Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Morokubo-sawa (モロクボ沢) - Sawanobori in the Tanzawa range


Route Name:  Morokubo-sawa (モロクボ沢)

Trailhead:  Nishi-Tanzawa Visitors Centre (西丹沢ビジターセンター)

Map sheet:  28 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time:  6 hours round trip / 3 hours for the sawa climb

Grade:  Overall grade 1 route


During the summer months, when Tokyo and its residents are melting in the stifling heat and humidity, there’s nothing better than getting out into the mountains and cooling off in a mountain river. The Japanese activity of sawanobori, or river climbing, involves starting at a convenient point at the entrance to a valley and tracing the course of the river upstream, walking and scrambling up the riverbed and climbing or bypassing any waterfalls along the way, until you reach the absolute source of the stream.

With a full range of grades and guidebooks, there is plenty of scope for getting into trouble in this esoteric activity, and escape would almost always be difficult in the event of a serious injury, so it is a good idea to start with something easy and less technical or committing.

One such introductory outing is Morokubo-sawa in the western end of the Tanzawa range on the outskirts of Tokyo. With straight-forward technical difficulties and an easy approach and descent, this offers all the ambiance of sawa climbing with little of the risk associated with the more technical routes.

Getting there:
If travelling by public transport from Tokyo (東京), take the Odakyu train line from Shinjuku (新宿) to Shinmatsuda (新松田) station on the edge of the Tanzawa (丹沢) range, and then take a bus (¥1180, about an hour) from outside the station to the Nishi-Tanzawa Visitors Centre (西丹沢ビジターセンター). This is the start of the walk-in.


Approach:
From the bus stop walk up the road past all the campsites along the river on your left. Keep following the road and after about half an hour you will come to a small bridge on your left. 


Cross this bridge and follow the hiking trail into the bottom of the Morokubo-sawa valley. Continue along this hiking trail with the river on your right until you come to the entry point, marked with red tape on a tree by the river, with a small artificial dam up ahead. This is the start of the sawa climb.



Entry point:

Topographical route map:


Description:
Cross the sawa and follow the right side past the man-made dam and keep walking upstream. You will soon come to the 30m Ōtaki (大滝) waterfall, the largest fall in this sawa. 


To bypass it scramble up the steep muddy slope on the left to gain an arête which takes you up a short way to a thin trail that contours along the slope above the waterfall. At the end of this traverse you will come to a short down-climb with a fixed rope. From the bottom of this just traverse a bit further round and you will get back to the sawa.





Now that you are past the Otaki the relaxed fun begins. For the next two or three hours just hike along the river bed upstream, climbing any short steps and waterfalls that you meet. There is nothing more that requires a rope and protection, so enjoy the journey.




Pay attention to the topo map and be careful when you reach any forks in the sawa. The first major fork is Honshina-sawa (本品沢) coming in from the right. The ratio of flow at this point is 3:1, with the main Morokubo-sawa providing 3x the water volume that is coming in from Honshina-sawa, so make sure you stick to the main sawa here.

About 20 minutes further on there is another fork with a 1:3 ratio, so take the right-hand fork here. The final fork comes after you have passed the last set of small waterfalls and features a 3:2 ratio. At this point you need to take the left branch.

Some way up you will reach the point where the water flow ends at the top of the sawa. Fill up your drinking water here if you’ve run out. Continue up the valley through jumbled moss-covered rocks and trees until the slope begins to steepen. There are various options around here, but try to follow the way that looks easiest, whilst always bearing to the left towards the main ridge.

Eventually you will need to climb up some rather steep mud slopes to gain the final arête that will take you up to the main ridge and the hiking trail. You should pop out onto the trail a short way below the 1293m summit of Mt Azegamaru (畦ヶ丸) on hiker’s right.


To get back down to the Visitors Centre bus stop just follow the hiking trail down the ridge. It takes about 2 hours to descend, and the last hour or so follows the Nishizawa (西沢) riverbed.

Overall:
A fun and gentle hike up a beautiful sawa with minimal technical difficulties, ending almost directly at the major western summit of the Tanzawa range. No rope or rack is needed, although a 30m rope and a belay would provide additional security to anyone with less confidence on the down-climb near the Ōtaki.



Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The West arête of Yarigatake (槍ケ岳西稜)


Route Name: West arête (Sei-ryo, 西稜)

Mountain: Yarigatake (槍ケ岳 3180m)

Map sheet: 37 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time: 2-3 days round-trip

Difficulty: Grade 3+ alpine route (5.9 crux pitch)


The spearhead summit pyramid of Mt Yari (3180m, 槍ヶ岳) is one of the most iconic sights in the North Alps and is a top priority for Japanese climbers and hikers alike. A busy summer’s day with good weather can see several hundred hikers queueing patiently up the last few hundred metres of the normal route to the top, anticipating some of the finest mountain views in Japan.

