Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Tanigawadake, Central arête (谷川岳中央稜)

Route Name: Cental arête (Chuo-ryo 中央稜)

Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

Length: 9 pitches to the summit of the Tsuitate-iwa

Time: 3-4 hours to the top of the last pitch

Grade: V- (IV A0) crux pitch / Overall grade 3 alpine route

Getting there:

From Tokyo take the Takasaki Line to Takasaki (about 1.5hrs). Change for the Joetsu Line for about 45 minutes to Minakami (水上), 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.

This route is a 3-star (***) classic in all guidebooks, and for my money, has to be the most striking feature on Tanigawadake! No matter who looks up Ichinokura-sawa from below, their eyes will be drawn towards the striking arête that forms the left edge of the Tsuitate-iwa (衝立岩), the triangular monolith that rears up from the top of Tail ridge. It is an absolute must for any Tanigawa climber.

The 3-star line of the Chuo-ryo:

The Cental arête (left edge):

After making sure you get an early start, walk up the road from the Visitors Centre for about an hour to the car park at the entrance to Ichinokura-sawa (一の倉沢). Start walking up the sawa, scramble through the narrow gorge section, and after about half an hour you'll come to a seemingly impassable waterfall. A path rises up its left edge, with a fixed rope near the top. Follow this up for a while until you come to a rappel station. Make a 50m rappel to get back down to the sawa. (Note: In spring you can simply walk straight up the snow pack to the bottom of Tail ridge, making the approach far simpler.)

The rappel:

From here you can gain access to the start of Tail ridge. Continue up to the top, with occasional fixed ropes.

Looking up Tail ridge:

On Tail ridge:

The bottom belay anchor of the Chuo-ryo is literally at the top of Tail ridge.

Pitch 1: Climb up and leftwards following the pitons. A short crux section at about 30m brings you to the belay anchor. (40m IV)

Looking down pitch 1:

Pitch 2: Make a short, exposed but easy, traverse around to the left side of the arête and then follow a sort of wide chimney to a belay. (25m III)

Pitch 3: Make a short and exposed traverse back onto the arête, then climb a steep groove.

The traverse on Pitch 3:

Deciding exactly where this pitch ends can be confusing, but there is a belay station in-situ. The crux is a thin section of IV just below the anchor. (25m IV)

Looking down pitch 3:

Pitch 4: Climb up and rightwards until you gain access to a chimney. Climb up with in-situ piton protection. The chimney narrows and overhangs near the top, but an undercling allows a high move to be made out of the chimney on the left, from where easier climbing leads to the anchor, a spacious ledge with an incredible view. If you are unable to free-climb it, the top moves can be done A0 with in-situ pitons. (25m V- / IV A0)

Pitch 4 (steep from the outset):

Pitch 5: An easier pitch follows up and leftwards to a belay on a pinnacle at the top of a wide chimney. (25m III)

Pitch 6: Continue up past the pinnacle. At this point the climbing becomes very exposed. The holds are all there, and it is not excessively difficult, but the exposure adds to the sense of difficulty. Don't be put off by the length of the pitch... there is a good anchor up there with ring bolts and pitons. (40m III+)

Pitch 7: A long pitch up loose but easy ground for a rope-length to a belay (in-situ piton anchor available, but cams also possible) on the left side of the arête. (50m II)

Pitch 8: Continue up for another rope-length to an anchor on a ledge just before the traverse into the final groove to the top. (50m II)

Looking down pitch 8:

Pitch 9: Make a short traverse to the right, then climb the loose steep groove to the saddle at the top.

Looking down the loose final pitch:

You are now on the summit of the Tsuitate-iwa pyramid! The views across the valley to nearby Asahi-dake are incredible.

It is possible to continue up the broken and exposed ridgeline above to the top of the Eboshi-iwa rock, and from there continue on to the summit of Ichinokura-dake. This would be a stunning itinerary, but is very long and rather complex.

The simplest and by far the most common way to descend is to rappel the Chuo-ryo. It is recommended to do this in a long series of short rappels on a single 50m strand of rope, to avoid getting ropes stuck and to minimise the chances of knocking down loose rocks from above when pulling your ropes down. This makes for a long descent back to the top of Tail ridge, but it is safer and there are rappel anchors (of varying quality) at regular intervals to facilitate this.

