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
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.)
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:
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)
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...
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