Monday, 2 April 2018

The Northwest arête of the Daidoushin pinnacle (大同心北西稜)


Route name: Daidoushin Hokusei-ryo (大同心北西)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  4-6 hours (7 pitches)

Difficulty:  Grade 5+ alpine route / IV A1 crux


(Note: All photos in this article are from an ascent on 11th March 2018.)

The Daidoushin pinnacle is the embodiment of winter mixed climbing on Yatsugatake; steep, exposed, strafed by bitterly cold winds, and with rock quality that varies from reliable to vertical mud. Even its easiest route, the South ridge, is a marked step up in difficulty compared to the adjacent routes in the Akadake-kousen area. Over on the shaded northern aspect of the pinnacle its Northwest arête, or Hokusei-ryo, is a further step up.

To overcome the challenge that it throws down, you will need fitness, endurance, confidence and a skill set that covers both free- and aid-climbing. By the time you rope up for the first pitch you will have already gained close to 1500m of elevation. You will then be faced with 7 pitches of climbing up steep terrain, with never more than 2 or 3 pieces of in-situ protection for each rope length, and occasionally less than that. On volcanic conglomerate rock that doesn’t readily accept trad gear, you should be prepared to feel like you are free-soloing for much of this route… and you will be doing it in crampons on icy and snow-covered rock, clearing the holds as you climb.

A route like this requires an investment in time and effort. You will need to prepare well for it. This is not an early-season tune-up route, this is the goal that you will have been building up to over several seasons. The kind of route that could stand as a threshold between a previous version of you and the next version of you. But like all thresholds in life, if you’re going to cross it, make sure the time is right for you. This is dangerous climbing.

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:

(Topo from Jan 2013 issue of "岳人" magazine)

From the Akadake-kōsen hut go up the steps near the door and take the path straight on towards the ice routes (Daidoushin runze, Uradoushin runze, Jougosawa) on the left-hand side of the face below the summit of Yokodake (横岳).

Follow the trail for about 15 minutes through the forest and you will come to a signpost pointing right into the bottom of the Daidoushin runze (大同心ルンゼ), or gully.

Head into the Daidoushin runze and follow the stream for about 10 minutes and you will come to a trail heading up on your left along the lower section of the Daidoushin-ryo. This ridge is the normal descent ridge from the adjacent Uradoushin runze (裏同心ルンゼ) ice route, but it can be easily ascended in about an hour to its apex at the foot of the Daidoushin rock pinnacle.


From the top, descend carefully to your left for about 100m along the west face of the Daidoushin pinnacle until you come to a small tree with a pink tape marker on it. Above this tree you will see the corner crack of the first pitch.


Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb frozen turf to gain the steep crack, then follow it to the anchor just over the top. (30m IV-)


Pitch 2: Traverse along the terrace around the back to access a wide gully behind the NW arête. Inside the gully continue up steep snow and mixed terrain to belay on a single Petzl bolt. (50m II-III)


Pitch 3: Climb mixed terrain for a full rope-length, over several tricky rock steps, to a bolted belay on the arête at the foot of the steep middle section. (50m III+)


Pitch 4: Climb the groove initially, then continue up the steep run-out wall to finish up a difficult and exposed section of frozen grass and rock to a bolted belay on a small triangular stance. With just two protection points and difficult climbing, this pitch is arguably the psychological crux of the route. (35m V)


Pitch 5: Climb the rock face above for 15m, then traverse right to gain a narrow gully. Exit at the top of this gully onto steep mixed ground until the angle begins to ease off a little as you enter a zone of dwarf pine. Belay on the thickest tree you can find at the end of a full rope length. This pitch is extremely run-out. (60m IV+)

Pitch 6: Follow the arête up easier ground for about 50m to belay at the foot of the final dome. (50m I-II)

Pitch 7: This pitch is the technical crux of the route. Climb the initial rock wall, with in-situ bolts for aid, then transition into a steep off-width crack. At the top of the off-width, climb mixed ground for another 10m to the top of the Daidoushin pinnacle. (30m V+ (IV/A1))


Descent:
From the top of the pinnacle you have a couple of options:

1. Descend to the col, then climb easy mixed 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 mixed 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 back to the entrance of the Daidoushin-runze and on back to the hut.