The last rappel:

Once back at the start of the route, simply scramble back down Tail ridge and continue down the sawa below back to the car park at the start of Ichinokura-sawa.

You can now buy yourselves a cold beer in celebration of climbing one of the most classic lines in the area.

An outright 3-star classic and a must-do on the wish list of any Tanigawa climber. Good quality rock on the whole, superb positions and exposure, and good rappel anchors. Take a small selection of nuts in addition to quickdraws, but don't be surprised if you don't use any of them. Climb it, now...

Don't forget to pick up a copy of the book on Amazon for more great alpine routes in Japan!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Tanigawadake, Chuō-Kante (谷川岳中央カンテ)

Route Name: Chuō-Kante (中央カンテ)

Mountain: Tanigawadake (谷川岳)

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

Length: 10 pitches

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

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

The Chuō-Kante route ascends the prominent rib of rock on the right side of the Eboshi-sawa Oku-heki (烏帽子沢奥壁) wall, between the Henkei Chimney (変形チムニー) and the Ojou-heki (凹状壁) routes. First climbed in the summer of 1958, this 10-pitch odyssey provides steady climbing for the most part up a stunning natural line, and its crux pitch is one of the finest on the wall. Protection is often sparse, with some pitches containing barely any in-situ gear at all, so a trad rack is required here. Rock quality can be rather suspect, so care and good balance will serve you well. All of this adds up to a classic and universally valued outing up one of the finest and most storied of Japanese walls.

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 up the steep slabs around the bottom of the Chuō-ryo (中央稜). You will soon reach an in-situ anchor (2 bolts), which is the shared start of both the Chuō-Kante and Ojou-heki routes.

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 but run-out terrain to a 2-bolt anchor. (40m III)

Pitch 3: Make steep moves to gain the Kante, then ascend it for about 20m to an anchor. (40m IV)

Pitch 4: Continue up the Kante for a rope length, ignoring an old intermediate anchor. (50m III)

Pitch 5: Climb up the shallow gully above to the base of a chimney. Climb the chimney on trad gear placements to an anchor just above. (30m IV+)

Pitch 6: Climb up and to the right, and belay a short distance below the obvious crux overhang. (40m III)

Pitch 7: Climb up to the lip of the overhang, and surmount this with a strong move up right on positive holds. Continue up to another leftward-rising crack. Climb this crack, with some layback moves, until you reach the belay at the top. (30m V+)

Pitch 8: Climb up and to the left. (30m IV)

Pitch 9: Continue up and to the left across the face. (40m III)

Pitch 10: Ascend a few metres and traverse left, then climb up a steeper but well-featured section to gain the shoulder. The anchor at the top of the route is here, with the Eboshi (烏帽子岩) rock feature directly up on your right. (40m IV)

From the anchor on top of the route, make a free-hanging abseil on two 50m ropes down the overhanging corner on the other side. When you touch the ground, stay connected to the ropes and continue across the slab, paying attention to loose stones, and several metres down the overgrown grassy slope on the other side of the gully to reach a dodgy piton anchor.

From this anchor make a sketchy traverse up and left across the muddy face, then down through the undergrowth to the top of the Nan-ryō (南稜) route. Pay attention on this section, as it is a dangerous spot.

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 down-climb 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.

A fantastic and varied outing up a large natural line with great exposure. The climbing is interesting and engaging throughout, requiring both a trad rack and a head for alpine adventure. This route is a perfect stepping stone between the easier classic arêtes bounding the Oku-heki face and the longer and more demanding routes up the face itself.

For more classic routes on Tanigawadake and the famous Ichinokura-sawa valley, check out the book on Amazon in print or Kindle e-book formats.

With this in the Kindle app on your smartphone, you'll always have the route description right there in your pocket while scanning for that next belay anchor...

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Tsuzura-iwa (つづら岩) rock-climbing

Crag name:  Tsuzura-iwa (つづら岩)

Location:  Mazukari ridge (馬頭刈尾根), Okutama

Map sheet:  23 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

Rock type:  Chert

Routes:  approx. 15 (from III to VI- and A1)

With an approach walk involving 1h40m map time and about 700m of altitude gain, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tsuzura-iwa was a little bit off the radar for a rock-climbing crag… But if you make the effort to get there, you will not be disappointed!