Anyone who has climbed the mountain’s northern ‘Kitakama’ ridge will have noticed the steep arête dropping down from Yari’s apex through a series of airy pinnacles and ending at the stunning and monolithic tower of Koyari. Imposing and a little bit intimidating from below, Koyari is beautiful beyond words. The loose and committing approach gully and the steep climbing ensure that there will be no crowds on this side of the mountain.

The open-book off-width corner crack of the 3rd pitch of Koyari would be a fine pitch of climbing anywhere but, located at over 3000m altitude on this most prized of Japanese summits, it takes on a wonderful significance of its own. This is a fine alpine climb, and you will not be disappointed.


Getting there:
This itinerary is a round trip from Shin-Hotaka Onsen (新穂高温泉). If travelling by train from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Super Azusa limited express train on the Chuō Line (中央線) out to Matsumoto (松本) station.  From there you can take a bus to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

If travelling by car from Tokyo, get onto the Chuō Expressway and then the Nagano Expressway to Matsumoto. Exit the Expressway and get onto Route 158. Stay on this road all the way to Hirayu, and then turn off onto Route 471. Eventually you will come to a bridge across a river and turn right onto Route 475. This will take you all the way to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

Park in the large free car park by the river, accessed on the left from about halfway through a long avalanche tunnel.

Description:

DAY ONE
Exit the free car park by the tarmacked path at its northern end and walk for about 5 minutes until you join the road and reach the Information Centre. Don’t forget to leave your planned itinerary here, with emergency contact details and your projected return date/time.

Continue walking up the hill and you’ll soon pass the Hotel Hotaka and then the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウエイ). Pass through the barrier at the end of the road and walk up the rindou. The road is initially tarmacked but soon turns into dirt and gravel as it gains height alongside the river past a series of dams.


After about an hour a series of switchbacks will bring you to the Hotaka Hira-goya hut (穂高平小屋), situated in a lovely open alpine meadow. Continue on past the hut as the road becomes rougher and gradually gains height. After another hour you will reach the signed turn-off for the hiking trail on your right up to Mt Okuhotaka, at the entrance to Shiraide-sawa (白出沢). Continue a short way to the end of the road, and then cross the bottom of Shiraide-sawa.

From this point onwards, you’re on a hiking trail rising gently through the forest with the river on your left. The next major waypoint is the crossing of Takidani (滝谷), where you’ll need to locate the easiest way across the stream. Another hour will bring you to the Yari-daira hut (槍平山荘), where there are toilets and fresh drinking water.

From here on the trail begins to rise more steeply, and eventually it swings eastwards into a wide and steepening valley. Several hours of switchbacks will get you up onto the main ridgeline at around 3000m, and from there it a short hop up to the magnificent Yarigatake Sansou (槍ヶ岳山荘) hut on the shoulder below the summit pyramid of Mt Yari.


DAY TWO
To approach the start of the West arête you need to first hike up the main trail a short way in the direction of Yari’s summit. Before you reach the first ladders you should drop down into the gully on climber’s left. This gully is steep and loose, covered in rocks and scree that are just waiting to be knocked down, so take real care and look out for each other all the way down.


Down-climbing the approach gully:

It should take up to an hour to scramble down. Along the way you will see the dramatic Koyari pinnacle on your right. Eventually you will reach a short scramble up to a terrace on your right below the steep West face of Koyari. The climbing starts from here.



Approximate pitch descriptions are as follows:

Pitch 1: Climb the run-out slab up to a small overhang, then surmount this and continue up a crack system to belay on two in-situ pitons. (40m, V)


Pitch 2: Continue up the loose run-out face to belay beneath and to the left of the steep obvious corner crack. (30m, IV)


Pitch 3: Climb the magnificent off-width corner crack, with in-situ protection on the right wall, over a difficult section at mid height, then chimney up the top section to belay in a niche on pitons. (40m, V+)



Pitch 4: Climb out of the niche on the right side to gain the airy arête and continue to the summit of Koyari. (45m, IV)


Traverse to the far end of Koyari and make a single 45m rappel to the col below.



Once down at the col, traverse the narrow rock spine to a bolted belay at the start of the next pinnacle.

Pitch 5: Climb up the line of least resistance to the top of the Himago-yari (Great-grandson, 曾孫) pinnacle. (45m, III)

A short easy scramble will bring you to the anchor at the foot of the Mago-yari (Grandson, ) pinnacle.