Summary:
Serious run-out climbing exposed to the wind on the cold shaded aspect of the Daidoushin. This sensational route is one of the great winter test pieces of the Yatsugatake range, and should only be attempted by those with the proper skills and training.


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Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Kodoushin Crack (小同心クラック)


Route name:  Kodoushin Crack (同心クラック)

Mountain:  Yokodake (横岳), Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) range

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  3-4 hours

Difficulty:  Grade 2 alpine route / IV crux


The Kodoushin pinnacle (a.k.a Shodoushin) may be the little brother of the Daidoushin pinnacle, but it is no less striking. Perched high on the west face of Yokodake above the Akadake-kousen, it is hard to imagine an alpine climber staring up at it from the hut and not impulsively wishing to stand on top of it.

By dint of good fortune, a striking natural chimney cleaves the front of this conglomerate pinnacle from bottom to top, providing about 100m of vertical climbing. It can be done year-round, but to extract the full experience from it you really need to go there in the winter season, when the rock is frozen in place and gloves, boots and crampons are a necessity.

To satisfy your inner alpinist, continue on behind the pinnacle where a final mixed pitch leads directly onto the 2829m summit of Yokodake, making this one of the most aesthetic days of climbing to be had in the Yatsugatake massif.

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 car park 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 the ice routes (Daidoushin runze, Uradoushin runze, Jougosawa) on the left-hand side of the face below the summit of Yokodake (横岳). Follow the trail for about 5-10 minutes through the forest and you will come to a signpost pointing right into the bottom of the Daidoushin runze (大同心ルンゼ), or gully.


Head into the Daidoushin runze and follow the stream for about 10 minutes and you will come to a trail heading up on your left along the lower section of the Daidoushin-ryo. Follow this up through the forested ridgeline.


The trail is gentle at first, getting steeper as it progresses, eventually exiting treeline and ascending several easy mixed steps to its apex at the foot of the Daidoushin rock pinnacle. From the top, traverse the descending ramp (大同心バンド) around the south side of the pinnacle until you reach the bottom.

Carefully cross the top of the Daidoushin-sawa on your right, and then climb the steep snow slope for around 100m until you reach a wide flat terrace at the foot of the Kodoushin pinnacle.



There is no fixed anchor here, but this terrace marks the start of the first pitch of the Kodoushin crack.

Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: From the terrace climb up the face and trend left to gain entry to the chimney crack at about 15m height. Continue steeply up the crack through several bulges to reach a bolted belay anchor. (40m IV-)




Pitch 2: Continue straight up the chimney crack, through several bulges, until you reach a comfortable bolted belay terrace. (30m IV)



Pitch 3: From the belay climb a steep crack on your right, then make an exposed traverse out to the left to gain the final few metres of steep rock that will bring you over the lip and out of the face. There is an anchor here if you wish to break the pitch, but you can equally continue on for 10m up easy ground to another anchor just below the top of the Kodoushin pinnacle. (25m III)



From this top anchor, scramble up several metres of easy terrain to gain the top of the Kodoushin. Now walk along the narrow ridge that joins the Kodoushin to the Yokodake face, then ascend easy ground to belay on bolts at the foot of the final rock face directly below the summit of Yokodake.

Looking up to the summit of Yokodake:

One final 30m mixed pitch of grade III (slightly run-out, but with good crack placements for small cams) will bring you onto the flat summit of Yokodake. On a clear day the views up here are second to none and extend for well over 100km in all directions!




Descent:
The quickest way down from the top of Yokodake will be to head north off the summit down the hiking trail (in-situ chains on the steep sections) to the col on the ridge above the Daidoushin pinnacle. Carefully descend the steep slope on climber’s left towards the Daidoushin, and scramble down to a rappel anchor at the top of the final chimney of the Daidoushin-runze.


