Summary:

A fine outing in relative solitude through an area of stunning natural beauty, this route has a very alpine feel to it at a modest level of commitment. I highly recommend taking in Tengudake as well to make a full day of it. Bring cams (0.5/0.75/1/2), a rack of quickdraws and slings, and double ropes.


*** NEWS ***

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