Pitch 6: Climb the slabby face of Mago-yari with plenty of cracks for cams. (40m, III)

Pitch 7: Continue up until you reach the final steepening below the top of the pinnacle. Make well-protected moves up twin overhanging cracks for about 5m to gain the summit of Mago-yari. (40m, IV+)

Pitch 8: From the stainless-steel rappel anchor on the summit of Mago-yari make a short but exposed down-climb of about 7m with in-situ piton protection, and scramble across to the belay on the far side. Be sure to take the classic photo of your partner on top of Mago-yari from this point! (10m, III)


Pitch 9: Climb easy ground for a rope length and cut the pitch wherever you can build an anchor on trad gear. (45m, III)

Pitch 10: Easy terrain to the summit of Mt Yari. (20m, II/III)



From the summit take the normal hiking trail back down to the hut on the shoulder.


DAY THREE
There are various ways you can get back to Shin-Hotaka Onsen and the car park, so either reverse day one or continue along the ridgeline in the direction of the Hotaka massif and choose one of the descent trails depending on how much time/energy you have.

Overall:
A magnificent route with excellent and varied climbing and plenty of exposure up an obvious natural line, leading directly to the 3180m summit of one of Japan’s most iconic mountains! What’s not to love about this? Take double ropes and a trad rack, and don’t forget your camera!



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Monday, 7 May 2018

The Hida ridge of the Gendarme (ジャンダルム飛騨尾根)


Route Name: Hida ridge (飛騨尾根)

Mountain: Gendarme (ジャンダルム 3163m)

Map sheet: 37 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Time: 2-3 days round-trip

Difficulty: Grade 3 alpine route (IV crux pitch)


The Gendarme (Jandarumu, ジャンダルム) is the name given to a distinctive and prominent rocky summit on the dramatic ridgeline between Mt Okuhotaka (奥穂高岳) and Mt Nishihotaka (西穂高岳) in the North Alps of Japan. At 3163m it sits just shy of the 3190m altitude of Okuho, but the ridge that connects them is both serious and thrilling at any time of year, making the Gendarme’s summit a highly desired prize among Japanese hikers and climbers.

High up on the Gendarme’s western aspect is a steep ridgeline of such aesthetic grandeur and isolation that it simply demands to be climbed by anyone who spends enough years operating as an alpine climber in Japan. It is named the Hida ridge (飛騨尾根) and is instantly recognisable to anyone who has gazed south from the top of Okuho. From the precarious summit of the Gendarme the upper Hida ridge plunges down in a series of vertical steps between terraces forming, in the words of one well-known commentator, a truly “compelling line to the sky”.

In summer/autumn it can only be accessed from above, and so aspirants must traverse to the Gendarme and then scramble down the gully just south of its summit until a traverse gains access to the T3 terrace. From here the final few hundred metres of the ridge can be climbed back to the Gendarme.

A full integral ascent of the ridge from bottom to top requires snow to smooth out the access from below, and the optimal time is from early April to early May. With an altitude gain of over 1800m this is an enormous route. It covers the full spring alpine spectrum from long, steep and exposed snow slopes through to hours of rock-climbing in crampons at altitude and, with a serious and involved traverse from the Gendarme to Okuho, the summit of the Gendarme is by no means the end point.


Getting there:
This itinerary is a round trip from Shin-Hotaka Onsen (新穂高温泉). If travelling by train from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Super Azusa limited express train on the Chuō Line (中央線) out to Matsumoto (松本) station.  From there you can take a bus to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

If travelling by car from Tokyo, get onto the Chuō Expressway and then the Nagano Expressway to Matsumoto. Exit the Expressway and get onto Route 158. Stay on this road all the way to Hirayu, and then turn off onto Route 471. Eventually you will come to a bridge across a river and turn right onto Route 475. This will take you all the way to Shin-Hotaka Onsen.

Park in the large free car park by the river, accessed on the left from about halfway through a long avalanche tunnel.

Description:

DAY ONE
Exit the free car park by the tarmacked path at its northern end and walk for about 5 minutes until you join the road and reach the Information Centre. Don’t forget to leave your planned itinerary here, with emergency contact details and your projected return date/time.

Continue walking up the hill and you’ll soon pass the Hotel Hotaka and then the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (新穂高ロープウエイ). Pass through the barrier at the end of the road and walk up the rindou.


The road is initially tarmacked but soon turns into dirt and gravel as it gains height alongside the river past a series of dams.


After about an hour a series of switchbacks will bring you to the Hotaka Hira-goya hut (穂高平小屋), situated in a lovely open alpine meadow. Continue on past the hut as the road becomes rougher and gradually gains height. After another hour you will reach the signed turn-off for the hiking trail on your right up to Mt Okuhotaka, at the entrance to Shiraide-sawa (白出沢).