Make a short rappel down this on one rope, and you will find a solid bolted rappel anchor on the wall just around the corner on climber’s right. From this anchor a 60m rappel on double ropes will get you down to the bottom of the gully.


From here simply reverse the way you came in, initially along the traverse ramp below the Daidoushin, and then back down the Daidoushin-ryo descent ridge to the entrance of the Daidoushin-runze and on back to the hut.


Summary:
If logical lines up stunning natural features are important to alpine climbers, then this route should be high on the list of all Yatsugatake winter alpinists. They really don’t come much better! Bring 60m double ropes, around 12 quickdraws and slings, and a couple of small cams.



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Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Tengu ridge of Akadake (赤岳天狗尾根)


Route name: Akadake Tengu ridge (赤岳天狗尾根)

Mountain:  Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳)

Map sheet:  32 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  1-2 days

Difficulty:  Grade 1 alpine route / III+ crux


If the presence of the Akadake-Kousen hut is what makes the North side of Akadake such a popular winter playground, perhaps it is the absence of any such development that makes the South side of Akadake so remote and alluring. You will find no crowds here; in fact, you will most likely see nobody at all.

The unmanned unheated Deai-goya hut serves as erstwhile basecamp to the ice and alpine climbing on this wilder end of the massif. It is well-situated, for just 10 minutes further up the valley lies the foot of the famous Tengu ridge.

Rising over 1200m from the valley floor to its terminus just short of the summit of Akadake, the Tengu ridge is a big outing, and reserves most of its difficulties for its upper reaches. At the point where the tree cover ends, the ridge rears up in a series of rocky pinnacles and gendarmes that are absolutely stunning when viewed in profile from one of the adjacent ridgelines. The last two pinnacles form the climax, and together they constitute the eponymous Tengu.


Despite only moderate technical difficulties, if you get there too early in the season deep untracked snow can endow the Tengu ridge with Himalayan proportions. But if you can hit it in good conditions, this elegant ridgeline constitutes the very essence of classic winter mountaineering.

Getting there:
If travelling by public transport from Tokyo, take the Super Azusa Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Kobuchizawa (小淵沢), and then change to the local Koumi line train. Get off at the small resort village of Kiyosato (清里), and then take a taxi 10 minutes up the road to the Utsukushimori car park (美し森駐車場).

If travelling by car from Tokyo, take the Chuo Expressway and exit at Nagasaka IC (長坂IC). Turn left onto route 32, go under the Expressway and continue a short way to a large crossroads, and then turn left onto route 28. Route 28 will take you all the way to Kiyosato station. Follow the road round to the left just below the station and head up the hill on route 11 towards Utsukushimori-yama (美し森山). At the traffic lights continue straight as the road turns into route 615. You will soon reach the Utsukushimori car park (美し森駐車場) on your left. This is the trailhead for this outing.

Description:

(i) The approach
Take the small flight of concrete stairs behind the building in the car park, and then turn left and start walking up the snow-covered road.



After about an hour you will reach a sort of junction where a trail heads off diagonally downhill on the left, but you should keep contouring along on the road. Soon the road will turn into a hiking trail through the forest and up the river past a number of concrete dams.


Eventually you will arrive at the unmanned Deai-goya hut. In good crisp conditions with a trace in place this can be done in about 1.5 hours, but it can take up to 3 hours in deeper snow. Many people choose to split this climb into two days by spending the night here and getting an early start to climb the ridge the following morning. Unless you are very confident in your speed and fitness, and have good snow conditions, this might be your recommended strategy for the Tengu ridge.


(ii) The climb
Continue on past the hut for about 5-10 minutes and you will reach a fork in the river, where the Akadake-sawa comes in from the right. This place is the Akadake-sawa-deai, and the Tengu ridge rises from this fork. You need to cross the river here, but don’t go up onto the ridge just yet. Instead, continue up the Akadake-sawa.