Situated on top of the Mazukari ridge, largely above treeline and west facing, this splendid 2-pitch rock face gets the sun for most of the day, and also provides spectacular views across to Mt Fuji. The rock is well-featured, the climbing interesting and the location breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, the protection is the usual rusty Japanese in-situ ‘leap of faith’, but bolted anchors mid-way and chain anchors at the top provide peace of mind if needed.

If you are okay with long days finishing in the dark by headtorch, I would advise walking up to the top of Mt Ōtake afterwards for sunset.

Summit of Mt Ōtake:

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo (東京) or Shinjuku (新宿), take a Chuo Line (中央線) train bound for Tachikawa (立川), and then change trains to the Itsukaichi Line (JR五日市線). Get off at Musashi-Itsukaichi (武蔵五日市), the last station.

From outside the station you can either wait for a bus or take a taxi. Either way you need to get to Senzoku (千足) bus stop. By taxi it will cost you about 3800yen one way.

From Senzoku you need to walk straight up the road into the mountains for about 20 minutes, until you come to a small car park where the road ends. The hiking trail starts here.

The trail starts out gently as far as the Tengu waterfall (天狗滝).  Continue up to a second pretty waterfall with a shrine, the Aya waterfall (綾滝).

From here onwards the trail steepens considerably, and for the next hour or so you’ll be zigzagging upwards until you hit the Mazukari ridge.

The trail brings you up onto the ridge literally at Tsuzura-iwa, with a narrow path skirting the base of the rockface.

Getting down from the top:
The top of Tsuzura-iwa is a lovely fin of rock, vertical on the climbing side, and sloping off the back, with incredible views all around. There are solid bolt/chain rappel anchors at intervals along the top.

If you have double ropes you should be able to reach the ground in a single rappel. If climbing on a single rope, you will need to split your descent at an anchor somewhere in the middle of the face. There is a solid tree anchor but check the condition of the slings and tat around it and be prepared to add your own if you don’t trust the in-situ gear.

If you are not looking to abseil, there is a walk-off from the top. Just head to climber’s right and scramble down the trail.

The routes:
As in previous articles, I will limit the list of routes here to those that I have personal experience of climbing on lead, but there are more routes there, and you can find more info in the Japanese guidebook.

1. Okera route [“オケラルート”, 1 pitch, 35m, III] **
A superb and esoteric route up the left edge of the crag, with a highly-improbably squeeze up a narrow cleft in the rock.

Pitch 1: Scramble up the first few metres of the gully, then climb past several rusty pitons until it looks like there is nowhere else to go. From there, climb up and through the extremely narrow hole, then use your whole body for friction and upward progress through the enclosed chimney until you pop out at the top. A few more easy metres brings you to a solid tree to belay from, or you could continue to the top of the rock on your right to a chain anchor.

2. Left route [“左ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *
Pitch 1: Climb the steep crack leftwards on dubious in-situ gear, and just keep going up and left until you reach a bolted belay next to a tree.

Pitch 2: From this belay you could climb up the right-slanting crack on in-situ pitons at V+, but Left route heads directly upwards from the anchor for several metres, before face-climbing to the left for a few metres towards the edge, and then finishing up and right to a chain anchor. It’s a spectacular finish.

3. Ippan route [“一般ルート”, 2 pitches, 50m, IV] *
Beginning at the right end of the crag, this classic route takes a line of weakness up and left, covering a large amount of the crag, with a superb ledge belay, and a steep finish.

Pitch 1: Start with a traverse to the left along an easy crack, then climb up and continue trending left on good holds. From a sort of rock pulpit, climb straight up, followed by a traverse out left again to a broad ledge with trees and a bolted anchor.

Pitch 2: From the ledge, climb a little to the left, then straight up the face to a crack. Make an interesting move to get established in the crack, and then finish at a chain anchor directly above.

4. Ippan route variation start [10m, IV+]
A more direct variation to start Ippan route with, taking a crack straight up at IV+ instead of the initial left traverse.

5. Right route [“ルート”, 1 pitch, 35m, IV] *
Although deceptively easy-looking from below, this route has some interest and comes highly recommended. Expect the top half to be very run-out.

Pitch 1: From the same starting point as Ippan route head straight up to gain the obvious chimney. Climb the bulge at the top, then continue up the run-out face to the top. Continue up easy ground to climber’s left to reach the anchor.

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