Take this path up through the forest. It is not very distinct when under snow, so keep your eyes open for the trail.


Just as it appears to be taking you up into neighbouring Nishiho-sawa (西穂沢), the trail disappears into the forest on the left and traverses across the bottom of the Tengu ridge. Once past the ridge you’ll enter Shiraide-sawa and continue ascending the steepening snow field until you reach the fork with Tengu-sawa up on your right.



This junction, just short of the Shiraide Ōtaki waterfall (白出大滝, not yet visible from here), is a good spot to set up basecamp as you’ll be coming back down past here the next day. Choose your location wisely so as to avoid any potential avalanches that might come down Tengu-sawa or Shiraide-sawa above.


Looking up the steep Tengu-sawa:


DAY TWO
This is a very long day, so aim to be on the move by 3AM at the latest. From your tent head upwards into Tengu-sawa and climb it for 2-300m. Just before the point where the sawa forks, climb up the steep snowfield in the re-entrant on climber’s left to gain D ridge. Once on the ridge crest continue front-pointing up the snowy ridgeline for several more hundred metres.


You will see the lower Hida ridge (C ridge) above you running from left to right. To access the bottom of it you need to make an exposed traverse across the intermediary sawa and then climb up steep mixed terrain onto C ridge.


At this point the lower Hida ridge is in the dwarf pine (Haimatsu) zone, so for the first hour up the ridge you will be bush-whacking through this.



Eventually though you will get above the haimatsu and onto the rocky ridge itself, and this is most likely the point where you will want to get the rope out and start pitching.


There are no fixed anchors on the Hida ridge, and in-situ pitons are sparse, so you will need to make your own judgements around where to end each pitch. In total I counted 13 pitches between the start of the steeper rock-climbing and the summit of the Gendarme, which suggests around 500m of pitched rock-climbing in crampons. The rock is generally between grade II (5.5) and grade IV (5.7) and offers excellent trad placements as well as plenty of spikes for slings.






The higher you climb, the steeper the ridge becomes and the more involved and exposed the climbing as you surmount each section of ridgeline between the rising terraces. Eventually you will reach the easier summit rocks, from where a short scramble will bring you to the top of the Gendarme and its famous steel Angel. The views in all directions are jaw-dropping.



On the 3163m summit of the Gendarme:

From the summit of the Gendarme to the summit of Okuho looks a mere stone’s throw, but it will likely take several hours and is very involved and serious in places. To get off the Gendarme you need to locate the rappel anchor just below the top on the north-eastern aspect. A rappel on double ropes will gain the snow slope below. You now need to traverse the knife-edge snow ridge and climb up to the top of the Donkey’s Ears formation (Roba-no-mimi, ロバの耳). Consider belaying this section as the exposure is astronomical and you will most likely be doing it on soft afternoon snow.



You will find another rappel anchor on the other side of the Donkey’s Ears below the top. A full 50m rappel will get you down and across to the top of a short chain section. Take care pulling your ropes down.


From here traverse over to the start of the long rock scramble back up towards the Horse’s Back (Uma-no-se, 馬の背).


From the top of the ascent a short knife-edge snow traverse brings you to the bottom of the Horse’s Back. Climb this razor-sharp rock ridge, then traverse a narrow connecting snow ridge, and then easy snow slopes will bring you to the 3190m summit of Okuho.



Continue off the other side of the summit down the normal hiking trail for about 30 minutes. Eventually you will reach the final snow slope that will take you down to the ladders to the Okuho-Sansou hut. There is a rappel anchor if you’d rather rappel down this exposed snow slope.

If the hut is open (Golden Week onwards) you might wish to consider staying the night and descending Shiraide-sawa to your tent the following morning when the snow is firm and frozen. If not, you now need to drop off the col to climber’s left behind the hut and descend the steep 1200m of Shiraide-sawa back to your tent at the entrance to Tengu-sawa. At one point the trail heads off out of the sawa on the right and descends down the ridge to bypass the Shiraide Ōtaki waterfall. Once you exit this section, a short descent will bring you back to your tent.

DAY THREE
All that remains is to reverse day one back to the road and along down to Shin-Hotaka Onsen and the car park.

Overall:
An immense itinerary, both in stature and in satisfaction. Take 50m double ropes and a basic trad rack, as well as double axes. Be prepared for the seriousness of this outing, and the deep connection it will foster between you and one of the most striking bits of topography in the country. This climb is one of Japan’s true alpine gems!



For all the info you need to climb ten of the Japan's most classic alpine routes, get your copy of the book on Amazon!