After about 10-15 minutes you will see a re-entrant on your left. Climb this to gain the Tengu ridge, and then start ascending the lower ridge.


The first hour climbs up through the trees, initially at a gentle gradient and gradually steepening. Eventually you will pop out of the trees onto a narrow open section of ridgeline with excellent views along the ridge to the first rocky pinnacles in the distance, and to the East faces and ridges of Gongendake and Asahidake to your left.



After a short descent you will once again be in tree cover. The gradient begins to steepen in earnest now, and after some time you will arrive at the beginning of the difficulties.



The first obstacle on the ridge is a curious rock called Kani-no-hasami (カニのハサミ), or the Crab Scissors rocks, named for their resemblance to a crab’s pincers. Go around to the left of these along a rocky ledge, and then climb a 10m rock face to regain the ridge.



The next obstacle is a large rock wall about 30 high. This can be climbed on the left, but most people turn this on the right. A line of fixed rope heads out along a very narrow and exposed ledge, with some awkward moves on rock at the end of it to gain a steep snow gully. Climb this gully to the top and then continue along the ridgeline.


The next large pinnacle is turned via a ledge on the left followed by a steep but well-featured climb up a rocky face.


From the top of this, head around to the right and you will at last be confronted with your first view of the famous Dai-Tengu (大天狗) and Ko-Tengu (小天狗) pinnacles up ahead.


When you reach the Dai-Tengu, traverse across the angled snow slope and build an anchor on the tree closest to the rock face at its right edge. From here climb a single pitch of III+ rock to gain the right side of the Dai-Tengu. There are in-situ pitons on this rock wall, and a bolt anchor at the top of it.


From the anchor, continue around the right side of the Dai-Tengu to the col between it and the striking Ko-Tengu.


To get past the Ko-Tengu, traverse out on ledges on its left side, and then pick the easiest line up the steep rocky slope to arrive at the foot of the pinnacle on its far side. If you wish to climb to the top of the Ko-Tengu, there is an in-situ anchor on its summit to facilitate descent.



Now just continue up the corniced ridgeline a short way until you reach the end of the Tengu ridge and the junction with the hiking trail. The 2899m summit of Akadake lies about 40 minutes further up the hiking trail, with chains and ladders in all the most exposed sections along the way.


Descent:
From the summit of Akadake there are a couple of options for returning to Utsukushimori car park:

1. Re-trace your steps back along the hiking trail for about 10 minutes until you reach a junction, with a trail heading off to climber’s left. This is the Shinkyoji ridge trail (真教寺尾根), and will get you back to Utsukushimori in around 4 hours in good snow conditions. The first hour is very steep, with sections of down-climbing and chains. The rest is more amenable, with an initial uphill to the top of Ushikubi-yama (牛首 2280m), followed by seemingly endless downhill, past the ski resort at the bottom of the ridge, through the forest and then down a series of wooden stairs that eventually deposit you at the car park.

2. Re-trace your steps all the way back to the top of the Tengu ridge itself, and then continue scrambling along the precipitous hiking trail, and down a steep rocky gully. At the bottom of the gully the ridge levels off a bit. Carry on a short way to the Kiretto-goya hut (キレット小屋), then continue a bit further until you reach the minor summit of the Tsurune (ツルネ). From here take the Tsurune East ridge (ツルネ東稜下降) all the way back down, then continue until you reach the Deai-goya hut. From there you just need to hike back out the way you came in to the road and on eventually to the car park.

Summary:
In unconsolidated conditions this would be an extremely serious and physical outing, and is best avoided. But in good conditions, generally later in the winter season, it is a top-draw classic winter mountaineering outing up one of the most striking and beautiful ridgelines on Akadake. The technical difficulties are moderate, and a light rack of slings and carabiners will suffice. The main challenges centre around navigation and the enormous scale of this route. Completing it in a one-day round-trip from the car park is a wonderful challenge, and a very big physical undertaking.


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